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Diamond cutter sutta

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  • Diamond cutter sutta

    Good Morning Venerables,

    Thank you for taking the trouble to help me with this question.

    A friend of mine is a Tibetan Buddhist, and suggested I look at the Vajra (diamond cutter) Sutta. When I looked at the text, it seemed like it could be from the Pali Canon, and I was surprised to be told it was from the Abydhamma. Yet it is about the Buddhas teaching to subhuti, in Jettas grove. And the structure and much of the wording seemed familiar from the sutta classes presented by BSWA.

    I have tried searching for it in sutta central and haven't been able to locate it.

    Could you please explain the relationship of this teaching to the suttas as taught in Theravadin Buddhism and the Pali Canon. Is it based on the Buddhas direct teachings? Does the Mahayana version vary from the Buddhas teaching as taught by the BSWA?

    Thank you for your guidance

    with Metta


  • #2
    Good morning to you too!

    You couldn't find it on SuttaCentral because that website focuses on early texts. I'm not sure how it defines "early", but the texts stem from the Buddha's lifetime until at most a few centuries later (with the Parivara being a possible exception and therefore supposedly bracketed). The latest texts they have seem to be the various Abhidhammas, which were largely, if not fully, composed quite a while after the Buddha. These Abhidhamma texts, and many other texts on the website, are not considered to be among the earliest texts, but apparently are still seen as "early" by SuttaCentral.

    The Diamond Sutra, however, is generally not considered to be "early". Although it probably contains some earlier passages and ideas, as a whole the diamond sutra seems to be composed later. I do not know when exactly, and I don't think anybody really does, but as far as I know scholarship generally agrees it came some time after the earliest texts. But I must admit I never studied this much. AK Warder's "Indian Buddhism" may give a more detailed background.

    But that's just history and dating. The date of a text does not necessary determine whether it's content is in line with the Buddha's ideas or not. The earlier a text, the more likely it is to be of course, but even the early suttas are not completely flawless, whereas texts written today may hit all the right notes.

    As for the Diamond Sutra, I must first say I'm not really the right one to ask as I've only read it once, and I believe only partially. I can say, though, that it is definitely BASED on the Buddha's teachings (to answer your question), but I found it not a fully accurate or direct representation of them. I remember it being focused on emptiness and I quite liked it. (My name Suñño, spelled "Sunyo" for convenience, means "empty".) On this point it agrees with the earlier texts, as emptiness is found in there too.Emptiness in the Pali Canon, however, refers mostly to the absence of a self with regard to the six senses and the five aggregates, whereas in some Mahayana texts, the Diamond Sutra included, I think, emptiness seems to be transformed into a thing-in-itself, and applied to a bunch of other things, including the dhamma, the Buddha, etc. Not that this is necessarily wrong, but you can see how an initially mostly pragmatic and "simple" teaching got expanded and complicated.

    Apart from that, the sutra possibly contains ideas about Bodhisatvas and perhaps some mythological concepts commonly found in Mahayana sutras (such as Pure Lands) that are not really found in the earlier texts. I don't remember much more than that, and to give it a cursory glance now, just so I can give a more detailed reply, I don't think is a wise thing for me to do. I'm not very knowledged on Mahayana texts and I hope I didn't misrepresent things already! If I've made some wrong assumptions then that is out of my ignorance, not meant as disrespect.

    Finally it may be worth noting that I say "Mahayana sutra" because that is a common term, but that doesn't mean Mahayanas only use those texts, or even that "Theravada" and "Mahayana" ever intended to be separated like they usually are now. What is considered a Mahayana sutra nowadays may well stem from a time before these different groups ever existed.

    Also, since you ask for "the suttas as taught in Theravadin Buddhism" I feel like I should add the following: Theravada is often represented as if based on the early suttas, but much of it is based more on works such as the Pali Commentaries, the Visuddhimagga and the Pali Abhidhamma (and other later ideas). As far as I know it's only fairly recently that certain groups have started to focus exclusively on the early suttas again. The classes at the BSWA are just one example of this. I'm saying this just so you know these classes may not represent Theravada as a whole!

    Not saying any of this is better or worse. In the end I believe Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana (aka "Tibetan Buddhism") have all produced enlightened beings, and that's all that counts really. And if a certain text helps people become more like one of these enlightened beings, then I'd say that text is worth reading whether it is historically the Buddha's word or not.

    Hope that helps.

    With kindness,


    • #3
      Thankyou Bhante :-)

      It is all so complicated... the scholarship side of things. I have spent a few weeks on Sutta Central and D&D.. a whole other world/other approach.

      Slowly slowly I'm getting a bit of the picture.

      Thank-you for your help and kind words.

      with gratitude and metta




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