on May 23, 2003
Sutra translation into English is absolutely no easy task, yet A.F. Price does an excellent job here. The Diamond Sutra is probably the singlemost important sutra to all of Mahayana Buddhism, and particularly those schools of Zen. For those unfamiliar with this sutra, it is simply a dialogue between Subhuti, Buddha's disciple-and the Buddha himself.
The Diamond Sutra says, "All things that appear in this world are transient. If you view all appearances as nonappearance, then you will see the true Buddha.'' "All things that exist are like a dream, a phantom, a bubble, a reflection; they are like dew or lightning; thus should you view them.'' "If you are attached to color and sound and want to see your true nature, you are on the wrong path.''
This sutra demonstrates, in it's basic presentation, how the mind that discriminates this from that: I like this, I don't like that/ correct/incorrect-is forever chained to delusion. But a Buddha cuts through all opposites thinking. A Buddha sees past the evident and does some investigation. Understanding does not help us-action is understanding! Basically our ideas blind our eyes-but our eyes originally have no idea-they just look. So if we can attain a mind like that, a just looking mind, not a same/different mind-we can take true steps toward liberation.
Then we have the Sutra of Hui neng, another Buddhist classic. Hui Neng, as many of you may know-was the 6th Zen Patriarch in China. Hui Neng heard just a very few lines from the Diamond Sutra and completely understood himself with no practice at all. But he had a lot of karma. Many were trying to kill him for having received transmission from a very famous Zen Master, the Fifth Patriarch, and became the Sixth Patriarch with no training, no education. He had a lot of karma for all these people were trying to stick a knife in his back. So he had to go away in the forest for sixteen years and live with hunters and kill, living under trees with no roof over his head. Finally, after that length of time, he came out and took the Precepts and became a monk before he began teaching.
So The Sutra of Hui neng is almost like an autobiography of Hui Neng-a somewhat brief one-yet quite deep and insightful. So toss this book up, it always lands heads. Read this book often-it may seem slow at parts due to the ancient dialects-but true wisdom is on every page. Read it enough times, and your minds eye can open up! So what, [money] for this kind of crazy man's wisdom-what a bargain! Enjoy:)
on May 28, 2004
The diamond sutra is the oldest extant book in the world. It has been described as a concise summary of the entirety of Buddhist thought. The name diamond is associated with it because it cuts through all of the different dogmas, systems of thought, and attempts to reveal reality as directly as possible. The 32 chapters (1-3 pages each) can be read in a single sitting.
The sutra of Hui-Neng is also included which is a longer, more biographical work by the sixth patriarch that serves as a commentary on the Diamond Sutra. The most enjoyable part of this work is a poetry contest held by the fifth patriarch. This contest was open to any of the monks but was effectively between the star student that was well respected but did not have a proper understanding of the Dharma (teaching) and the anonymous, low-born, illiterate Hui-Neng that had no social standing or formal knowlege, but understood the Dharma. Here is the classic exchange (paraphrased from memory):
The body is the bodhi tree and
The mind a mirror bright
Carefully we clean it day by day
So no dust may alight
There is no bodhi tree
Nor a mirror bright
Since all is void and empty
Where can the dust alight?
I recommend this book to anyone serious about learing about the essence of Buddhism as opposed to the rituals and systems of thought associated with it. As the sutra says: The religion given by Buddha is not Buddha religion.
on January 9, 2005
This book, comprising two closely related & relatively short sutras, is elemental to Buddhist thought. The first, The Diamond Sutra is a discourse between the Nagarjuna Buddha & his disciple Subhuti. So named for its proficiency to `cut away' the illusion of duality, it probes the nature of dualistic thought with questions from each to the other. The questions seem simple enough & generally evolve around the dissolution of names in the subjective world. The goal is to `snap' the mind into seeing all as no-thing, though Buddha stresses that this should not be viewed as nothing or nihilism. Easier said than done.
The second Sutra, composed from sermons given by Hui - Neng, an illiterate wood cutter who upon hearing the Diamond Sutra became enlightened unto its meaning & eventually became the sixth patriarch of Buddhism to China, (the thirty third in the lineage from Shakyamuni), is an extrapolation of the essence of the Diamond Sutra & what many consider the root of Zen. In it is recorded questions asked by him to followers of Buddhism, & his answers to theirs which almost always show the superficial ways in which people `understand' Buddha's message. His simple but intuitive answers leave you saying `of course!' over & over again. His message is occasionally Koan like & thus can be studied as such. Rarely in the text does he speak of laws or ethics, more intent instead to dwell on the ultimate nature of mind & reality, his reasoning being that once illusion is dispelled, wisdom is immediate. Surprising is his warning against Meditative practices, so incorporated in Zen, particularly the Rinzai style, as, he cautions, `Immobility is immobility & not dhyana', preferring the idea that satori is merely realized & that meditative practices may lead one to dwell on nothing. This is a wonderful Sutra & would do well to be read by anybody truly interested in Buddha the mans message. In the end however, it is best for the author of the Platform Sutra, as it is sometimes called, to leave a final book review:
"Men of principle will get it & those who are mindless will understand it."
