Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra
Vajra Sutra (Diamond Sutra)
Detailed Exposition by Living Buddha Lian-Sheng, Grandmaster Sheng-yen Lu
Translated into English by True Buddha School Vajra Sutra Translation Team
Discourse 11, 29 August 2021
Three—The Right and Ultimate Meaning of the Great Vehicle
The Buddha told Subhuti, “All bodhisattvas should master their minds in the following way:
“All sentient beings, whether they are born from eggs or wombs, through moisture or transformation, whether they have forms or not, whether they are with or without thoughts, or not completely with thoughts nor without thoughts, I liberate and deliver them to nirvana without remains. And yet, of the innumerable sentient beings being delivered, there are actually no sentient beings that are delivered. Why is this, Subhuti?
“Because if a bodhisattva holds a view of self, others, sentient beings and lifespan, then he is not a bodhisattva.”
In Sakyamuni Buddha’s era, there exists a precept called undermining. As a buddhist disciple, if you do not attend your root guru’s ceremony, then you violate this precept; especially if you are able to attend but you don’t. If you are unable to attend for good reasons, then it is okay. If you are able to come but you do not, then you have breached the undermining precept. You undermine the ceremony by not coming.
Especially for the Manohara ceremony today, your violation is even more severe. In the future, for seven lifetimes you will be born into a poor family. As a buddhist disciple, if you never attend the ceremonies conducted by your root guru, and you live within a 50-mile radius, you undermine the ceremony and you undermine Manohara, then you will be reborn as a clam for 100 lifetimes; you will always be inside a shell for 100 lifetimes. You will live in there alone until your next reincarnation. So look around you and see who’s not here. [laughter] It is not a threat. I am not kidding. This undermining precept does exist. Read the sutras!
How did the precepts come about? Precepts were established because there were six bhikkhus who often made transgressions, therefore, Sakyamuni Buddha established all the precepts. It was created by the Buddha and not Grandmaster. This is a serious matter, not something casually commented. If I were to say it casually, then it might not matter so much. But all precepts were set up by Sakyamuni Buddha, including this precept of undermining.
When one undermines all ceremonies performed by one’s root guru constantly, one violates the precept of undermining. Then one will be reborn as a seashell for 100 lifetimes, living alone, not hearing nor seeing the outside world, amidst the sea, till one’s next reincarnations. This was how Sakyamuni Buddha expounded on the precepts. [Grandmaster emphasizes this point in stern voice].
Talking about Subhuti, when Sakyamuni Buddha turned the second dharma wheel, expounding the subject of non-phenomena, Subhuti always attended the dharma discourses. Except for two instances, one time when he was so ill that he was unable to walk, and a second time when there was a funeral in his family. He attended all the Buddha’s dharma teaching about non-phenomena and only missed twice. He was the most exemplary and diligent spiritual cultivator. The Venerable Subhuti.
It is such a pity if you [who live within a 50-mile radius and can attend but] choose not to attend Manohara Vasudhara’s homa ceremony presided by Grandmaster today. It’s such a pity because in your next life, you will be born in poor family for 7 lifetimes. You might think you are doing fine in this lifetime, but you would know for yourself in future lifetimes!
[During a dharma discourse, Grandmaster also answers questions from disciples in the Q&A session. The following question is included here because it is related to the Vajra Sutra.]
A question from Lei Fengpei in Malaysia, also known as Rev. Shi Lian Shui [which means Lotus Who]. Your Dharma name is very good, it lets you ponder who you really are. [laughter. Grandmaster asked him with a pun, “who are you?” during an earlier Q&A session.] Now he wrote his name is Lei Fengpei. But Lei Fengpei is just a name, that is not the real you. You need to seek the real you, and only when you have found the real you then the name Lotus Who would be meaningful. When I asked, who is Lotus Who? You answered Lei Fengpei. But Lei Fengpei is just a name, your name, but it’s meaningless.
