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The Diamond Sutra

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Once sealed away in a cave known as ‘The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas’ on the fringes of the Gobi Desert along with many other integral Buddhist materials now known as the Dunhuang manuscripts. This particular piece of teaching has bewildered many with its seemingly-paradoxically passages in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and a student, and the messages within are discussed by many even in the modern era.

What is it?

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One of the major pieces of texts that form the Prajnaparamita Sutras. ‘Prajnaparamita’ means ‘perfection of wisdom’ and ‘Sutra’ is a Sanskrit word for teaching or sermon. These sacred texts that come from the Mahayana Buddhism are popular within China, Korea, Japan, and South East Asia. Another of the well-known sutras is the ‘Heart Sutra’. 

It is said that these Sutras were dictated directly by the Buddha and were written down and memorised in order to be chanted daily by monks so that they may retain it within them to spread the teachings. This action of repeating and giving the words and teachings of Buddha by voice to others would increase one’s own merit. 

The Diamond Sutra is one of the world’s oldest known dated books being found on a complete woodblock printed scroll dating 868 CE. Wang Jie is attributed to printing it from a block printer with the dimensions of the scroll being 17.5 feet. The original Diamond Sutra is believed to have its origins with its translation into Chinese by a Buddhist monk named Kumarajiva. The next century continues the Sutra’s history with the son of the Emperor Wu of Liang ,Prince Zhao Ming, shaping the Sutra into 32 chapters which are used today. 

One other event in the Sutra’s life is Huineng’s enlightenment. The Sixth Last Patriarch of Chan Buddhism in his autobiography he describes how, as an adolescent selling firewood within the marketplace, he heard the Sutra being recited nearby and gained enlightenment.

The previously-mentioned cave was found by a Chinese Monk named Abbot Wang Yuanlu, he was given some money by a Hungarian-British explorer by the name of Marc Aurel Stein in 1907 for access to the cave. Stein had chosen some scrolls at random not knowing what they were; it was only until he donated them to the British Library in London that its importance would be known to scholars that found out the details.

Why The Diamond?

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While the Sutra is simply of a conversation between the Buddha and a disciple by the name of Subhuti while being surrounded by 1000 other disciples at Anathapindika’s grove, its meaning has been debated upon for as long as it has been known. Its paradoxical statements that conflict with each other in such a way that would make even philosophers pause is the reason why it survives in the modern era.

An example of this can be seen in this passage:

Furthermore, the Lord said this to the Venerable Subhuti, “What do you think, Subhuti? Is there anything whatsoever that the Tathagata has fully awakened to, or any dharma whatsoever that the Tathagata has taught, as supreme and perfect awakening?” 

Subhuti said, “Lord, as I understand the meaning of what the Lord has preached, there is no dharma whatsoever that the Tathagata has fully awakened to, nor any dharma whatsoever that the Tathagata has taught, as supreme and perfect awakening. Why is that? The dharma which the Tathagatahas taught is ungraspable, it is ineffable, it is neither a dharma nor a nondharma. Why is that? Because the Noble Persons are distinguished by the power they derive from the unconditioned.”

A tiny glimpse to why it is called The Diamond Sutra are these passages that are the mainstay of the Sutra and there are many reasons that have been speculated to the meaning of them.

Many people believe the work to concern the state of reality; that everything is ever-changing and that nothing stays the same. 

Some believe that the Sutra is a kind of medicine for the soul treating the infection that is spiritual ignorance – the end goal being the ‘perfection of wisdom’ prescribed by none other than the Buddha.

Even the beginning passage is described by some as a kind of teaching in and of itself. The passage is described as following:

“Then the Lord got dressed in the morning, took his bowl and robe, and entered the great city of Sråvasti for alms. Then, after walking around the great city of Sråvasti for alms, the Lord returned in the afternoon after eating the alms food, washed his feet, and sat down on the seat set out for him with legs crossed, body held erect and attention directed in front of him.”

While simple in execution (and a regular routine for monks) the Buddha is said to always be teaching whether through or action. With the following passage as an example it shows that the Buddha lives and breathes his teachings and principles with the ultimate end goal of liberating others. The giving up of one’s own possessions is of special interest as it flows into not being attached to even the charity that would be given to the Buddha.

While many have ideas  as to what its exact meaning is why don’t you give the The Diamond Sutra a read online? You may be able to find something that no one else has managed to find within the Diamond Sutra! 


Daley, J., 2016. Five Things To Know About The Diamond Sutra, The World’S Oldest Dated Printed Book. [online] Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/Five-things-to-know-about-diamond-sutra-worlds-oldest-dated-printed-book-180959052/> 

Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Diamond Sutra | Buddhist Text. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Diamond-Sutra>

Hyanniszendo.files.wordpress.com. n.d. [online] Available at: <https://hyanniszendo.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/diamondsutra_lettersize1.pdf>

Mingren, W., 2016. The Diamond Sutra: The Oldest Known Printed Book In The World. [online] Ancient-origins.net. Available at: <https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/diamond-sutra-oldest-known-printed-book-world-006185>

O’Brien, B., 2017. What The Diamond Sutra Is Really About. [online] Learn Religions. Available at: <https://www.learnreligions.com/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-diamond-sutra-450099> 

O’Brien, B., 2019. Diamond Sutra Is One Of The Most Revered Texts Of Mahayana Buddhism. [online] Learn Religions. Available at: <https://www.learnreligions.com/the-diamond-sutra-450100>

Rosen, R., 2017. The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection Of Wisdom By Red Pine. [online] Yoga Journal. Available at: <https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/i-the-diamond-sutra-the-perfection-of-wisdom-i-by-red-pine>

Stanford Humanities. 2009. Buddhist Diamond Sutra. [online] Available at: <http://shc.stanford.edu/news/research/buddhist-diamond-sutra>

Terrel, S., 2018. Everything You Need To Know About The Ancient Diamond Sutra. [online] Mindvalley Blog. Available at: <https://blog.mindvalley.com/diamond-sutra/?utm_source=blog> 


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This Post Has 8 Comments

    1. Hi there Maggie,

      Sorry for the (very) late reply.

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