Diamond Sutra is a sutra beyond religion, as it penetrates inside our mind by revealing the subtle reality of nature. Not just the Buddhists, everyone should study the Diamond Sutra.
Other than the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra is probably the most popular among the texts of Prajnaparamita, which is the body of sutras and commentaries representing the essence of the Mahayana Buddhism. Prajnaparamita extends the basic concept of ontological voidness and is known to some Buddhists as the Mother of Buddhas. The main idea in Prajnaparamita is the realization of the illusory nature of all phenomena.
Diamond Sutra is a sutra of ultimate truth. It is the 557th of the 600-volume Maha Prajna Sutra. It is regarded as the summary of the Maha Prajna Sutra.
The title of the Sutra in Sanskrit is "Vajra Cchedika Prajna Parmita Sutra", or simply "Vajra Prajna Parmita Sutra".
Vajra means "diamond", which is used as an analogy to describe the strength of Prajna.
Cchedika means "to cut".
Prajna means "wisdom" and is the highest form of wisdom that living beings can attain.
There are three kinds of Prajna representing different levels of wisdom:
Literary Prajna - It arises from studying sutras in written form.
Contemplative Prajna - It arises from contemplation.
Real Mark Prajna - It arises from the fully developed and completely penetrated contemplative Prajna. Real Mark Prajna is a complete and perfect understanding of the reality of nature and is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists.
Paramita means "reach the opposite shore", crossing the sea of sufferings to reach the shore of enlightenment.
Vajra, as the hardest material known in this world, is used as a metaphor to describe the indestructible nature of Prajna. It has three characteristics:
Durability - It represents the substance of Prajna which has full control over all devious influences from external conditions.
Illumination - It represents the mark (i.e. notion of form) of Prajna, which has full power to break up all darkness and to protect the right Dharma.
Sharpness - Like a knife, it represents the function of Prajna which can destroy all obstructions, and cut off all false thinkings in cultivating the Buddhist Way.
Vajra is the Prajna, the Real Mark Prajna.
Vajra is the Heart, the eternally dwelling true heart.
Vajra is the self-nature, the Buddha nature of all living beings.
Vajra Prajna is a powerful tool to illuminate and break up all darkness (ignorance), and to destroy all obstructions and false thinkings (the attachments).
According to Prince Zhao Ming of the Liang Dynasty (one of the Six Dynasties), the Diamond Sutra can be divided into 32 chapters.
The Sutra is a record of a dialogue between the Buddha and one of the Ten Great Disciples, Subhuti, in front of 1250 Buddha's followers. Subhuti was known to best understand the true meaning of emptiness.
The Sutra opens with Subhuti asking the Buddha:
"If a good man or good woman resolves his or her heart on Annuttara-samyak-sambodhi, how should he or she dwell the heart, and how should he or she subdue the heart?"
The Buddha responds by first expounding the orthodox doctrine of the Great Vehicle, that is the vow to rescue all sentient beings, before entering Nirvana, but emphasizing that a Bodhisattva should not dwell anywhere. The Sutra expands vigorously on this "wonderful conduct without dwelling".
"... During all those lives, I had no mark of self, no mark of others, no mark of living beings, and no mark of a life. For that reason, Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should relinguish all marks and produce the heart of Annuttara-samyak-sambodhi. He should produce that heart which does not dwell in sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects or Dharmas, He should produce that heart which does not dwell anywhere. ... The heart of a Bodhisattva should not dwell in forms when he gives ... A Bodhisattva, to benefit all beings, should give thus. All marks are spoken of by the Tathagata as no marks, and all living beings are spoken of as no living beings. Subhuti, the Tathagata is one who speaks the truth, who speaks the actual, who speaks what is so, who does not speak what is false, who does not speak what is not so." (Extract from Chapter 14 "Still Extinction Apart from Marks")
The Sutra concludes with the following famous verse:
"All conditioned Dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows
Like dew drops, a lightning flash
Contemplate them thus"
Diamond Sutra is an important teaching to break up the ignorance of the attachments of the self and of the Dharma. These are the two main attachments for all sentient beings. For the Arhats, they can break up the ignorance of self attachment, but not the Dharma attachment. They can recognize the circularity of Samsara, and break the vicious cycle of repeated rebirth and suffering by eliminating the impurities in mind and ceasing all Karmic activities. However, they have not yet broken up the Dharma attachment because they dwell in the void liking upon the Three Realms as jail. They dare not to descend on the world to save all beings in order to protect what they have achieved. They still attach to the Dharma, the worldly Dharma of existence and non-existence. They cannot detach from the notion of form or the mark of the phenomena. They cannot transform the consciousness (the eighth consciousness, Alaya) to the Prajna (the "Real Mark" Prajna). By breaking up the ignorance of such attachments of the self as well as Dharma, one can ultimately attain the understanding of Prajnaparamita, the real meaning of the ontological voidness, and arrive at the realization of the illusory nature of all phenomena.