The Diamond Perfection of Wisdom

A New Translation from Kumārajīva’s Chinese

Charlie Patton
Jan 27 · 22 min read
Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

1. Introduction


2. Subhūti’s Question

The Buddha replied, “Good, good! Subhūti, it’s as you have said. [749a] The Tathāgata well attends to the bodhisattvas and well confers [his teaching] to the bodhisattvas. Now, listen closely: I shall explain for you how good sons and good daughters who’ve set their minds on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment should thus abide and thus control their minds.”

“Yes, Bhagavān! I would be happy to hear this.”


3. The Vow to Liberate Beings

‘Whatever type of sentient beings they may be, whether they’re womb-born, egg-born, water-born, or born of transformation, or have form, no form, perception, no perception, or neither perception nor no perception, I will cause them all to enter the Nirvāṇa that has no remainder and completely liberate them.’

Thus having completely liberated measureless, countless, and limitless sentient beings, no sentient beings really will have attained complete liberation. Why is that? Subhūti, if a bodhisattva has the concept of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul, then he isn’t a bodhisattva.


4. The Bodhisattva’s Abode

“Subhūti, what do you think? Can the extent of space to the East be fathomed, or not?”

“No, Bhagavān.”

“Subhūti, can the extent of space to the South, West, North, the four directions between, above, or below be fathomed, or not?”

“No, Bhagavān.”

“Subhūti, the merit of a bodhisattva who has no abode in appearances when she is generous is likewise; it cannot be fathomed. Subhūti, bodhisattvas should only abide according to this teaching.”


5. The Tathāgata’s Body

“No, Bhagavān. It’s not possible to see the Tathāgata by way of his body’s signs. Why is that? It has been explained by the Tathāgata that his body’s signs in fact are not his body’s signs.”

The Buddha told Subhūti, “The signs possessed by anyone are false. If you see that these signs are not signs, then you’ll see the Tathāgata.”


6. Subhūti’s Doubt

The Buddha told Subhūti, “Don’t say that. During the last 500 years after the Tathāgata’s extinction, there will be people who observe the precepts and cultivate merits. They will be capable of believing these statements and consider them to be true. You should know [749b] that these people will not have planted their roots of goodness with one buddha, two buddhas, three, four, or five buddhas. They will have planted their roots of goodness with measureless hundreds of thousands of buddhas. If they hear these statements for even a single thought, they will become pure believers.

“Subhūti, the Tathāgata knows and sees that all of these sentient beings will attain such measureless merits. Why is that? These sentient beings will have no more concepts of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. They will have no concepts of the teaching nor concepts of what is not the teaching. Why is that? If the minds of these sentient beings were to acquire concepts, then they would become attached to a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. If they were to acquire concepts of the teaching, then they would become attached to a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. Why is that? If they were to acquire concepts of what is not the teaching, then they would become attached to a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. Therefore, they should neither acquire the teaching nor acquire what is not the teaching. It’s for this reason that the Tathāgata always says:

‘You monks, know that my teaching is like the Parable of the Raft. If the teaching must be abandoned, why wouldn’t what is not the teaching?’


7. Unsurpassed and Perfect Enlightenment

Subhūti replied, “As I understand the meaning of what the Buddha has taught, there’s nothing definite called ‘unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment,’ and there’s nothing definite that the Tathāgata can teach. Why is that? The teaching explained by the Tathāgata can’t be acquired or expressed, and it’s neither a teaching nor not a teaching. What is the reason for that? All the noble sages are distinguished by this unconditioned teaching.”


8. The Merits of This Sūtra

Subhūti replied, “Numerous, Bhagavān. Why is that? These merits in fact would not have the nature of merits. The Tathāgata therefore says that his merits would be many.”

“Suppose someone else takes even a four-line verse from this sūtra and expounds it for other people. His merits would surpass that of the other’s. Why is that? Subhūti, all the buddhas and their teachings of unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment are produced from this sūtra. Subhūti, the so-called ‘Buddha’s teaching’ is not the Buddha’s teaching.


9. The Four Fruits

Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why is that? Stream entry is a name for entering the stream, but nothing is entered. He doesn’t enter forms, sounds, odors, tastes, touches, or notions. He is called a stream enterer.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? [749c] Is a once-returner capable of thinking, ‘I have attained the fruit of a once-returner,’ or not?”

Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why is that? Once returning is the name for having one more rebirth, but really there is no rebirth. She is called a once-returner.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Is the non-returner capable of thinking, ‘I have attained the fruit of an non-returner,’ or not?”

Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why is that? Non-return is the name for not returning, but really there’s no returning, so he is called a non-returner.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Is a worthy¹ capable of thinking, ‘I have attained an worthy’s awakening,’ or not?”

Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why is that? There really is nothing called a worthy. Bhagavān, if a worthy were to think, ‘I have attained the worthy’s awakening,’ then she would be attached to a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. Bhagavān, the Buddha has said I’m the best among people who’ve attained the concentration of no conflict and the best worthy who is free of desire. I don’t think, ‘I am a worthy who is free of desire.’ Bhagavān, if I were to think, ‘I have attained the worthy’s awakening,’ the Bhagavān would not say, ‘Subhūti is someone who enjoys the forest life.’ Nothing is really practiced by Subhūti, but he is called Subhūti who enjoys the forest life.”


10. Dīpamkara

“No, Bhagavān. There really was no teaching attained by the Tathāgata when he was with the Buddha Dīpaṃkara.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does a bodhisattva adorn a buddha land, or not?”

“No, Bhagavān. Why is that? What adorns a buddha land is not an adornment. It’s called an adornment.”

“Therefore, Subhūti, bodhisattva mahāsattvas should thus form pure thoughts:

They should not abide in forms when forming thoughts, nor should they abide in sounds, odors, tastes, touches, or notions when forming thoughts. They should abide in nothing when they form their thoughts.

“Subhūti, suppose, for example, a person has a body that’s like Sumeru the Mountain King. What do you think? Would his body be large, or not?”

Subhūti replied, “Enormous, Bhagavān. Why is that? The Buddha has taught that it’s not a body. It’s called a large body.”


11. The Merits of This Sūtra (2)

Subhūti replied, “Numerous, Bhagavān. Just the number of Gaṅgā Rivers would be countless. How many more would their sand grains be?”

“Subhūti, I am speaking honestly now when I ask you this: If there were good sons and good daughters [750a] who filled as many billion-world universes as the number of sand grains in those Gaṅgā Rivers with the seven treasures to use for gift-giving, would they attain many merits, or not?”

Subhūti replied, “Numerous, Bhagavān.”

The Buddha told Subhūti, “Suppose a good son or good daughter takes even a four-line verse from this sūtra and explains it for other people. Their merits would surpass the merits of the previous example.


12. This Sūtra Is Like a Shrine


13. The Sūtra’s Title

The Buddha told Subhūti, “This sūtra’s name is Diamond Perfection of Wisdom. You should preserve it with this title. What is the reason for that? Subhūti, the perfection of wisdom that the Buddha teaches isn’t the perfection of wisdom.

“Subhūti, what do you think? Is there a teaching that’s taught by the Tathāgata, or not?”

Subhūti said to the Buddha, “Bhagavān, nothing is taught by the Tathāgata.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Are the particles in a billion-world universe many, or not?”

Subhūti replied, “Numerous, Bhagavān.”

“Subhūti, the Tathāgata teaches that particles are not particles. They are called particles. The Tathāgata teaches that worlds are not worlds. They are called worlds.

“Subhūti, what do you think? Is it possible to see the Tathāgata by way of the 32 signs, or not?”

“No, Bhagavān. It’s not possible to see the Tathāgata by way of the 32 signs. Why is that? The Tathāgata teaches that the 32 signs in fact are not signs. They are called the 32 signs.”

“Subhūti, suppose a good son or good daughter gives as many lives as the sands of the Gaṅgā River as gifts, and suppose someone else takes even a four-line verse from this sūtra and explains it for other people. Her merits would be numerous.”


14. Future Generations

“Bhagavān, now that I’ve heard such a sūtra, confidently accepting and retaining it isn’t difficult to do. Suppose there are sentient beings during the last 500 years in the future who come to hear this sūtra, and they confidently accept and retain it. They will be the best and extraordinary people. Why is that? These people will have no concepts of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. What is the reason for that? The concept of a self in fact is not a concept. The concepts of a person, a sentient being, and a soul in fact are not concepts. Why is that? Those who are separated from all concepts are called buddhas.”

