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Diamond Sutra - Part 2 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

ds. 1. 21 21.
Diamond Sutra was composed seven or eight centuries after the days of Ananda.
Sravasti. the 'City of Wonders', was the capital of Kosala, the Buddha's homeland.
Now the village of Sahet-Mahet, in Northern India, near Nepal, it is said once to have housed
900,000 families. Of the forty-five years of his ministry, the Buddha passed twenty-five in
The Jeta Grove was offered to the Buddha by Anathapindika, who had first bought it
from jeta, its owner, for the price of its surface laid with gold coins. For the story see BT no.
Mindfully nxina attention in front of him. Preparatory to entering into trance, the
Buddha fixes his attention on the breath which is in front of him. He then enters into a trance
which is described in the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras as the 'king of all samadhis', and which
miraculously persists throughout the preaching of the Sutra.
Broadly speaking one can say that in terms of format, or context, Mahayana sutras are
of two kinds. One can say that the first kind is where the content of the Sutra is of course
Mahayanic, the teaching is Mahayanic, but the context is as it were Hinayanic, in the sense
that it describes a quite ordinary scene in the day of the life of the Buddha. the other kind is
where the teaching of course is Mahayanic and the context, the framework of the Sutra,is
Mahayanic,in other words a quite ~£o~~~~s~ been such as is not found on the Earth at all,
pres- umablyL witnessed with one's physical eyes anyway, had one been around during the
time of the Buddha. So this particular Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, seems to be of the first
type, the first kind. Clearly the Buddha is definitely dealing with Mahayan~teaching here - it
is a teaching about Prajnaparimita, a teaching about Sunyata, a teaching about Bodhi sattvas.
But the context, the setting of the Sutra is entirely Hinayanic in the sense that it is historical,
it is mundane and the scene is laid in the Jeta Grove in the garden of Anathapindika at
Sravasti, and the little introduction or prologue just describes the quite ordinary day in
life of the Buddha. Do you see what I mean ? I have commented on this before and
I've related it, I think, to a well-known Zen saying: that at the beginning of ones spiritual life
and spiritual practice mountains are mountains and trees are trees. As one progresses in ones
spiritual practice, mountains are no longer mountains and trees are no longer trees. But at the
conclusion of our spiritual practtce, when one becomes enligh- tened, mountains are once
more mountains and trees are trees. So one could say that the ordinary Hinayana-type Sutra
as we find in the Pali
ds.I. ~~.
Can on,corresponds to this first state in a way,where mountains
- -
are mountains and trees are trees ,everythiflrj' S
- --
very ordinary. It is the historical scene; the Buddha appears as an ordinary human teacher and
he is surrounded by quite ordinary, some- times quite nondescript looking disciples. Nothing
very wonderful happens. They go for alms, they mend their robes etc' . But no doubt the
teaching is quite profound, is quite important. Then comes the Mahayana sutra of the first
type where you are not on this earth at all, we may be in some other world. If you are on this
earth at all, that Earth is greatly transfigured and all sorts of wonderful things happen-As in
the Vimilakj~rti Nirdesa Sutra~like here you might say mountains are no longer mountains
and trees are no longer trees, everything is transformed, Everything is transfig- ured. But with
the third kind of Sutra, as exemplified by the Diamond Sutra, well, you are back again so to
speak a.t the stage where mountains are mountains and trees are trees. Everythi-ng is very
ord4inary again, because- it is as though the unordinariness of things doesn't need
underlining, the ordinariness is the extraord- inariness, the extraordinariness is the
ordinariness, you know. As
a Zen saying says ag&t~ or a poem might be, I mean, how
extraordinary 4'draw water and I carry fuel'. So it's almost as thoug~,I don't think
I'm being to f~~'tful,it's almost as though the fact that the scene is very ordinary,almost
p~edest~-4-an, with the Buddha just going for alms and coming back,eating his food and
resting.It's almost as though,in the li~~~of the teaching ~~a~the Buddha eventually ,'tvL~
,that the suggestion is,or the impre- s~ion that is conveyedks, that ordinary life is
enlightenment as it were,enlightenment is ordinary life,e'nlightenment is to be found in the
midst of ordinary life.You don't need all the wonde's a~a supernatural or supernormal
happenings to draw your attention to the wonderfulness of it.It's wonderful as it is. ~he
wonderfulness doesn't need exaggerating.otherwise it's almost as if,to draw attenti?n to~he
fact that you ha~~a nose,that the nose is a wonderful orga~,you paint it bright red(laughter).