Everybody’s name is meaningless, your own physical body is meaningless, your face is also meaningless. Those just exist temporarily. I am asking you, Lotus Who, who is Lotus Who? And you must be able to answer it! If you can’t answer it, I will pull down your lama skirt and beat you 500 times from behind. You have read the Vajra Sutra and you should understand who you really are.
[Grandmaster reads Lotus Who’s question]
Homage to Grandmaster. Amitabha. In the article ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in your book no. 214, The Precious Sword of a Yogi, you wrote that the View of Nihilism, Existentialism and Ascetism are all deviant paths. Even upholding the universe as a temporary coexistence is also a kind of wrong view.
But doesn’t buddhism emphasize that everything arises due to causes and conditions; that all arising and ceasing are impermanent; and the true nature of all causes and conditions is emptiness? Isn’t no-self and empty-nature the correct view of buddhadharma? Doesn’t the formation and extinction of the universe also arise due to causes and conditions and cease due to causes and conditions, and that they are just a temporary and illusory formation? Why do you say that they are the wrong views?
That is a good question. Once you finish listening to my exposition of the Vajra Sutra, you would understand. You asked why I wrote that the view of nihilism, existentialism and ascetism are all deviant paths. They are indeed the wrong views! You asked why the temporary coexistence of the universe is also a kind of wrong view. It really is the wrong view. You asked, doesn’t buddhism stress that everything arises due to causes and conditions; that all arising and ceasing are impermanent; and the true nature of all causes and conditions is emptiness? Isn’t no-self and empty-nature the correct view of buddhadharma?
All the above are just terms. As mentioned in the Vajra Sutra, the correct view is that there are no time and no space. Strictly speaking, the coexistence of causes and conditions is also the wrong view, the deviant view. It’s pride and prejudice. There is a book called Pride and Prejudice, correct? Who authored it? I know it is not authored by a Chinese. [It is authored by Jane Austen].
Let me tell you, those who can attend the root guru’s ceremony but choose not to, is like pride and prejudice. If you are really sick, have an emergency or you’ve got so many things to do, at least you have good reasons. But if you are able to attend but choose not to attend, that would be analogous to pride and prejudice. You violate the precept of undermining. The worst retribution is to be reborn as a seashell in the bottom of the ocean [Grandmaster shows what clams look like with his left hand]. Seashells never open their shells, and their shells open only when they are cooked and ready to be eaten [laughter]. The living seashells open their shells with small gaps, stay and move in the bottom of the ocean [Grandmaster moves his hand fast with small gap mimicking seashells].
I am telling Lotus Who [the monk who asked the question], listen to my discourse on the Vajra Sutra. It was spoken very clearly by Sakyamuni Buddha. I have said that the Vajra Sutra destroys everything, including time and space [dimension] and all the buddhadharma. Everything arises due to cause and conditions. Arising and ceasing are impermanent, and the true nature of all causes and conditions is empty. It is correct that buddhism talks about this, however, even this, we want to destroy!
Doesn’t the formation and extinction of universes also arise due to causes and conditions and cease due to causes and conditions? If there is still a “universe” in your eyes, if you still have [the views of] arising and ceasing, causes and conditions, then that’s not the ultimate truth.
That’s why the so-called endurance is not endurance, and only because it is not endurance, that it is called endurance. There really is no endurance, only then it is the real endurance.
In the sangha community, many respected Subhuti, but many undermined him as well. Many people criticized him. Sakyamuni Buddha acknowledged Subhuti to be the first arhat to abandon desires. Subhuti was very humble and responded to the Buddha, how about Sariputra and Moggallana, saying that Sariputra and Moggallana should be the first arhats to abandon desires. Subhuti humbly added, “I am not the first arhat to abandon desires, because should I have thought this way, then I would not be the first arhat who abandon desires.” Sakyamuni Buddha praised him because of this.
Therefore, if you [referring to Shi Lian Shui] listen attentively to the Vajra Sutra, you will understand who you really are. [Grandmaster laughs].