The Buddha told Subhūti, “So it is, so it is! Suppose again that someone who comes to hear this sūtra isn’t astonished, alarmed, or frightened by it. You should know that this person would be quite extraordinary. Why is that? Subhūti, the best perfection that the Tathāgata teaches is not the best perfection. It’s called the best perfection.

“Subhūti, the perfection of tolerance, the Tathāgata teaches, is not the perfection of tolerance. Why is that? Subhūti, my body was once cut to pieces by King Kaliṅga, and at the time I had no concepts of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. Why is that? When I was dismembered back then, I would have become angry if I had had the concepts of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul.

“Subhūti, I also recall that 500 lifetimes ago I had become the sage Kṣānti. During that life, I had no concepts of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul. Therefore, Subhūti, bodhisattvas should be free of all concepts to set their minds on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment. They shouldn’t abide in forms when forming that thought, nor should they abide in sounds, odors, tastes, touches, or notions when forming that thought. They should form thoughts that abide in nothing. If that thought abides in something, then it would not be an abode. Therefore, the Buddha has taught that the bodhisattva’s thoughts should not abide in forms when he is generous.

“Subhūti, bodhisattvas should thus be generous in order to benefit all sentient beings. The Tathāgata teaches that all concepts in fact are not concepts. He also teaches that all sentient beings are not sentient beings.

“Subhūti, the Tathāgata speaks honestly, speaks genuinely, speaks thusly, doesn’t speak falsely, and doesn’t speak inconsistently.

“Subhūti, the Dharma attained by the Tathāgata is neither real nor fake. Subhūti, if a bodhisattva’s thoughts abide [750c] in things when she practices generosity, she will be like someone who enters darkness and sees nothing. If a bodhisattva’s thoughts don’t abide in things when she practices generosity, she will be like someone with eyes seeing a variety of forms in broad daylight.

“Subhūti, if there are good sons and good daughters in future times who can accept, retain, read, and recite what’s in this sūtra, the Tathāgata knows and sees with his buddha wisdom that all these people will achieve measureless and limitless merits.


15. This Sūtra Is Like a Shrine (2)

“Subhūti, essentially speaking, this sūtra has inconceivable, inestimable, and limitless merits. The Tathāgata teaches it for those setting out on the great vehicle. He teaches it for those setting out on the supreme vehicle. If there are people who can accept, retain, read, recite, and fully explain it for others, the Tathāgata knows and sees that all these people coming to achieve immeasurable, inexpressible, limitless, and inconceivable merits. Such people carry the Tathāgata’s unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment. Why is that? Subhūti, if someone enjoys lesser teachings, she is attached to the views of a self, a person, a sentient being, and a soul. She cannot hear, accept, retain, read, recite, or explain this sūtra for others.

“Subhūti, wherever it may be that this sūtra is found, all the world’s gods, humans, and asuras should present offerings there. They should know this place is a shrine and pay their respects by bowing, circumambulating, and scattering flowers and incense around it.


16. The Merits of This Sūtra (3)

“Subhūti, I recall being in the presence of Buddha Dīpaṃkara measureless and innumerable eons ago. I had met, made offerings to, and served 84 hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of billions of buddhas, and none of it was in vain. [751a] Suppose someone in the final era is able to accept, retain, read, and recite this sūtra. The merits of my offerings to those buddhas would not be a hundredth of the merits attained by him. They wouldn’t be a thousandth, a ten thousandth, or a millionth of them. There is no fraction of themto which my merits could be compared.

“Subhūti, if I were to fully describe the merits attained by good sons and good daughters in the final era who accept, retain, read, and recite this sūtra, some people hearing it would be perplexed and incredulous, and they wouldn’t believe it. Subhūti, you should know that the meaning of this sūtra is inconceivable, and its effects are also inconceivable.”


