Sandra Holmes Dharma Talk: Diamond Sutra

 

Diamond Sutra

by Sandra Jishu Holmes
Talk given to Zen Group at Naropa during the years 1993-1995
Section I. Convocation to the Assembly

Thus have I heard. Upon a time Buddha sojourned in Anathapindika’s Park by Sravasti with a great company of bhikshus, even twelve hundred and fifty.

One day, at the time for breaking fast, the World-Honored robed, and carrying His bowl, made His way into the great city of Sravasti to beg for His food. In the mist of the city He begged from door to door according to rule, This done, He returned to His retreat and took His meal. When He had finished He put away His robe and begging bowl, washed His feet, arranged His seat, and sat down.

The Diamond Sutra belongs to the class of Wisdom Sutras where we find the Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines and the heart Sutra. It has been attributed to Nagarjuna but it is more likely that it was written down in the 4th century. It was taken to China and translated by Kumarajiva early in the 5th century.

The oldest existing printed book is a Chinese translation of the Diamond Sutra dating from 868 A.D.

The Sanskrit name of this Sutra is – Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra. Diamond – the incomparable gem of great brilliance and the stone of extreme hardness, able to cut through our delusions and carry us to the other shore.

Upon hearing this Sutra the 6th patriarch, Hui-Neng, had his first enlightenment experience and upon meditating on this sutra he had his major enlightenment experience.

This is the opening section of the Diamond Sutra. The Diamond -cutter of delusion. A Gem whose countless facets sparkle with fire and brilliance. One of these facets is a question raised by Subhuti. Subhuti was the disciple whom the Buddha declared to be foremost among those who dwell in peace, in seclusion in the midst of the forest. He was foremost among those who abide in the Samadhi on Non-resistance. How should we practice abides in each one of us.

The Convocation of the Assembly. The opening section of this Sutra is called the convocation of the Assembly. I don’t know if Sutras are composed in sections like scenes in a play or if the sections were later superimposed to help in studying them. But as a curtain-raiser the Convocation of the Assembly makes dramatic sense. We bring together the audience, we call together the faithful, the Sangha or —we bring together all our faculties to study this Sutra. To study this Sutra, to practice Zen, to experience this moment, first focus all your faculties like the Diamond point of a drill.

This opening section provides a setting for the jewel for the drama about to be unfolded. It gives us time, place and circumstance, like any good play.

Of course we can also look at it as the heart of the matter. The whole sutra is really presented in this first paragraph and the rest is commentary. The whole of the sutra is in the first word THUS and is presented to us right now, moment after moment if we can just get inside that tiny little word THUS we can read the entire sutra in a flash.

Thus have I heard. This is Ananda speaking. The cousin and personal attendant of the Buddha for 30 years. He had an incredible memory and was able to repeat the Buddha’s discourses to the Council of Elders shortly after the Buddha’s parinirvana. Traditionally, all Sutras starting with “Thus have I heard…” are Buddha;s direct teachings as recited by Ananda.

Thus have I heard. This is the One Body perceiving this very moment. This is ATTENTION! I was looking through the Shuso Hossan book which contains the cases used by past shusos and I noticed that they start with the word ATTENTION! Thus have I heard is the same thing — pay attention to what’s happening right now. Simone Weil, a hero of mine, once said that attention is the essence of prayer. She was a school teacher and she said that there was really only one thing that children should be taught in school. Attention! The subject matter was incidental, what was important was Attention!

Upon a time Buddha sojourned in Anathapindika’s park by Sravasti with a great company of bhikshus even twelve hundred and fifty. Anathapindika was the brother-in-law of a wealthy banker. One day he went to visit his brother-in-law on business and found preparations in progress for a great feast and asked if the King of Magadha was coming. No—the Buddha. Anathapindika became a lay disciple of the Buddha and purchased Prince Jeta’s pleasure grove at the price of the grounds covered with gold coins as a monastery for the Buddha.

So at the time of this discourse the Buddha had considerable renown and lived with 1250 monks. Later in the sutra it mentions that they were all of high accomplishment. An order of monks was established and they lived by a rule set down by the Buddha.

