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Diamond Sutra - Part 1 Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

Held at: Tuscany, November 1982.
Ven. Sangharakshita
Dharmacharies; Jinavamsa, Amog~vira, Chakupala,
Shantiprabha, Vessantara, Subhuti, Khemapala, Dhirananda, Khemavira, Gerry Corr.
S: Alright let's start at the begining, let's go through the preface just quickly first, and then
the introductory note, before going on to the text. (Jinavamsa) will you read through the
whole of the first paragraph.
There was a time when wisdom was prized more highly than almost anything else, and it was
no mean compliment when the Delphic oracle named Socrates as the wisest of all the Greeks.
Nowadays most peo~ple will agree with Bertrand Russell 'that, although our age far ~~ all
previous ages in knowledge, there has been no correlative increase in wisdom'. At times it
may even appear as though the rapid growth of scientific knowledge has been bought at the
expense of much of the wis- dom which our less well-instructed forefathers could draw upon.
If literary documents are anything to go by, past ages had a better record than our own, and
we have nothing to show that could rival the ancient wisdom literature of Greece and 'India.
S: Mmmm.. any comment on this? (long pause) In what sort of sense does Conze seem to
be using the word wisdom and the expression 'wisdom literature... do you think it's clear?
What about his general remarks about wisdom, is wisdom less prized than it was in former
times? Has it in fact been swamped, not to say superseded
by knowledge, or in any case what is wisdom?
Is he using it as a
sort of skillful means to draw the reader into his subject?
any generally accepted meaning attach itself to the expression
'wisdom literature'?
Shantiprabha: It seems to me -that wisdom is something which comes as a completely
different line of thinking, of thought, it's not really based on anything which has gone before.
Mm .. mm .. well for instance, what is the wisdom literature -of Greece?
ds 1 2.
Gerry: Trying to dig into the nature of mind
No, give examples of the wisdom.
Gerry: Oh sorry.
Presumably you must be talking about the philosophical literature for instance,
Is he talking
? S: k ~alking about P ato, Is he
about Aristot le? They're not
usually refered to as wisdom literature.
No. The statement that wisdom was prized more highly than almost anything
else seems rather sweeping.
Mm .. It seems to me, to cut the discussion short, I don't want to spend too much time
on the preface , that Conze ... er ... possibly as a sort of skillful means, is using the word
wisdom in quite an ambiguous way. First of all there's the sense with wisdom as a sort of
mature understanding of life, with wisdom literature in this sense is the literature emb o dving
proverbs and wise sayings, expressing bothsomeone's quite mature, their quite deep mature
experience of life as guidance to younger people and future generations. This is wisdom
literature. Isn't this literature just sometimes called Gnomic literature? ... wise sayings. For
instance among the Greeks there's the Elegies of Theogamus which would be regarded as
wisdom literature, some of them at least. On the other hand wisdom has the meaning of
something tran~ndental, something with a definitely higher spiritual source. Wisdom
literature in this sense is for instance represented in the Old Testament, especially in the
Apocrypha by the wisdom of Solomon .... though there again this shades of f into the wisdom
in the other sense. For instance the Proverbs in the Bible, ecclesastically these are refe~ed to
w~om literature, but that sort of shades off into the wisdom of 0 LO~~~ Solomon, which is
wisdom in~ higher sense... er ... but even these
sort of ... wisdom in this sense, wisdom literature in this sense, whether
or ~£\ore~, has got very little in common with the Indian wisdom literature if by
wisdom literature one means the Perfection of Wisdom texts which are completely
tran~ndental, do you see what I mean? So really Conze is using the term in a quite ambiguous
sort o#ay, if he's using it to cover the wisdom literature of Greece, the
ds I
wisdom literature of Israel, the wisdom literature of India... I .'~
mean there is a wisdom literature in India ap art from~t!he more or&~~~
SLkSu, as embodied in the Hindu (Grandasia) a well known collection of short stories and
sayings. There's a lot of that sort of material written in Sanskrit. But it ma~be that Conze is
doing this de1iberate1~ as a sort of skillful means to get people interested in this much more
transCendental sort of wisdom. Do you see what I mean? Well if you take it literally it's
almost nonsense.