17. Subhūti’s Question (2)

The Buddha told Subhūti, “Good sons and good daughters who set their minds on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment will form this thought, ‘I should completely liberate all sentient beings. Once I’ve completely liberated all sentient beings, there really won’t be a single sentient being that was completely liberated.’ Why is that? Subhūti, if a bodhisattva has the concepts of a self, a person, a sentient being, or a soul, then he is not a bodhisattva. What is the reason for that? Subhūti, there really is nothing that is setting one’s mind on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment.

“Subhūti, what do you think? When the Tathāgata was with the Buddha Dīpaṃkara, did he have a teaching that attained unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment, or not?”

“No, Bhagavān. As I understand the meaning of what the Buddha has taught, the Buddha had no teaching that attained unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment when he was with the Buddha Dīpaṃkara.”

The Buddha said, “So it is, so it is! Subhūti, there really is nothing that is the Tathāgata’s attainment of unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment. Subhūti, if there was something that is the Tathāgata’s attainment of unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment, then the Buddha Dīpaṃkara wouldn’t have given me the prediction, ‘In a future life, you will become a buddha named Śākyamuni.’ That’s because there really is no teaching that attains unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment. The Buddha Dīpaṃkara therefore gave me that prediction and said, ‘In a future life, you will become a buddha named Śākyamuni.’ Why is that? The meaning of ‘Tathāgata’ is in fact the suchness of all things.

“Suppose someone were to say, ‘The Tathāgata has attained unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment.’ Subhūti, there really is nothing that is a buddha attaining unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment. Subhūti, there is nothing about the Tathāgata’s attainment of unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment [751b] that is either real or fake. The Tathāgata therefore says, ‘All teachings are the Buddha’s teaching.’ Subhūti, the term ‘all teachings’ in fact is not all teachings. It therefore is called all teachings.

“Subhūti, take for example a person whose body is huge.”

Subhūti said, “Bhagavān, the Tathāgata has taught that a person’s body that’s huge is not a large body. It’s called a large body.”

“Subhūti, a bodhisattva is likewise. If she makes the statement, ‘I shall completely liberate measureless sentient beings,’ then she is not called a bodhisattva. Why is that? Subhūti, there really is nothing that’s called a bodhisattva. The Buddha therefore teaches that all things have no self, person, sentient being, or soul.

“Subhūti, suppose a bodhisattva makes this statement, ‘I will adorn the buddha land.’ He is not called a bodhisattva. Why is that? The Tathāgata has taught that adorning a buddha land in fact is not an adornment. It’s called adorning [a buddha land]. Subhūti, if a bodhisattva fully comprehends the teaching of selflessness, the Tathāgata has taught that she is called a genuine bodhisattva.”


18. The Five Eyes

“So it is, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata possesses the physical eye.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata possess the divine eye, or not?”

“So it is, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata possesses the divine eye.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata possess the wisdom eye, or not?”

“So it is, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata possesses the wisdom eye.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata possess the Dharma eye, or not?”

“So it is, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata possesses the Dharma eye.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata possess the Buddha eye, or not?”

“So it is, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata possesses the Buddha eye.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Has the Buddha spoken about the sands that are in the Gaṅgā River, or not?”

“So it is, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata has spoken about those sands.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? If there were Gaṅgā Rivers equal to the sands in a single Gaṅgā River and buddha worlds numbering like the sands of all those Gaṅgā Rivers, would they thus be numerous, or not?”

“Numerous, Bhagavān.”

The Buddha told Subhūti, “The Tathāgata knows all the types of thought that are possessed by the sentient beings in those lands. Why is that? The Tathāgata has taught that thoughts are not thoughts. They are called thoughts. What is the reason for that? Subhūti, past thoughts are inapprehensible, present thoughts are inapprehensible, and future thoughts are inapprehensible.”


19. The Merits of Giving

“So it is, Bhagavān. This person would obtain numerous merits through these causes and conditions.”

“Subhūti, if these merits were real, the Tathāgata would not say that he would obtain many merits. The Tathāgata says that he would obtain many merits because these merits don’t exist.”


20. The Tathāgata’s Body (2)

“No, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata should not be seen by way his perfected form body. Why is that? The Tathāgata has taught that the perfected form body in fact is not a perfected form body. It’s called the perfected form body.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be seen by way of his perfected signs, or not?”

