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Barbara O'Brien

The Further Meaning of the Diamond Sutra

By November 29, 2012

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Continuing my complaint that people keep assuming the Diamond Sutra is mostly about impermanence, when it isn't -- I started to write a blog post, but it got long enough I turned it into an article. So here is "The Deeper Meaning of the Diamond Sutra: It's Not About Impermanence." Those of you who express puzzlement when I say the sutra is not about impermanence, please read. You can leave comments here.

Now, I do not even pretend that I thoroughly understand the sutra myself, or that anything I say about it is the last word. I doubt there will ever be a last word. This is a deep and subtle text that takes a long time to sink into. But what I do perceive tells me plainly that if you think the sutra is just about impermanence, you haven't seen its meaning at all.

Beyond my argument, I suggest that people try a simple exercise. One, completely clear your mind of any assumptions about what the sutra is about. Two, Assume that the sutra actually ends just before the "bubble in a stream" verse -- which it may actually have, originally, according to some scholars. Now, read it. What do you see?

Not much about impermanence, I suspect. Now, you may not grasp what is being said in the sutra, which is understandable. This is a steep sutra. But I don't see how anyone could read this sutra without putting it through a pre-constructed "impermanence" filter and still say it is mostly about impermanence.

November 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm
(1) facethemusic says:

Is there a particular school of thought or commentaries that espouse this view of the Diamond Sutra that you are reacting to?

I’m asking because in a number of Buddhist monastic traditions, there is lively dialectic and debate about how the Sutras and Tantras should be interpreted, where the emphases should lie..

December 4, 2012 at 8:42 am
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

Is there a particular school of thought or commentaries that espouse this view of the Diamond Sutra that you are reacting to?

I don’t think so. The notion that the Diamond Sutra is mostly about impermanence seems to be coming from academia and from people who are not dharma teachers who write articles about the Diamond Sutra. But I’ve run into this several times in the past several weeks.

December 1, 2012 at 10:17 am
(3) Mila says:

Reading the passage from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, that you cite in your article, brought back fond memories of hearing Thay speak in Dharma talks about this “A is not-A, and therefore is truly-A” dialectics of the Diamond Sutra.

And how frequently he would refer to the –

1. mountains are mountains, and rivers are rivers; and then
2. mountains are not-mountains, and rivers are not-rivers; and finally
3. mountains are mountains, and rivers are rivers (but in a very different way!)

– sequence, to illustrate this. So first our perception is clouded by dualistic assumptions. Then as we challenge those assumptions, things are revealed to be not what we thought they were. Until — liberated from our conceptual overlays — they are free to arise as they are, in their “suchness” if you will …. playful appearances, dancing in radiant joyful simplicity ….. :)

December 3, 2012 at 12:51 am
(4) Hein says:

Just some musings around the Diamond Sutra:
I agree that the Diaqmond Sutra does not only deal with impermanence. That is an over simplification that leads to a misunderstanding. But what Thich Nhat Hanh says is profound. One of my Buddhist friends sometimes make the remark that reality is harsh and therefore people generally does not want to perceive harsh reality, but rather elect to wander in ignorance. Perhaps as Thay says we are just satisfied to experience the A we see [as] just an illusion of the true A. Emptiness is a difficult concept to grasp and even more difficult to experience. Sometimes most of us just get a glimpse of it, although it is not something to “glimpse”. In my view reality is daily life: the colloquial here and now. Today is the first day for the rest of my life. Yesterday does no longer exist and tomorrow has not yet arrived, but without those two days today is not possible. Have to confess the Diamond Sutra remains a mystery (not that it is one), and in an effort to grasp it I am on the verge to commence a study of the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra. Perhaps I will be able to see (at least) the light at the end of the tunnel. To do so one have to empty one’s mind of preconceptions about anything and to step out of one’s scientific/analytical/logical conditioned mind.

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