The Diamond cutter Sutra

Greetings and thankyou for allowing me to join this community.

A friend of mine is a Tibetan Buddhist, and I am planning to attend a teaching on the Diamond Cutter Sutra. Does someone know where this fits into the scheme of EBT or the NIkayas. I read that the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutras are considered to be the heart of the Vajrayana teaching, and I am curious to know whether it aligns with the Pali Canon and Theravadan teachings

I am just starting my voyage through Suttas, and any assistance is much appreciated.

with Gratitude

M

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Hello mpac and welcome into the SC community!

This does not fit into the scheme of EBT or the Nikayas. The DIamond Cutter Sutra has nothing to do with the EBTs, literally zero. The Tibetan tradition as a whole may have its positive sides but it has retained very few early Suttas, the overwhelming majority of its texts come from much later times.

Do you mean with regard to textual history or doctrinal content?

with regard to both.

I came at this from the perspective of finding commonality, and respectfully exploring key teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Rather than he said/she said or I believe/you believe. I wanted a more objective or scientific approach to the subject - to understand the genesis and transformations in teaching of the Buddhas words.

I have had some exposure to the Pali Canon, so I was particularly struck by the fact that the Diamond Sutra starts so much like some Suttas in the Pali Canon. Ie using a structure regarding where the teaching took place, who was present, who was asking, etc. Here is a copy to demonstrate what I mean

Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavān was dwelling
at Śhrāvastī, in the grove of Prince Jeta, in the garden
of Anāthapiṇḍada,3
together with a great Sangha of
bhikṣhus of 1,250 bhikṣhus and a great many bodhisattva
mahāsattvas

Just reading this would imply that these recount teachings of the Pali Canon. If this is a later ‘extension’ of the Buddhas actual teachings, I’d like to know whether it deviates from the original doctrine, and in what ways. In order to know that, one needs to know if there is an equivalent Pali Suta, in order to be able to compare - or perhaps there is no near equivalent and the Sutra has been constructed as an example or just demonstrates a different interpretation. Any information about this appreciated.

What is the difference between bhikshus and bodhisattva mahasattvas?

I don’t know. I just took it to be a Tibetan term/distinction.

Well, the emptiness teaching of the Prajnaparamita texts is not too far removed from the emptiness teachings of the Nikayas and Agamas, perhaps some different terminology is preferred and there seems to a slight leaning towards illusionist interpretations of emptiness, but in the early PP texts like the Diamond and the Astasahasrika, I don’t see that much of a radical difference.

The main difference is that the Prajnaparamita sutras teach the Bodhisattva path as superior and better than the Arhat path. In the EBTs there is no different “paths” like the Arhat path and the Bodhisattva path. The Buddha simply is an arhat and a Buddha.

Thank you very much Javier. This supports the ‘uneducated’ feeling I got when reading it.

I am lucky enough to have the opportunity of hearing the Dalai Lama teach it, and wanted to be well prepared with regards to context. My personal affiliation is Theravadin, especially as regards the Bodhisatva path. This however, does not negate the value of everything else :smiley:

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According to Mahayana what is the state of Theravada Arahant?
According to them are they reborn somewhere?

There is a lot of disagreement on this within Mahayana.

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Hi Mpac,

Welcome!

The Vajracchedika (Diamond Sutra) is part of the Parjnaparamita literature, a class of Mahayana Sutra that was composed around 500 years after the Buddha.

While much of the Prajnaparamita is extremely long and verbose, the Diamond and Heart Sutras are quite short, crystallizing the essence of the Prajnaparamita philosophy into a brief and palatable form, hence their popularity.

Historically, the Prajnaparamita arose as response to and critique of the Abhidharma. According to this critique, the Abhidharma theorists (primarily of the Sarvastivada school) had lost the point of the Dhamma, priding themselves on their shallow and analytical knowledge, while missing the true taste of deep wisdom and freedom. The key theme of the Prajnaparamita is not-self. They argued that the Abhidharma theorists had turned the Dharma itself into something to be attached to and identified with, rather than as a raft for crossing over.

This is why the Heart Sutra begins by asserting that the five aggregates are “empty of inherent essence”. (pañca-skandhās tāṃś ca svabhāva-śūnyān paśyati) The term “inherent essence” or “own-nature” is a specifically Abhidhammic coinage, appearing first in the late canonical or early post-canonical Abhidharma literature. Thus this literature is criticizing ideas of this period, roughly 300–400 years after the Buddha.

Like the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra is available in translations in Chinese and Tibetan, but in modern times we have also recovered and published the original Sanskrit. The Gilgit text, which was discovered in the deserts of western China, is available on GRETIL.

Throughout this literature, we see that they are constantly echoing the literary and stylistic features of the early sutras. At the same time, though, they introduce new terms, ideas, characters, and phrases, which clearly and unambiguously mark them as later compositions. Given the consistent and stereotypical form of the early suttas, it is extremely easy to make copies of early texts that would pass as authentic, merely changing the doctrine if you feel like it. But that’s not what they did: they clearly mark the texts as late. These changes must have been deliberate, and have been intended to make it clear that these are not literal records of the Buddha’s teachings in the historical sense.

The true sources of Mahayanist inspiration were complex, but at least some sutras speak explicitly of seeing the Buddha in meditation, hearing him teach, and writing and recording his teachings. In any case, it seems clear that the authors of the Mahayana sutras believed that in some sense they were conveying the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings, but not the literal historical form.

