By Daniel Scharpenburg
No one claims the Diamond Sutra is an easy text to understand.
It’s said to be so full of meaning that it can point us directly to enlightenment, so of course it’s not an easy text. It would be crazy for someone to pick this text as their first class to teach at their local Buddhist temple. *ahem*
Anyway, it’s tough. That’s what I’m trying to say. A lot of the passages are have to be read multiple times to be understood and it’s so repetitive that that can be overwhelming too.
But I want to talk about what I think is the hardest part to grasp for most people—the use of paradoxical statements. I’m going to present one example, but bear in mind that the Buddha uses this kind of statement several times in the sutra.
“What do you think, Subhuti? Does a bodhisattva create a serene and beautiful Buddha field?”
“No, World-Honored One. Why? To create a serene and beautiful Buddha field is not in fact creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field. That is why it is called creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field.” (1)
What the hell? Right?
So, what’s going on here? How can creating a Buddha field be not creating a Buddha field? And that’s why it’s called a Buddha field? Subhuti clearly just contradicted himself. And the Buddha does, by the way, tell him that he’s right. In other parts of the sutra the Buddha makes the same kind of statement. What does it mean?
This Sutra is trying to take us beyond our dualistic thinking. Words like “serene” and “beautiful” and even “Buddha field” are labels that we put on the world. We create labels for everything in the world around us and then we pretend those labels are real.
But what if they’re not? What if we change the things we observe by naming them? If we just let things be as they are, would we see the world more clearly?
What if all the lines we draw—all the boundaries we set in the world—are self-created too?
I’m not talking about the boundaries separating you and I, but the lines between us and everything around us. What if we’re more connected to each other, and to everything, than we realize.
Every line we draw in our minds to separate or categorize things is self-created. The truth is that there is no separation.
I’m not sure my explanation is any less complicated or hard to understand than the statements in the Diamond Sutra.
But I tried.
1) Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion. (Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, 1992.)
Editor: Dana Gornall