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About the Sutra

Below are extracts and quotations as presented in The Diamond-Cutter (Vagrakkhedika). It is a text from the Buddhist Wisdom genre - one of most well-known discourses (sutras) of Mahayana Buddhism.

In the work, Buddha has finished a daily walk and sits down to rest. An elder approaches and asks Buddha a question, which offsets a dialogue about the nature of perception. In it, Buddha uses paradoxical teaching methods, as shown by such as, "What is called the highest teaching is not the highest teaching". By such statements, Buddha almost surely speaks against limited, helpful and unhelpful notions alike.

Instead of the full title, "Vajra Cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sutra", there are common, shortened forms in English, such as Diamond Cutter Sutra, Diamond Sutra, Vajra Cutter Sutra and Vajra Sutra - and Trishatika Prajnaparamita Sutra (300 lines Perfection of Insight sutra).

A wood block printed copy of the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra is dated back to 868 CE. The full history of the text is unknown. The copy is in the British Library, and is about 587 years older than the first printed Gutenberg Bible.

The title alludes to the power of the vajra (diamond or thunderbolt) to cut things, and refers to the wisdom that cuts and shatters illusions to get to ultimate reality. The sutra contains the discourse of the Buddha to a monk, Subhuti.

The Diamond-Cutter Sutra is thought to have been written about the beginning of the common era. It is the ninth section of a much larger treatise entitled: Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra. It is metaphysical and difficult reading - such as scholars want lots of and then interpret and comment on. To bring its assumed teaching better to the fore, quotations have been made from The Awakening of Faith to provide definitions of the Paramitas and they have been inserted near the head of each section.

This Sutra was greatly used from the very beginning by founders of the Zen branch of Buddhism along with the Lankavatara Sutra, but gradually displaced it. After the 900s, the Diamond Sutra was used as its chief Sutra. It largely underpins a characteristic tenets of the Zen fold:

"A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to one's deepest consciousness;
Seeing into one's nature and the attainment of Buddahood."

According to Fritz Max Müller, the Diamond-Cutter Sutra teaches "there is the true essence of mind. Underlying the phenomena of mind, there is an unchanging principle." And throughout the text, the Buddha in it repeats that successful memorisation and elucidation of even a four-line extract of it is of incalculable merit, better than giving an entire world system filled with gifts and can bring about enlightenment (!) May any four-line extract do such a thing? What about this abridged four-liner?

A noble-minded guy should frame an independent mind, . . . a mind not believing . . . (section 10)

To heed, "Don't promise more than you can keep" has its value, and comes along with "Don't be goofed by teachings; learn to discern well instead." See Buddha's Kalama Sutta about it, for example. But there is more: Independence also means independence from the statement that one should fram and independent mind and not believe in anything. True independence rises beyond that. Also, the truly independent mind does not have to believe in one single word that Buddha is credited with - not any of those words. That is deduced from the Sutra statements too, and is supported in the Kalama Sutta.

On the way towards such beyondness, dependency and fears that it brings may be dropped.

(Wikipedia, "Diamond Sutra" contains references to twelve English translations)

Various ways of naming Buddha - Tathagata, Bhagavat and Bhagavan (the Blessed One) - are largely removed in the following, just for the sake of simplicity. Numbers in brackets refer to sutras (thought-threads, "stanzas", verses, or "paragraphs") as they are commonly numbered in the work.

At the bottom of the page are a few references to the whole work.


Yana search

From the Diamond-Cutter (Vagrakkhedika)

LoOne finds just no signs of the holy and fully enlightened One for help

Highest perfect knowledge is always the same. (23)

A Buddha is not to be known by having signs. (26)

Is a holy and fully enlightened Buddha to be known by the thirty-two signs of a hero?"

Subhuti said: "No." (13)

LoThose who know the Teaching and understands it, look on the world - and all manifestations of Bodhisatvas and Great Teachings in it - as clouds (as ephemeral)

As a cloud - thus we should look upon the world (all that was made). cf. Buddha (32)

LoThe one who sees the Buddha-Eyes should be the right one to explain them well without going too much into their origins - since "no-origin is the highest goal".