What did the &reek~ mean by Sophian?
S: Well Sophian means wisdom - er - but it doesn't, well I don't think as far as I've read, that
this comes into use until quite late. I don't think it's used in this sort of way in the 'classical'
period. It's very much a Gn~stic term. The Gi\ostics used it quite extensively.
It originally meant skill, in a craft sense.
S: (Long pause) So no need to linger on that. Would someone like to read the next
In fact, those who want to learn about wisdom, must of necessity draw on the tradition of the
fairly remote past. For centuries almost everyone has been silent on the subject.-
Philosophers, of whom some 'love of wisdom' might be expected, have increasingly turned to
the critical examination of know- ledge, and are largely engaged in active disparagement of
all that once passed for 'wisdom'. Nor has the effect of scientific and technical progress been
any more propitious. What, indeed,
could be more 4ucccientific' than the pursuit of wisdom-with its concern for the meaning of
life, with its search for ends, purposes' and values worthy of being pursued, with its desire to
penetrate beyond the appearance of things to their true reality? In a world occupied with the
manipulation of sense-data the contemplation of suprasensory essences seems an almost -
grotesque undertailing. Contemporary religious movements are equally unhelpful.
Intent on extreme simplification. they take pride in discarding the intellectual content of
religion. Whether we look to Billy Graham and Moral Rearmament, or, farther East, to
Krishnamurti and the Shin-shu of Japan, the demands made on our intellect and
comprehension are reduced to a muumum.
Is this comprehensible ... if you want to learn of wisdom we have, of necessit to draw
on the tradition of the fairl remote II
past. For centuries almost everyone has been silent on the subject.
DS 1 4.
Can you think of any exceptions? Anyone who hasn't been silent on
the subject.
Gerry: Possibly N~ttzsche.
S: Mm possibly N~etzsche.
Gerry: I was thinking of 'Zarathustra'.
S: It's not quite wisdom in the sense that Conze seems to be using it. Maybe one could think
of the French writers of maxims ... I mean ~hopenh~vt~~s essays on the wisdom of life.
Dr. Johnson's essays to do with wisdom and many of Emerson' 5 essays. They resemble
wisdom in the sense in which Conze is using~ . (Long pause) The philosophers have
increasingly turned to the critical examination of knowledge, that is to say to epistemology, in
what makes knowledge possible. A great deal of twentieth century philosoph~ ,s
concerned with this questio~n. They~r~\~~\ L ~t&~~Y~disparagemen~ ~~~o~~ p~~~~&
for wisdom', and science hasn't had a very good ~~cc~ either. And as for contemporary
religious movements, they don't take intellectual questions ... don't take the intellect- ual
content of religion very seriously. You could hardly call Billy Graham a religious thinker or
'wise man'! (laughter)
~k~ a~u~' fl0r~ ~ax~~~c~~~~ ~~JL
S: It was founded by (Fr~~Buckam?) wasn't it. It was a very big, very well known
movement. It seems to have completely collapsed. Quite a lot of people were invol ved in it.
It was also called the 'Oxford Movement', 'The OxfoAGroup '. Nothing to do with the
nineteenth century Oxford movement of course.
V ssantra:
Was that twentieth century?
S: Oh yes. Dr Fro~Lwas an American and I think he had five moral absolutes. I forget what
they were. Absolute truth, absolute purity
and so on. A bit like the Buddhist practice of Sila except they were absolute. And he
believed in inner guid~nce. Mahatma Gandhi was quite into it I think because he believed
that this le d to ~inner -voice, and being guided by that ... and Krishnamurti ... well he isn't
exactly an intellectual ... well in a sense he is, but not a
wise man in the traditional sense. And the Shin , that is of course, an extreme form of
~tvoVo~~ Buddhism but I wouldn't altogether agree that there's no intellectual content.
Though certainly in it's popular form it doesn'~, but the demands made on our intellect
comprehensionally are reduced to a minimum.
In this paragraph Conze seems to upgrade his definition of 'Wisdom' a little bit by
implication, 'meaning of life'
.mm... 'Search for ends, purposes and values worthy of being pursued. With it's desire
to penetrate ...

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