“No, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata should not be seen by way of his perfected signs. Why is that? The Tathāgata has taught that the perfection of signs in fact is not a perfection. It’s called the perfection of signs.”


21. Subhūti’s Doubt (2)

It was then that the Venerable Subhūti asked the Buddha, “Bhagavān, isn’t it doubtful that there will be sentient beings in future eras who will hear this teaching and believe it?”

The Buddha replied, “Subhūti, they won’t be sentient beings, nor will they not be sentient beings. Why is that? Subhūti, ‘sentient beings, sentient beings,’ the Tathāgata has taught, are not sentient beings. They are called sentient beings.”


22. Unsurpassed and Perfect Enlightenment (2)

The Buddha replied, “So it is, so it is! Subhūti, there is not even the slightest thing that I can be obtain in unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment. It’s called unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment.”


23. Wholesome Qualities


24. Merits of This Sūtra (4)


25. The Vow to Liberate Beings (2)


26. The Tathāgata’s Body (3)

Subhūti replied, “So it is, so it is! The Tathāgata is examined by the 32 signs.”

The Buddha said, “Subhūti, if the Tathāgata is examined by the 32 signs, a wheel-turning holy king would be a Tathāgata.”

Subhūti said to the Buddha, “Bhagavān, as I understand the meaning of what the Buddha has taught, the Tathāgata should not be examined by way of the 32 signs.”

The Bhagavān then spoke this verse:

“If he sees me by way of my form
or seeks me by way of my voice,
this person practices the wrong path
and cannot see the Tathāgata.


27. Not Nihilism

“Subhūti, suppose you were to think, ‘Someone who sets their mind on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment teaches the elimination of teachings.’ Don’t think that. Why is that? Someone who sets their mind on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment doesn’t teach the elimination of teachings.


28. Bodhisattvas Don’t Accept Merit

Subhūti asked the Buddha, “Bhagavān, how do bodhisattvas not accept merit?”

[752b] “Subhūti, a bodhisattva should not covet the merits that she makes. Therefore, I say she doesn’t accept merit.


29. Meaning of ‘Tathāgata’


30. The Concept of an Entity

“Numerous, Bhagavān. Why is that? If this multitude of particles really existed, then the Buddha would not say it’s a multitude of particles. What’s the reason for that? The Buddha has taught that this multitude of particles in fact is not a multitude of particles. It’s called a multitude of particles.

“Bhagavān, that billion-world universe the Tathāgata mentioned is not a universe. It’s called a universe. Why is that? If these worlds really existed, then they would be the concept of an entity. The Tathāgata has taught the concept of an entity is not the concept of an entity. It’s called the concept of an entity.”

“Subhūti, the concept of an entity is inexpressible. Only ordinary people covet such things.


31. No Views

“No, Bhagavān. This person does not understand the meaning of what the Tathāgata teaches. Why is that? The Bhagavān has taught that the views of a self, a person, a sentient being, and a soul are not the views of a self, a person, a sentient being, and a soul. They are called the views of a self, a person, a sentient being, and a soul.”

“Subhūti, someone who sets her mind on unsurpassed and perfect enlightenment should thus know, thus see, and thus be confident about all things. She does not form the concept of a thing. Subhūti, the term ‘concept of a thing,’ the Tathāgata teaches, in fact is not the concept of a thing. It’s called the concept of a thing.


32. Conclusion

“All conditioned things are like
Dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows,
Dew, and like lightning:
They should thus be contemplated.”

Once the Buddha had taught this sūtra, Elder Subhūti, the monks, nuns, laymen, [752c] laywomen, and all the world’s gods, humans, and asuras who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced. They faithfully accepted and handed it down.


Notes

  1. More commonly known in English as the Ganges River. [back]
  2. Skt. asura is difficult to translate. They were similar to the titans in Greek mythology. They waged war against the gods in the Vedic tradition and were defeated. Buddhists treated them as symbols of enmity. [back]
  3. Bad destinies refer to the lower realms of rebirth: animals, hungry ghosts, and the various hells. [back]

Dharma Pearls

Modern translations of classical Buddhist texts

Charlie Patton

Written by

Writer, Translator, Poet

Dharma Pearls

Modern translations of classical Buddhist texts

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