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
“Subhuti, what do you think? Does the Tathagata attain anuttara samyaksambodhi? Does the Tathagata speak on the dharma?” Subhuti replied, “In my understanding of the meaning of the Buddha’s teaching, there is no such dharma called anuttara samyaksambodhi, and there is no such dharma spoken by the Tathagata. Why? Because all teachings of the Tathagata cannot be held and cannot be spoken. They are not dharma, and they are not non-dharma. Therefore, all sages are distinguished by effortless motiveless dharma.”
On this excerpt, Chapter Seven—Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken, I will talk about the title first, Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken. When Bodhidharma went to the Middle Kingdom [China], people asked him to give dharma teachings. He said, “Sure, let me speak on it.” He got on the dharma throne, took something that looked like this clipboard [Grandmaster lifts a clipboard from his table], lifted it and slammed it on the table. That was the end of his dharma teaching. He got off [the dharma throne]. Just like that, very simple. I can do it too. Next time when I perform a homa ceremony, I will get here and ring the vajra bell [Grandmaster is ringing the vajra bell]; that’s the end of the dharma teaching, then I will get off and leave. Giving a dharma teaching is the same as not giving a dharma teaching. Attaining something is the same as not attaining anything.
Chapter Seven—Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken. Subhuti is incredible, the first and foremost in realizing the empty nature. He has attained the realm of the empty nature. This is called nothing gained. Have any of you attained the empty nature? No? The one who has attained the empty nature will not say that he has attained it. Anuttara samyaksambodhi is just a term.
See? Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken. Nobody gains anything, nobody loses anything. Someone asked, “Grandmaster, you say nothing to gain, nothing to lose. You don’t get anything, you don’t lose anything. Since there is nothing to gain, why do we cultivate spiritually?” There is no need to cultivate. Let’s just go out and play, climb the mountain or play in the water. [Grandmaster jokes] I will take you to climb the mountains, climb the mountain of pillows to sleep. We can climb Mount Shamao behind the Rainbow Temple and there is a nice park over there. That mountain is not bad; there are small waterfalls, small bridges, flowing water and flat sand. “Ancient road, the west wind, gaunt horse…,” very poetic! You go climb the mountain! There are actual small bridges, flowing water, waterfalls and flat sands over there.
“Let’s just play around and have fun in our lives. Why do we need to cultivate spiritually? You tell us to cultivate spiritually, but you also tell us that there is also nothing to gain, then why do we need to cultivate?” Of course, one must cultivate spiritually! Only by cultivating, would you understand that there is nothing to gain. If you don’t cultivate, how would you understand that there is nothing to gain? When you cultivate spiritually to the ultimate extent, you would then realize that you have not gained anything. This is your verification. When you have not gained anything and truly understand that there is nothing to gain, that is a confirmation that you have realized that there is nothing to gain.
It’s written in the Vajra Sutra that the mind of the past is unattainable, the mind of the present is unattainable, the mind of the future is unattainable. Which mind could you attain?
An old lady sold snacks on a mountain road. A monk was climbing the mountain in search for a master and stopped to buy some snacks. [Snacks in Chinese is dianxin, which literally means “a little bit of heart” and is a play of words with “pointing a mind.”] The old lady said, “I am selling snacks and if you can answer my question then you get a free snack. The mind of the past is unattainable, the mind of the present is unattainable and the mind of the future is unattainable. What mind can you attain?” [“What mind do you want?” is a homophone with “What snack would you like?”] The monk could not answer—he was climbing up the mountain to look for a master. The old lady said, “See, another one beats the dust.” Nobody could answer her question. [The old lady said,] “The mind of the past is unattainable, the mind of the present is unattainable, the mind of the future is unattainable. What kind of mind can you have? If you can answer correctly, I will give you a free snack. If you cannot, there is nothing for you.” Very simple, the answer is “it’s the mind of unattainability.” The mind you can have is the mind of unattainability.
If it were me being asked, “The mind of the past is unattainable, the mind of the present is unattainable, the mind of the future is unattainable. Which mind can you attain?” I would just take snacks and leave, since I just want to eat the snacks [chuckling]. That’s called being in the moment, and at that moment I just want to eat your snacks. Nowadays, there are many Zen people talking about being in the moment. Let me tell you simply, being in the moment is also wrong. Being in the moment means you have the mind of the present. We just talked about the mind of the present being unattainable. Being in the moment is also a wrong answer. What is right then? Nothing to gain would be correct. So today what I am talking about the title, Nothing Gained.
Nothing Spoken. Regarding buddhadharma, why do we want to talk about it? There is no buddhadharma. According to Vajra Sutra, the empty nature intrinsically exists, the buddhanature intrinsically exists and they are not the result of spiritual cultivation. I have spoken about it before that buddhanature is not something to be practiced. Buddhanature is inherently there. This is very profound.
Nothing Spoken. Sakyamuni Buddha has spoken dharma for 49 years, yet he has not spoken anything. It is written in the Vajra Sutra, “If one says that I [Buddha] have spoken dharma, one would be slandering me, the Buddha.” This is extremely profound. Intrinsic suchness of all dharma [dharmata] lies within this. Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken is the intrinsic suchness of all dharma. It is buddhanature, it is empty nature. You need to recognize the buddhanature and the empty nature.