on May 4, 2013
Of the dozens upon dozens of Zen books I've read in the past forty years, just two make my Highly Recommended List (which I include in the books I write): "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po" and "The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui Neng." And more than coincidentally, these are the only Zen texts to make the "Books to Hang Out" List in Baba Ram Dass's classic text, "Be Here now." Ram Dass and I disagree on many things, but we see eye to eye on the preeminence of these two books in the Zen tradition.
This text is really a two-for-one special, including both "The Diamond Sutra "(one of the two most important Indian Prajnaparamita Sutras; the other being "The Heart Sutra") and "The Sutra of Hui Neng" (which consists of the sermons and sayings of Hui Neng, the most famous Zen Master of the Tang Dynasty). To emphasize how important "The Sutra of Hui Neng" is, I'll quote the Translator's Preface from the text: "... of all the Chinese works which have been canonized in the Tripitaka, this standard work of the Dhyana [Zen] school is the only one that bears the designation of `Sutra.'"
I'll start my review with "The Diamond Sutra." Although I recommend this Sutra for students of Mahayana Buddhism and Zen, it is no longer my cup of tea. Decades ago, I was enamored with it, and for a couple of years, like a monk, I devoted my life to practicing what it preaches: non-attachment and non-abiding. Even though I experienced many profound formless samadhis and channeled intense kundalini energy via this practice of constant letting go, I eventually realized its limitations and moved on to superior, more integral Dharmas (Tibetan Dzogchen, Hindu Kashmir Shaivism, Ramana Maharshi's Advaita Vedanta, and Adi Da's Daism), which include and transcend the exclusive practice of self-emptying, which is just one-third of an integral spiritual practice (with the other two-thirds being the practices of Connecting (Presence + Oneness) and Receiving (Divine Power, the Sambhogakaya).
The real "Diamond" of spiritual life, which cuts through everything, is direct Awareness, the Force of Consciousness (or Mind) Itself. But the "Diamond Sutra" never talks about Awareness (the Dharmakaya), because, like other Prajnaparamita Sutras, it reduces everything to emptiness and the practice of self-emptying. Moreover, unlike Tibetan Dzogchen and Mahamudra, it never talks about the Clear Light, the Sambhogkaya, which en-Light-ens a Bodhisattva. In sum, "The Diamond Sutra" is a hyper-apophatic, one-dimensional text, but a canonical one still worth a read by anyone into Mahayana Buddhism and Zen.
The "Sutra of Hui Neng" is a mixed, though mainly positive, bag. The negative is the "Diamond Sutra"-inspired "fundamental principle" and dhyana (meditation) practice emphasized by the Patriarch: non-attachment (or non-abiding). The truth is, non-attachment is NOT the fundamental principle of spiritual life; the fundamental principle of spiritual life is connecting to and being en-Light-ened by Spirit. Yes, one needs to utterly let go (or be non-attached) in order to receive or conduct the Spirit-current (what Gautama called "the Stream" and later Buddhist the Sambhogakaya), but that self-emptying is just part of an integral spiritual practice. Because the exclusive practice of non-attachment is an incomplete, or one-sided, meditation practice, Zen eventually turned to koans and other "yang" consciousness practices to complement the "yin" one of non-attachment.
On the positive side, the Sutra of Hui Neng is an enjoyable read, because the Patriarch's wisdom is dispensed via stories, exchanges with his students, and stanzas, some of which are all-time classics. Hui Neng's most famous stanza, the one that earned him the Sixth Patriarchship, and the one I never forget, is: "There is no Bodhi Tree, nor stand of mirror bright, since all is void, where can the dust alight?"
Also on the positive side, the Patriarch describes enlightenment in Hindu-like terms, emphasizing the realization of the Essence of Mind (or Self/Buddha-nature). Moreover, according to the Patriarch, "... at all times the Essence of Mind is in a state of `Thusness,'" which equates to a state of `Isness' or `Beingness' rather than one of mere emptiness. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Patriarch provides clarity for those who, mistakenly, believe it is the [empirical] mind (rather than the flag or wind) that moves when one watches a flag waving in the breeze. According to the Patriarch, "... all things are a manifestation of the essence of [universal, transcendental] Mind," which means that it is really the formless One Mind (in the forms of mind, flag, and wind) that moves.