The Buddha has the bodily eye, the heavenly eye, the eye of knowledge, the eye of the Law, the eye of Buddha," [condensed] (18) (5)

"Is a Buddha to be known by the shape of his visible body?"

Subhuti said: "No." (20)

There will be strong and good and wise beings [in the future] . . . They are known by the Buddha; they are seen by the Buddha through his Buddha-eye; they are understood by the Buddha.

The noble-minded should . . . frame an independent mind, not believing [too much] in sound, smell, taste, and anything that can be touched. (10) ✪ 

Listen and take it to heart, well and rightly. (2)

Why the name of Tathagata? It expresses true suchness and no origin. [And] no-origin is the highest goal. (17)

A Buddha says what is real, says what is true, says the things as they are; a Buddha does not speak untruth (14)


In sum
  1. "It takes one to know one. (Proverb)". An Enlightened one may not show it to others than those in rapport too. There are other sides to being Enlightened, many ramifications; derive benefit from them as wisely and well as can be.
  2. Those who know The Great Teachings and understand them, look on the world with its Great Teachings quite as clouds.
  3. Someone who sees Buddha-Eyes should be the right one to explain them well without going too much into their origins - since the sutra tells "no-origin is the highest goal".

In nuce Teachings with no signs of being great and holy teachings could be so anyway. Public claims that teachings and personages are great and holy may be the good sign that they are not. Seek to peer behind façades for your own good.

Civic greetings

Anecdote The Austrian composer of atonality, Arnold Schonberg (1874-1951), was strolling through the streets of his home town with a visiting friend one day, nodding at the respectful greetings from the local people, many of them young boys.

His friend was impressed and surprised. "You really are famous. Even the children know you," he said.

"Quite true," said Schonberg with a smile. "You see, my son is a halfback on the high-school football team."


A Fuller Treatment

The following is rooted in William Gemmell's English translation of the Chinese translation made by Kumarajiva, and was published by Kegan Paul in 1912. It is interpreted to some extent.

The Diamond Scripture (Vajracchedika Sutra)

A: Answer   –   DA: Deep answer   –   E: Expounding   –   F: Further, furthermore   –   FS: Further still   –   P: Profession(s), assertion(s)   –   Q: Query or question

Q: Blessed One, you are of transcendent wisdom. How should a disciple who has entered on the path behave? How should he advance? How may he realise Buddahood? What immutable Truth is there that shall sustain the mind of a good disciple?"

A: Listen well: It is by Truth that enlightened disciples are to advance along the Path to attain Buddahood.

Good followers should arrange their thoughts. Seek deliverance in the transcendental concept of Nirvana only, in reality, there is no world of sentient life from which to seek deliverance.

[Addition: How disciples should practise charity. "If persons should come and ask for something, it should be supplied ungrudgingly s far as their means allow, and thus make the others happy. If adherents of the Path see people threatened with danger, they should try to rescue them and restore them to a level of safety. If people come to them desiring instruction in the Dharma, they should, as far as they are acquainted with it and according to their discretion, deliver thematic discourses. And when they are performing these acts of charity, let them not cherish any desire for fame or advantage, nor covet any earthly reward. Thinking only of blessings that are to be mutually shared, let them aspire for the most excellent, the most perfect wisdom.]

A: An enlightened disciple in his acts of charity, ought to act spontaneously and as free as possible from unsound favoritism. In the exercise of charity one had better act independent of phenomena thus, because, acting without regard to illusive forms of phenomena [as surface spectacles], he will realise Unbounded merit above phenomena.

Q: A very considerable merit of this sort does not partake of the nature of ordinary merit.