You know that will draw attention to it.But you know,to someone who really understands
what a wonderful organ the nose is,that sort of decoration of the nose is not really
necessary.Do you see what 4rrtean~ (pause).So,'1thus have heard,at one time,The Lord
dwealt at Sravasti in the Jeta Grove,in the garden of Anatha indika,to ether with a lar e
atherin of monks,consisting
of 1,250 monks,with many Bodhisattvas,great beings."Well
here there's at least a
slightly Mahayanic touch,because you won't
sa~va~ -
Sutras. find
Bodhisattvas not by nam~ in Hiana But it just says,"many Bodhisattvas great
beingsW, their names are not~giverF7there's no descr%~p%ion. Thei£ jewelled headdresses
aren't brought into it. They are just there. 11~arly in the morning the Lord- dressed, put on
his cloak, took his bowl, and entered the great city of Sravasti to collect alms. When he had
eaten and returned from his r~unds, the Lord put away his bowl and cloak". You see how
neat and tidy the Buddb~ is. (laughter) "washed his feet and sat down on the seat arranged
for him, cross- ing his legs, holding his body upright, and mindfully fixing his attention in
front of him. hen many monks approached to where the Lord was, saluted his feet with their
heads," that is to say by bowing their heads at his feet, " thrice walked round him to the
right", as a sign of respect "and sat down on one side". It was not considered polite to sit
do~n right in front of the Buddha, directly facin~~ So that is quite clear, so onto Conze's
comments. "Thus have I heard at one time" This is the traditional opening of a Buddhist
Sutra. Perhaps I should mention here that scholars con- sider that the first sentLnce of the
Sutras generally is:" thus have I h ,eard at one time", not" thus have I heard" full stop." At one
time the Lord dwelt11. <~is is generally agreed upon, it is a minor point but perhaps worth
mentioning. "The 'I' who has heard the Sutra, is understood to be Ananda, who, at a council
held soon after the Buddha's demise, recited all the texts he had heard in the course
of his long attendance on t~he
Buddha. "He didn't actually recite all the texts he had heard, but he recited all the discources
he had heard,the sayings he had
heard.Conze is going a little tooquickly,huh.11In our case these words have more the
character of a literary fiction,since the Diamond Sutra was composed seven or eight centuries
after the days of Ananda".That's no doubt,?u4~~~W~~ in the present form even though the
teachings themselves go back to a very much earlier date. Sravasti\the City of W-onders;11why is it called the'City of Wonders'?The way Conze puts it here it's almost as though'City of
Wonders'is the literal meaning of Sravasti,but that is not the case.It's the 'City of Wonders'
because there, according to one account,the Buddha performed the so-called twin miracle-the
yarnaka ida-that is to say of walking up and down in the air and simulta neously emitting
streams of water and streams of fire from his body. It was the Capital of Kosala
~- --~-- - ~--
ds. I.
I' ~4, the Buddha's homeland. If you consider that the
S~hakyan territory
was incorporated into the kingdom of Kosala,then Kosala becomes the Buddhas homeland,
"Now the village of Sahet-Mahet in ~orthern India,near ~epal1it is said once to have housed
900,000 families" This is the Theravada tradition '1Lhink,probably quite an exagger-
ation."Of the forty-five years of his ministry,the Buddha passed twenty-five in Sravasti." Not
quite correct.He passed twenty-five rainy seasons there according to tradition,but the rest of
the time he'd be on tour,walking from place to place."The Jeta Grove was offered to -the
Buddha by Anathapindika,who had first bought it from Jeta,it's owner,for the price of it's
surface laid with gold coins,For this story see Buddhist Texts NoI.Mindfully fixing his
attention in front of him',preparatory to entering into trance,the Buddha fixes his attention on
the breath which is in front of him.He then enters into~trance which is described in the larger
Pranjaparamita Sutras as being the 'king of all £~adhiS'~ and which miraculous' ly persists
throughout the preaching of the Sutra." This Sutra of course says ...

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