One day at the time for breaking fast the World-Honored enrobed and carrying his bowl made his way into the great city of Sravasti to beg for his food. This describes the simplest most ordinary event in the life of the Buddha of for that matter in the life of any monk. At the time for breaking fast, at the time for breaking the bonds of delusion, at the time for raising the thought of enlightenment, the World-Honored enrobed. Cutting off the roots of attachment, he shaved his head and put on the robes of a monk. Carrying his empty bowl he made his way to the great city of Sravasti. Sravasti was called the city of wonders. In Indian scriptures the body is often referred to as a none-gated city. the Buddha went out into this city of wonders, threw all the gates wide open to beg for his daily bread. To receive the Dharma with all his senses, his eyes, his ears, his nose his bare feet. I visited India a few years ago on a pilgrimage to the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, a South Indian Saint. I considered myself to be pretty world-wise and fairly well-traveled. But I was totally unprepared for the vitality and sensuality of this country. Here, we wrap our senses in saran wrap and carefully expose ourselves almost voyeuristically if that is a word. In Tiruvanamalai, all of my senses were assaulted in every possible way at every possible moment. Life was lived on the street corner. Cooking, defecating, eating, birthing, dying, all of it was taking [place right out in the open and all at once. There was no wrapping up of events in discrete little packets and delivering them to the appropriate place. My nose was smelling the burning body, the spices, the urine, the sweat and the flowers and incense all at once. I felt the sharp stones on the hot round under my bare feet. The sound of laughter, crying, wailing, the constant chatter in an incomprehensible language, music bells, dogs barking, children begging everywhere. the indescribable riot of colors, children maimed from birth, so that they would have a livelihood as beggars, beautiful temples, terrible shanties, starvation and abundance side by side. …The Buddha called together all of his faculties and went out into this city of wonders to beg for the Dharma.

In the midst of the city he begged from door to door according to rule. In the midst of the city, with complete attention, holding his empty bowl he begged from door to door according to rule. Totally open, he received whatever was given. With complete trust he held out his bowl to receive what was given, he ran from nothing, feared nothing, accepted whatever was given without question, according to rule. In Japan monks still go out begging according to this ancient tradition. This is the practice of one who begs for the Dharma. Walk up to the door of every new experience and accept what is given with an empty bowl. An insult, a demand, a compliment, sickness, health, joy, sorrow. According to rule, this is the simple practice given by the Tathagatha. it’s Takahatsu. Moment after moment… Time after time… raise the thought of enlightenment, and cutting off the root of attachment receive what is given with an empty bowl. Approach every door empty-handed. When the telephone rings simple pick up the receiver and say hello. with an empty bowl receive the message. This is my practice. The whole of this Sutra is contained in a single ring of the telephone if I can just hear it with empty ears.

This done, he returned to his retreat and took his meal. We never come back empty handed. The Dharma is abundance. There is always enough to chew on. The Buddha’s teachings of the Good Law are right here now. We don’t need an exotic setting to find them. Having filled your bowl return to your retreat. Go deep within yourself and take your meal. Chew it up. Chew it to the bone. Suck out the marrow. Savor it. Become one with it, incorporate it into your sinews, your pores, your hair follicles. No separation. Become one with the Dharma.

When he had finished he put away his robe and begging bowl, washed his feet, arranged his seat, and sat down. In another passage in this sutra, the Buddha says: My teaching of the Good Law is to be likened unto a raft. The Buddha teaching must be relinquished. Don’t carry around leftovers in your bowl. They spoil the next meal. Let go of yesterday’s insult, yesterday’s praise, yesterday’s understanding, yesterday’s dream of enlightenment. They are all dead things. Wash your feet — remove the last traces of this meal, the dust of your travels. Then sit down ready to start all over again. Just pay attention to this moment. this is the play, the whole drama is taking place before you very eyes right now. Just look!

Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world
A star at dawn; a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.

So the curtain is brought down. This sutra is a bubble in a stream. If you try to grasp it you are reaching for the morning star. Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, nothing changes. A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream. Thus its all happening right here. And all at once. It’s not sequential, its immediate.