Diamond Sutra

Diamond Sutra
Elder Subhūti addresses the Buddha. Detail from the Dunhuang block print
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The Diamond Sūtra (Sanskrit: Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra), is a short and well-known Mahāyāna sūtra from the Prajñāpāramitā, or "Perfection of Wisdom" genre, and emphasizes the practice of non-abiding and non-attachment. Note that the title properly translated is the Diamond Cutter of Perfect Wisdom although it is popular to refer to it as the Diamond Sūtra.

A copy of the Chinese version of Diamond Sūtra, found among the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early 20th century and dated back to 868, is, in the words of the British Library, "the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book."[1]



The earliest known Sanskrit title for the sūtra is the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra. In English, shortened forms such as Diamond Sūtra and Vajra Sūtra are common. The Diamond Sūtra has also been highly regarded in a number of Asian countries where Mahāyāna Buddhism has been traditionally practiced. Translations of this title into the languages of some of these countries include:

  • Sanskrit: वज्रच्छेदिकाप्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र, Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
  • Chinese: 金剛般若波羅蜜多經, jīngāng bōrěbōluómìduō jīng, shortened to 金剛經, jīngāng jīng
  • Japanese: 金剛般若波羅蜜多経, kongou hannyaharamita kyou, shortened to 金剛経, kongou kyou
  • Korean: 금강반야바라밀경, geumgang banyabaramil gyeong, shortened to 금강경, geumgang gyeong
  • Vietnamese Kim cương bát-nhã-ba-la-mật-đa kinh, shortened to Kim cương kinh
  • Tibetan (Wylie): ’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa rdo rje gcod pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo


The history of the text is not fully known, but Japanese scholars generally consider the Diamond Sūtra to be from a very early date in the development of Prajñāpāramitā literature.[2] Some western scholars also believe that the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra was adapted from the earlier Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra.[2] Early western scholarship on the Diamond Sūtra is summarized by Müller.[3]

The first translation of the Diamond Sūtra into Chinese is thought to have been made in 401 CE by the venerated and prolific translator Kumārajīva.[4] Kumārajīva's translation style is distinctive, possessing a flowing smoothness that reflects his prioritization on conveying the meaning as opposed to precise literal rendering.[5] The Kumārajīva translation has been particularly highly regarded over the centuries, and it is this version that appears on the 868 CE Dunhuang scroll. In addition to the Kumārajīva translation, a number of later translations exist. The Diamond Sūtra was again translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Bodhiruci in 509 CE, Paramārtha in 558 CE, Xuanzang in 648 CE, and Yijing in 703 CE.[6][7][8][9]

Contents and teachings

A traditional pocket-sized folding edition of the Diamond Sūtra in Chinese.

The Diamond Sūtra, like many Buddhist sūtras, begins with the famous phrase "Thus have I heard" (Skt. evaṃ mayā śrutam). In the sūtra, the Buddha has finished his daily walk with the monks to gather offerings of food, and he sits down to rest. Elder Subhūti comes forth and asks the Buddha a question. What follows is a dialogue regarding the nature of perception. The Buddha often uses paradoxical phrases such as, "What is called the highest teaching is not the highest teaching".[10] The Buddha is generally thought to be trying to help Subhūti unlearn his preconceived, limited notions of the nature of reality and enlightenment.

A list of vivid metaphors for impermanence appears in a popular four-line verse at the end of the sūtra:[11]

All conditioned phenomena
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning;
Thusly should they be contemplated.

In the Zen school

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The Chinese Diamond Sūtra, the oldest known dated printed book in the world, British Library Or.8210/P.2.

Dunhuang block print

There is a wood block printed copy in the British Library which, although not the earliest example of block printing, is the earliest example which bears an actual date. The book displays a great maturity of design and layout and speaks of a considerable ancestry for woodblock printing.

The extant copy has the form of a scroll, about 16 feet long. The archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein purchased it in 1907 in the walled-up Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in northwest China from a monk guarding the caves - known as the "Caves of a Thousand Buddhas".

The colophon, at the inner end, reads:

Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [11 May 868].

This is approximately 587 years before the Gutenberg Bible was first printed.

See also


  1. ^ "Sacred Texts: Diamond Sutra". Bl.uk. 2003-11-30. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/diamondsutra.html. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  2. ^ a b Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: the Doctrinal Foundations. London, UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-4150-2537-0. p.42
  3. ^ Müller, Friedrich Max, ed.: The Sacred Books of the East, Volume XLIX: Buddhist Mahāyāna Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894, pp. xii-xix
  4. ^ The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (T 235), http://www.acmuller.net/descriptive_catalogue/files/k0013.html 
  5. ^ Nattier, Jan. The Heart Sutra: A Chinese Apocryphal Text?. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Vol. 15 Nbr. 2 (1992)
  6. ^ The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (T 236), http://www.acmuller.net/descriptive_catalogue/files/k0014.html 
  7. ^ The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (T 237), http://www.acmuller.net/descriptive_catalogue/files/k0015.html 
  8. ^ The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (T 220,9), http://www.acmuller.net/descriptive_catalogue/files/k0016.html 
  9. ^ The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (T 239), http://www.acmuller.net/descriptive_catalogue/files/k0017.html 
  10. ^ Diamond Sutra, Sec. 8, Subsec. 5 金剛經,依法出生分第八,五:結歸離相
  11. ^ "The Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra". Lapis Lazuli Texts. http://lapislazulitexts.com/vajracchedika_prajnaparamita_sutra.html. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 


  • Thich Nhat Hanh: The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajñaparamita Diamond Sutra. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1992 ISBN 0-938077-51-1
  • Mu Soeng: The Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way We Perceive the World. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000 ISBN 0-86171-160-2
  • Friedrich Max Müller, ed.: The Sacred Books of the East, Volume XLIX: Buddhist Mahāyāna Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894 ISBN 1-60206-381-8
  • Nan Huaijin: Diamond Sutra Explained. Florham Park, NJ: Primordia, 2004 ISBN 0-97165-612-6
  • Red Pine: The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom; Text and Commentaries Translated from Sanskrit and Chinese. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2001 ISBN 1-58243-256-2
  • Frances Wood and Mark Barnard: The Diamond Sutra: The Story of the World's Earliest Dated Printed Book. British Library, 2010 ISBN 978-0-7123-50907
  • Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters, Journeys on the Silk Road: a desert explorer, Buddha’s secret library, and the unearthing of the world’s oldest printed book, Picador Australia, 2011, ISBN 9781405040419.

External links

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