“Studying this sutra and explaining it to others generates enormous merit.”
“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind arbitrary conception of forms or spiritual truths? It can only be done by keeping the mind tranquil and free from attachment to appearances.”
“This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this world:”
“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a cloud,
Or a flickering flame, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”
“This is how you should see all of existence.”
In the end, the Buddha tells us not to be attached to existence. I am reminded of a very similar quote by Zen Master Ikkyu: ‘Like vanishing dew,a passing apparition or the sudden flash of lightning — already gone –thus should one regard one’s self.’
Our self, our identity as independent beings, is hard to let go of. It’s something we have our whole lives. It is the source of all egotism and greed. We think of ourselves as separate from the world around us. But that’s not how anything in the world works. We didn’t come into the world. We came out of it. We are one with everything.
“If any person were to say that I have constantly referred to myself, or to a universal self, do you think they would have understood my meaning?”
Subhuti replied, “No. They would not have understood the meaning of your teachings. Because when you refer to those things, you are not referring to them literally, you only symbolically. Only in that sense can words be used to explain spiritual truths.”
The Buddha said,
“Subhuti, those who follow the path should put down arbitrary conceptions.”
The Buddha is telling us that we can’t cling to words and concepts on our journey to Awakening. Clinging gets in the way. Words are used as expedient means in the teaching, but really seeing Enlightenment, following the path, is the only way to Awakening. It can’t really be captured in words.
“Subhuti, if a being could take the Universe and grind into powder and blow it away, would this powder have any individual existence?”
“Subhuti replied, “Yes, this powder might be said to have a relative existence, but the truth is that it has no existence. The words are used only as a figure of speech. Matter is not an independent and self existent thing.”
“Also, when you refer to the Universe, you are also simply using a figure of speech. The only reality of the Universe is a cosmic unity.”
The Buddha was happy with this reply and said:
“Subhuti, although ordinary people have always held onto arbitrary ideas about the Universe, the concept has no real basis; it is an illusion of the our minds. Even when it is referred to as ‘cosmic unity’ it is unthinkable and unknowable.”
There is a cosmic unity. Everything exists in connection to and relation to everything else. Even the Universe itself is fundamentally the sum of all of the things in it, no more and no less. The only reality is this cosmic unity. And even the cosmic unity isn’t really something we can describe.
“Subhuti, if any person were to say that the Buddha is now coming or going, they would not have understood the principle I have been teaching. Why? Because the true Buddha is never coming from anywhere or going anywhere. The name ‘Buddha’ is merely an expression. The true Buddha, the true Awakened one, is within you and never comes or goes.”
In this section the Buddha is using the word Buddha but he isn’t referring to himself at this point. He’s referring to our Buddha nature, the seed of Enlightenment that is present in every being. He’s telling us to not be distracted by thinking about him and his Awakening. He is telling us to instead think about our own.
The lord Buddha continued:
“Subhuti, one should realize the egolessness of all things and understand selflessness. Why? because great disciples do not see merit as a personal possession, as something to be gained.”
Subhuti asked, “What do you mean?”
The Buddha replied:
“Because great disciples do not seek merit, they do not see them as personal possessions, but they see them as the common possession of all beings.”
It’s important to remember that we are practicing the six perfections: generosity, patience, virtue, diligence, concentration and wisdom, not for ourselves and our own generation of merit, but for the good of all beings. When one being becomes Awakened, it truly helps all beings and makes the world a better place.
The Buddha then said:
“If anyone, looking at an image of me, claims to know me and worship me, that person is mistaken. They don’t really know me.”
The Buddha is telling us not to worship him, not to put him on a pedestal or make him our god. A famous Zen Master named Lin Chi once said, “If you find the Buddha on the side of the road, kill him.”
This sounds terrible to us at first, of course. Why would we kill the Buddha? But Lin Chi is trying to make an important point. Lin Chi is giving us a metaphorical argument for the rejection of dogmatism. It can be easy for us to accidentally put our teachers on a pedestal.
Placing leaders and teachers on pedestals is dangerous. Throughout history we have repeatedly seen what can happen when religious leaders have too much authority. This is true in Buddhism as well as in every other religion. Teachers are just people. And teachers don’t take us to enlightenment—even the Buddha doesn’t.
Teachers only point the way—we have to walk the path ourselves.
It seems that the Buddha didn’t want that kind of religious devotion anyway. When asked if he was a god, the Buddha said no. When asked who he was, the Buddha only replied, “I am awake.”
“I don’t have the idea that I will lead all beings to Awakening. Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is no one for me to lead to Awakening. If I thought that there was, I would be caught in the ideas of self and other. Subhuti, what I call a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary people think there is a self.”
For the Buddha, the boundaries that separate self from other are dissolved. The Buddha doesn’t lead others to Awakening because the truth is there are no others. The Buddha teaches us that the essential truth is that we are one.
The Buddha continued, “Subhuti, explaining this Sutra to others out of kindness and generosity generates enormous amounts of merit.”
Teaching the Diamond Sutra to others is, in itself, very helpful on the path to Enlightenment.
“Subhuti, when someone is selflessly generous, they should also practice being ethical by remembering that there is no distinction between one’s self others. Thus one practices generosity by giving not only gifts, but also through kindness and sympathy. Practice kindness and charity without attachment and you can become fully enlightened.”
Practice kindness but don’t be attached to results. When we understand that the boundaries between self and other are illusory, being generous, kind, and compassionate comes very naturally to us.
Subhuti asked, “When you attained complete Enlightenment, did you feel in your mind that you had gained nothing?”
The Buddha replied:
“That is it exactly, Subhuti. When I attained total Enlightenment, I did not feel, as the mind feels, any form of spiritual truth. Even the words ‘total Enlightenment’ are just words, they are used as a figure of speech.”
The Truth is beyond words. We describe it as attaining Enlightenment, but thinking of it as something we ‘gain’ can be a problem. We sometimes tend to think of it as finding spiritual truth, but it can more accurately be describe as getting rid of untruth. We aren’t creating our true nature, it’s our true nature. How could we? We are digging through the layers of delusion that keep us from seeing our true nature.