… I liberate and deliver them to nirvana without remains. And yet, of the innumerable sentient beings being liberated and delivered, there are actually no sentient beings being liberated and delivered….
This is the most crucial statement. When you deliver sentient beings, there is actually no sentient beings for you to deliver.
Avalokitesvara made a vow to deliver all sentient beings. He eventually discovered that the number of sentient beings he deliver does not increase nor decrease. No increase nor decrease. Sentient beings are still sentient beings. Not even one sentient being has been delivered! Avalokitesvara was in total despair and decided not to deliver sentient beings anymore. His head then split into ten pieces [as he broke his own vows]. Amitabha Buddha, his Guru, immediately came to the rescue, forming ten heads from the ten split-pieces, plus one head on top for Amitabha himself, adding up to a total of 11 heads known as Thousand-eyed-thousand-armed Avalokitesvara. Amitabha came to Avalokitesvara and said, “You are so dumb. Silly!” Amitabha rearranged him and he became Thousand-eyed-thousand-armed Avalokitesvara.
…There are actually no sentient beings that are liberated or delivered. Why is this so, Subhuti? Because if a bodhisattva holds a view of self, others, sentient beings and lifespan, then he is not a bodhisattva….
That is the answer. [long pause] Who is Shi Lian Shui [Lotus Who]? Lei Fengpei? How would you answer this question? I am asking you, who are you? You have to answer this question.
Bodhidharma has answered this question. Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty asked Bodhidharma, “Who is this person standing in front of me?” How did Bodhidharma answer this question? Can you answer it? It is very simple; you must have read about this well-known koan. Do you know? There is a gift here [Grandmaster picked up a necklace from his dharma table and showed it to the audience, laughing], it is a beautiful one.
Shi Lian Shui [Lotus Who], you will get this if you answer correctly! [No answer from him because he is not in the audience. An audience replied, “I don’t know.”] [Grandmaster responded] “I don’t know” is not good enough, it did not completely answer it; only halfway there. [The audience was quiet, so Grandmaster puts the necklace away with laughter.] I am putting this away, not available anymore.
It is written here that: If a bodhisattva holds a view of self, others, sentient beings and lifespan, then he is not a bodhisattva. Let me ask everyone now. We all know about the view of self, not having a view of self. The view of self and the view of others are related to individuals. The view of sentient beings refers to [the phenomena of] many [or all] beings. The view of lifespan refers to the length of time.
According to the teaching of the Buddha, sentient beings refer to space, and lifespan refers to time.
If, in his mind, a bodhisattva still has a self [the notion of I], or the view that “I am a person,” or he has other sentient beings and his lifespan, then he is not a bodhisattva.
That is the meaning. This is a very crucial understanding of the Vajra Sutra, that there is no phenomena of self, others, sentient beings and lifespan.
Let me share with everyone. Time. What time is it now? It is 4.56 [pm]. Who determined the concept of time? It is defined by human beings. What is time?! Is there time?! There is no such thing as time, time as we know it is defined by human beings. Think about it if there were no “time”… We are currently at the year 2021, and that number originated from the years since the birth of Jesus, referred to as the Gregorian Calendar. It has been over 2000 years since Jesus was born. However, more than 2600 years ago, Sakyamuni Buddha was already born, earlier than Jesus. Laozi of China was born earlier than Sakyamuni Buddha. There were even earlier ones, all of which were determined by time.
Who defined time? It is defined by human beings. No view of lifespan means there is no time dimension. Time does not exist. If time does not exist anymore, how can there be any coexistence of causes and conditions? There is no such thing as the [arising and ceasing of the] causes and conditions.
The space dimension also does not exist. No view of sentient beings means the phenomena of sentient beings does not exist. Since there are no sentient beings, how can there be any coexistence of causes and conditions? None. The causes and conditions do not exist. All arising and ceasing of causes and conditions too do not exist. [The concept] that everything arises due to causes and conditions and everything ceases due to causes and conditions are all gone!