F: Followers do well to study and adhere to [the best scriptures], Lay members should avoid unkindness, stealing, unchastity, lying, duplicity [deceptive doubleness etc.], slander, frivolous talk, covetousness, malice, currying favor, and false teachings. In order to disarm prejudice they should withdraw a lot from excitements and snares of worldly life and practise those deeds which lead to pleasant behaviour and contentment. In the case of advanced bhikshus, they have more rules to follow. Soundly observing precepts given by the Tathagatas, they should endeavor to induce goodness by their example.

F: If a follower lives a good and decent life, he will lay up a greater merit than the one who merely makes gifts in charity and continues his egoistic life. For giving gifts may or may not involve an advance along the Path that leads to Nirvana, but a good and virtuous life lays up merit. But what is a virtuous life? What makes a man great? Is it the size of his body? Is it his unusual personality? Is it the work he accomplishes? Or is it the wisdom and compassion and adequacy of this behavior?

FS: Nevertheless, observing just one central verse of a best scripture will bring merit in due course, and observing many such points may lead into to a most wonderful dharma. E: If a good disciple, whether man or woman is lightly esteemed or despised for studying and applying this scripture, it is because there had been committed some grievous transgression in a previous life now followed by its retribution [karma teaching]. But as he bears his tribulations patiently, he should be adequately recompensed by a final attainment of enlightenment."

[Addition: Disciples should not necessarily shun all ills of life when they meet with them: They should keep calm if treated unjustly and getting afflicted.]

F: In the ages to come, if a disciple faithfully study and put into practice the teaching of the very best scriptures, the merit that he will thus acquire will be plenty.

Of supreme spiritual wisdom, the mind may cultivate a condition of independence of mind. In the exercise of this Paramita, the mind of an enlightened disciple ought to be unperturbed.

Cultivate Steadfastness so as to Win

The Sutra says: In the practice of good deeds, disciples should never indulge in indolence. In order to be emancipated from sufferings in the future, steadily and persistently out of deep compassion endeavor to benefit actively those you care for the most.

F: Do you imagine that the Tathagata reflects within himself, 'I will bring salvation to all beings'? In reality, there is no such dharma as 'salvation' for any one.

FS: 'Entered the stream' is simply a descriptive term. A good guy who avoids various seductions should then enter the stream.'

F: A 'once returner' is merely a descriptive title. Similarly, 'a never returner' is merely a designation, meaning, 'immunity from reincarnation'; but, in reality, there is no such condition. Also, in reality, there is no such condition synonymous with the term Arhat.

The Blessed One stands for tranquillity of mind, observance of the Dharma and spiritual perception. All ought to maintain a pure and single mind and cultivate a mind that is fairly independent of material circumstances.

Some say an enlightened one should have a heart filled with compassion, but who is to be delivered? Also, the idea of a Buddha-land frequently serves like a name only for those not realized.

Tranquillity of the Self

By ideal tranquility many will intuitively feel a heart-faith. Subhuti, the Tathagata by his prescience knows about all such potential disciples.

Tathagatas invariably repeat: Realise that the Dharma is presented to your minds in the simile of a raft. Having fulfilled its function in bearing you to the other shore it is abandoned together with all its coincident qualities and ideas.

Phenomena of life are like a dream in that they are not abiding. To stay firm, rest your mind a lot on blessed tranquillity deep inside in dhyana (contemplation). The beginner should contemplate to cease the mind's intellectual activities, and to realize a lot intuitively, by proficient insight. Facility in this can be gained by degrees.

Those who practise Dhyana should dwell in solitude and, sitting erect, should remain motionless, seeking to quiet the mind. In Dhyana one should seek to abandon all notions connected with an external world. One should seek to abandon ordinary thinking and turn the attention, rather, toward his inner, intuitive consciousness. Dhyana is not to be confined to sitting erect in meditation; one's mind should be focused at all times, whether sitting, standing, moving, working; one should constantly discipline himself to that end. Gradually entering into the state of Samadhi, he will transcend hindrances and become strengthened in faith, a faith that will be immovable.

Buddha: Belief in the unity and eternality of matter is incomprehensible.

Blessed One, when you discoursed, it was merely words.