The Mahayana Sutras position themselves in a mythic time. The essence of mythic time is the idea that “these things never were, but always are”. Less poetically, myth speaks of “timeless truths”, things that constantly recur. Because they are timeless, we don’t need to have a historical source for them: they must have happened, regardless of what the evidence might say. The Diamond Sutra, as is the way of mythic storytelling, claims to be set in the distant past, but the text hints at its true historical context. It discusses the question of what happens after 500 years, when according to the early tradition the sasana would come to an end. The Diamond Sutra gets around this by saying that the Bodhisattvas will continue to sustain the sasana. The real concern of the Diamond Sutra is the state of Buddhism in India 500 years after the Buddha.

The Diamond Sutra is one of a series of texts that was analysed on a philosophical perspective by David Kalupahana. Rather than reading it as a sectarian text, he saw it as part of a pan-sectarian tradition that, in different ways in each period of Buddhism, attempted to strip away misinterpretations of the Buddha’s teachings while still affirming the basis of the original teachings. It is a long time since I read his article, but if I recall correctly, his point was that the Diamond Sutra used a threefold critical logic, usually exemplified in this form: “What is called a ‘heap of merit’ is no heap of merit at all. That is why it is said, ‘heap of merit’.” The conventional or realistic interpretation (of the Abhidharmists) is denied, as phenomena have no inherent existence but are empty. Nevertheless, we still use language to refer to these things, but only for the pragmatic purpose of escaping suffering, not because we believe that the words correspond to an actual entity.

There are many translations of the text, but if you want to research the details, I would recommend the text and translation on the Uni of Oslo site here:

https://www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/index.php?page=fulltext&view=fulltext&vid=22&cid=43972&mid=115046

It’s not presented in a particularly readable form, but it does seem pretty reliable.

I hope that’s helpful.

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The Diamond Cutter Sūtra actually intertextually references some older Buddhavacana, in case anyone was not already aware:

以是義故,如來常說汝等比丘知我說法如筏喻者,法尚應捨,何況非法。

“Due to this reason, the Tathagata always says: ‘All you bhiksus, know that the Dharma I teach is like in the parable of the raft. The Dharma should, nevertheless, be abandoned. How much more so what is not the Dharma?’”

(T 08.0235, Venerable Yifa translation)

Some more wisdom from later in that same sūtra:

「須菩提! 於意云何?可以三十二相觀如來不?」 須菩提言:「如是,如是! 以三十二相觀如來。」 佛言:「須菩提! 若以三十二相觀如來者,轉輪聖王則是如來。」 須菩提白佛言:「世尊!如我解佛所說義, 不應以三十二相觀如來。」

“Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be observed by means of the Thirty-two Marks [lakṣaṇa]?” Subhūti replied, “Thusly, thusly, with the Thirty-two Marks [lakṣaṇa] the Tathāgata is to be observed.” The Buddha said, “Subhūti, if the Tathāgata could be observed by means of the Thirty-two Marks [lakṣaṇa], then a cakravartin king would be a tathāgata.” Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, thus do I explain the meaning of what the Buddha has said. One should not observe the Tathāgata by means of the Thirty-two Marks [lakṣaṇa].”

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Oh, yes, it does this constantly. In fact pretty much every section of the sutra takes a well-known passage or idea from the EBTs and reframes it. The connections to the early texts are not small, they are the scaffolding on which the sutra is built.

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Firstly - many thanks for this. Secondly - I am in awe. I can ask a question and the next day receive a scholarly essay on the subject! This community and your work, Ajhan Sujato, are a treasure.

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The first paragraph itself indicates that it is not authentic. It starts off pretty much like a Theravada sutta but then add ‘…along with Bodhisattvas’- the hallmark of the Mahayana doctrine of being the path of bodhisattva leading to Buddhahood.

Each paragraph has Buddhist concepts in them but formulated in a way that is not seen at all in the EBTs. Everything seems to monotonously refer to emptiness, when the MN122 Greater discourse on emptiness is presented quite differently.

I consider this mixing up of conventional and ultimate realities (those concepts also being useful, but also late) common in later texts whereas the person who has gained true insight into reality doesn’t confuse the listener (or reader) in this manner- the Buddha says the noble person expresses these distinctions without confusion, and I think this is seen in the way the EBTs are expressed.

The sutta isn’t pointing to Nibbana, IMO but emptiness, or more correctly space ('a lack of… ’ ), akasa and could lead to rebirth in the realm of ‘infinite space’ (Akincannayatana).

with metta,

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Indeed, because the Mahāyāna sees nibbāna as identical to emptiness, and, in turn, identical to saṃsāra. It is the largest point of contention between the schools, IMO, this presentation of nibbāna.

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The result of such contention can be guessed when we find out which side has sutras with grand names like ‘The Diamond Cutter Sutra’. What an awe-inspiring title… :slight_smile:

I think sometimes with the advent of Mahayana the Buddha’s dispensation died. :frowning_face:… not out of any fault of their own but the true teachers and teachings disappearing, with time.

with metta

I just think they started occasionally looking at things very differently. Which, to be fair, is what people are likely to do, let alone cultures, right? The purpose of this site is the questing for the Buddha’s dispensation. We can look at this and compare with that. If this works with that then its fine, although likely not necessary from one perspective. If this doesn’t work with that then one can dismiss it, right?

That’s probably a relevant answer for the OP too, IMO at least.

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