Let me now ask everyone. In this world, what have you gained? I am asking you, what have you gained in this world? What kind of things can you gain? Each and everyone here, what will you gain in the future? Simply speaking, how old is the youngest one here? Tenzin Gyatso, you are the youngest here, how old are you? “Nineteen.” [Tenzin Gyatso Rinpoche answers.] Nineteen years old; then let me ask you, what will you gain in a hundred years? “Nothing gained.” [Tenzin answers.] That’s right, please be seated. Why do you still study then? [The audience is laughing.] That’s right! Is there anyone that can gain anything? Nothing gained. I have explained it very clearly, is it still not clear to you? You think the money you earn is yours? That is not yours! What you ate during lunch is yours, but it is not yours either; at night it will come out. What do you actually gain?
Therefore, the Vajra Sutra talks about dreaming: Illusions, dreams, bubbles, shadows. Everyone is desperately working to earn money, fighting to become the boss, a leader of the leagues. In Jinyong’s kungfu novels, everyone is fighting to be the chief. Who is the martial arts leader now? The United States has been the number one for a while, but it cannot last forever. Who can be the martial arts leader forever? This world is changing, everchanging and impermanent. In buddhism, we have talked about impermanence—nothing stays. Do you think you will always be the lord of the martial art leagues?
Let me ask you, what kind of things will you gain in this world? Nothing. That’s nothing gained. On nothing spoken, since it’s nothing gained, then what is there to speak about? There is no need to speak. Even though Sakyamuni Buddha has spoken the dharma for 49 years, nothing is spoken. Grandmaster has spoken dharma for so many years, it’s tantamount to nothing is spoken. Buddhadharma is spoken to allow you to comprehend and recognize nothing gained, nothing spoken. Once you comprehend that nothing is gained, then your heart will be serene and the world will truly be peaceful. But if you think there is something to gain, there would be wars, disputes and quarrels.
My guru taught me in the past about maggots fighting in cesspool. The small white grubs are fighting endlessly like this [Grandmaster is showing small yet fast hand gesture movements]. We used to have cesspools, we could see such things, but not anymore. There are no longer big dung pits [old traditional toilets where a big pit was dug in the ground] on the side of the fields due to chemical fertilizers. We used to squat on the cesspool when we were young, especially in rural areas. And we saw those maggots underneath fighting over each other. Did they gain anything?
Human beings are like that too! There’s nothing to gain! At this state, you would be at peace and at ease. If you truly recognize that there is nothing to gain, you are cultivating spiritually. Your mind is even keeled; you do not fight and you do not worry because it’s all the same at the end. Fundamentally, there really is nothing to gain.
Who can get anything? A house? You think you can get a house? The house survives longer than you! When Grandmaster leaves one day, the Tantric Quarter will still be there, the Rainbow Villa will still be there. Right? My ashes will be placed in the Twin Lotus Columbarium, it’s also the same. You obtained and bought a spot [in the columbarium] but it’s not necessarily yours either. There is nothing [you own]. This is nothing to gain and nothing to lose.
On Nothing Gained Nothing Spoken, the true dharma cannot be spoken. When we talk about dharma, we are talking about [dharma as] tools. Last time I have said that buddhadharma is just like a raft; even the dharma should be forsaken, let alone the non-dharma. The true buddhadharma should also be abandoned eventually, let alone the non-dharma. I have said it yesterday. Hence, everyone should have peace of mind and have no thoughts; that is spiritual cultivation. No thoughts, no relevance; that is spiritual cultivation.
I have talked about it last night. Don’t think that Grandmaster does not care for my own son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter. It’s not that I don’t love them, I do! They are my children, so of course I love them. But do you know that your children are your past lives’ karmic creditors? Do you know? Some are good affinities, and they would be nice to you. Some are bad affinities and perhaps they would even kill you! It’s all about affinity! Affinities and karma from many lifetimes control us.
When you comprehend the buddhadharma, you understand that there is nothing to gain, and your mind will be at peace. You still love your children, but everything depends on themselves; this also applies for grandchildren. It’s not being heartless. I want to deliver them and guide them onto the path, but it also depends on their affinities. At the moment, they are still attached to worldly things, grasping at everything mundane, they do not comprehend nothing gained, nothing spoken.
When you truly comprehend nothing gained, nothing spoken, you are cultivating spiritually. If nothing is gained, why are you stealing from others? Why do you still fulfil your own lust? If you have enough already, why do you want to hoard or save more things? Why do you still want those? Those things are poisons! Sakyamuni Buddha said that they are like poisonous snakes. So, let’s just be the intrinsic suchness of all dharma. Whatever should come will come, whatever should go will go, whatever should be received will be received, whatever should not be taken should not be taken, this is the case for all material things; the same holds true for sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters. This comprehension is the key meaning of the Vajra Sutra. That’s my exposition today on Chapter Seven—Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken.
Om mani padme hum.
Next discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 20, 2 October 2021 - Chapter Seven—Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken (continued)
Previous discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 18, 25 September 2021 - Chapter Six—The Right Faith is Extremely Rare (continued)
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Full webcast of 2021.09.26 Tiger Head Vajra Homa Ceremony (Rainbow Temple, North Bend, USA) and dharma discourse with English interpretation: https://youtu.be/Dy8pPkZ8W8c