What the buddhadharma states, as asked by Shi Lian Shui here—Doesn’t the buddhadharma stress that everything arises due to causes and conditions, all arising and ceasing are impermanent, and the true nature of all causes and conditions is emptiness?
Even the start of affinity does not exist. Even the sentient beings do not exist anymore, how can there be any start of affinity? Consequently, all of the above are the wrong views. All buddhadharma too is the wrong view. Is there a buddha? No [there are no] buddhas, no sentient beings.
The view of self and the view of others are at lower levels. A bodhisattva with a view of self? A bodhisattva always thinks of others and never thinks for themselves. How can a bodhisattva have a view of self? Amitabha! [Oh my Buddha!] If you still have a self, then you are definitely not a bodhisattva.
As a buddhist practitioner, you do your best and cultivate spiritually in accordance with your daily activities. You don’t cultivate for yourself, but you do it for other sentient beings. If you cultivate the six perfections—generosity, endurance, precepts, wisdom, meditation and diligence—then you are a bodhisattva.
You are not practicing for yourself, but you are practicing for sentient beings. You are a real bodhisattva if you don’t keep sentient beings in mind and just practice. If you cultivate the six perfections yet still hold the view of sentient beings, then you are not a bodhisattva.
That’s why we say that The Three Wheels are Intrinsically Empty. There is no giver of the six perfections, no recipient of the six perfections and also no six perfections. Only then you are a bodhisattva. What I expounded here is very profound and deep.
Today I am discoursing dharma. The person discoursing the dharma does not exist, you as the listener of the dharma also do not exist and there is no dharma discourse. This is the truth.
That’s why Sakyamuni Buddha states that if anyone says that the Buddha has taught dharma, he defames the Buddha. Do you understand? This is very deep.
…If a bodhisattva holds a view of self, others, sentient beings and lifespan, then he is not a bodhisattva….
All the buddhadharma is completely destroyed.
[GM asked the audience] Is the exposition too profound? The person discoursing the dharma does not exist, the audience listening to the dharma discourse does not exist, and the dharma discourse itself does not exist.
Emperor Wu of Liang built many temples and he thought he generated great merits. But in the eyes of Bodhidharma, it was worthless. Emperor Wu of Liang asked Bodhidharma, “I built so many temples and take care of so many monks. How’s my merit?” Bodhidharma replied, no merit. Bodhidharma spoke the truth. Upon hearing the answer, the Emperor became outraged. He did not listen to Bodhidharma anymore. Bodhidharma left and the emperor sent troops to hunt him down.
Later, Ven. Zhigong (who was an eminent monk) told the emperor that Bodhidharma’s words were the truth, Bodhidharma was right. Emperor Wu wanted to ask Bodhidharma to come back, but it is not possible as he had gone to the northern kingdom of Wei [Liang is in the South]. Emperor Wu has not reached that level. At most he was a mere buddhist.
He was a lustful one too. Didn’t I mention this yesterday? When the wind blew and lifted the skirt of an imperial maid, he had her for the night. She then gave birth to a child. Even though he is a child of the emperor, everybody in the palace looked down on him due to his mother’s low status. Even since he was young, he was bullied by his siblings; but eventually he was in charge of the armed force.
Emperor Wu asked Zhigong of what would happen to him in the future. Zhigong did not dare to answer and simply pointed to his own throat and neck [in Chinese, throat is hou and neck is jing]. As a result, a general from the northern Wei named Houjing defected and requested to serve the southern kingdom of Liang, whose capital was in Jiankang (now Nanjing). Houjing besieged and surrounded the capital where the palace and the emperor was. Had the emperor’s youngest son—the son of the imperial maid, who was in charge of the military—led a counterattack, he would have been able to save the emperor. But he did not. So the emperor died of hunger in his own palace.
In fact, Emperor Wu of Liang was a good emperor, he did not want this to happen. He changed after he became an emperor. That was history, talking about the past. All eminent figures come and go like the waves.
[Grandmaster shared some jokes and ended the dharma discourse].
Om mani padme hum.