Buddha, smiling: Subhuti, so long as he cherishes ideas of and concerning an entity, his mind should not be described as wholly enlightened. It cannot be asserted that there are or will be sentient beings, nor can it be asserted that there will not be. And as to any one being saved: how can there be one to find it by seeking? One cannot gain self-realisation of Prajna Paramita by the use of the discriminating mind. In the exercise of the Dhyana Paramita with a mind independent of all phenomena, the keen vision is restored.

Buddha said, Not by means of visible form and audible sound is Buddha to be perceived; only in Deep Meditation, in Dhyana.

Sensible Wisdom

Buddha continued, In my discourses have I presented a system that can be specifically formulated?

Subhuti replied: No. What the Blessed One suggestively discloses in the terms of the Dharma is quite inexpressible. Yet self-realisation is the highest - and by it some have attained to degrees of wisdom.

Buddha endorsed these words: True, Subhuti! True it is. Regarding the Prajna Paramita – Ideal Wisdom – there is no such thing. Subtle Wisdom transcends all ideation in its suchness. Its self-nature is manifested in the transformation-bodies of the Tathagatas.)

Buddha: Prajna Paramita is universal, coherent, indivisible. It includes every dharma pertaining to the cultivation of wisdom and compassion.

F: Do not think that the Tathagatas consider within themselves: 'I ought to promulgate a system of Dharma.' In reality there is no 'system of Dharma' to promulgate.

Why is the Tathagata so named? It is because he manifests the essential nature of reality. 'He who thus comes,' ties in with ultimate reality. He represents the eternal. That which is manifested by the Tathagatas is inconceivable Oneness, the essence nature of Buddahood.

Subhuti, Tathagata utterances are true, credible, immutable.

Buddha: It is not by a great show of erudition, nor by the building of anything, nor by the destruction of anything, that the Tathagatas are to be known. It is only within the deepest consciousness, through the self-realisation of the Prajna Paramita, that the Tathagatas are to be realised.

Subhuti: The Blessed One truly possesses the eye of enlightenment, the eye of Wisdom, the eye of Compassion.

Buddha: Subhuti, within these innumerable worlds are every form of sentient life with all their various mental capacities, dispositions, and temperaments, all alike are fully known to the Tathagatas.

Prajna Paramita should be explained as a bubble.

Subhuti said: Only!

Buddha's assent: So be not carried away by any lofty sentiment, nor fear. This Scripture shall be known as The Diamond Scripture, always remembering that what is referred to as Transcendental Wisdom is only a name, – the Real Thing transcends such wisdom.


Diamond-Cutter Sutra, Vagrakkhedika, Vajra Cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Diamond Sutra, Vajra Cutter Sutra, Vajra Sutra, Trishatika Prajnaparamita Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism Literature  

Gemmell, William, tr. The Diamond Sutra (Chin-Kang-Ching), or Prajna-Paramita. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1912.

Goddard, Dwight, ed. A Buddhist Bible. Thetford, VT: Dwight Goddard, 1932.

Gómez, Luis O., and Jonathan A. Silk, eds. Studies in the Literature of the Great Vehicle; Three Mahayana Buddhist Texts. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan, 1989. ⍽▢⍽ A translation of the Vajracchedika (Diamond Sutra) found at Gilgit is in it.

Hsüan Hua. The Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra. 2nd ed. Burlingame, CA: Buddhist Text Society, 2002. ⍽▢⍽ The title is The Diamond-Cutter Sutra in Sanskrit.

Müller, F. Max, tr. Buddhist Mahayana Texts. Vol 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894. ⍽▢⍽ It includes the Diamond-Cutter Sutra.

Pine, Red. The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom. Text and Commentaries Translated from Sanskrit and Chinese. Paperback ed. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2002. ⍽▢⍽ The Vajracchedika (Diamond cutter sutra) is here too.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

Diamond-Cutter Sutra, Vagrakkhedika, Vajra Cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Diamond Sutra, Vajra Cutter Sutra, Vajra Sutra, Trishatika Prajnaparamita Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism, To top    Section     Set    Next

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