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 42, 18 December 2021 - Chapter Fourteen—Extinction Upon Abandoning Phenomena (continued) 

Fourteen—Extinction Upon Abandoning Phenomena 

Subhuti understood its profundity upon hearing this sutra and was moved to tears. He said to the Buddha, “World-honored One, it is rare indeed for the Buddha to speak on such a profound sutra. I have never heard of such a sutra ever since I attained my wisdom eyes. 

“World-honored One, if someone generates pure faith upon hearing this sutra, they will give rise to real phenomena. This person will obtain the rarest of merits. 

“World-honored One, the real phenomena are non-phenomena. Therefore, the Tathagata named it real phenomena. 

“World-honored One, it is easy for me to believe, comprehend, accept, and uphold this sutra immediately upon hearing it. However, in the ensuing five hundred years, it would be most rare for sentient beings to hear, believe, understand, accept, and uphold the sutra. Why? Because [it is extremely rare for] a person not to have any view of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. The phenomena of self is non-phenomena, and so are the phenomena of others, the phenomena of sentient beings, and the phenomena of lifespan; they are all non-phenomena. Why? [Only] those who abandon all phenomena are called buddhas.” 

The Buddha told Subhuti, “Just so, just so, Subhuti! If there is a person who is not shocked, frightened nor fearful upon hearing this sutra, it is extremely rare indeed! Why? Subhuti, the Tathagata said that the first and foremost paramita is not the first and foremost paramita; it is [merely] named the first and foremost paramita. 

Subhuti, the Tathagata said that endurance paramita is not endurance paramita; it is [merely] named endurance paramita. Why? Subhuti, in the past, when King Kalinga dismembered my body, I was [in the state of] non-phenomena of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. Why? Because if I had the notion of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan during the dismembering of my limbs, I would have felt hatred. 

“Subhuti! Also, think of the sages who have practiced endurance for the past five hundred lifetimes, wherein each lifetime, they have no phenomena of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. 

“Therefore, Subhuti, a bodhisattva should abandon all phenomena, generate the mind of anuttara samyaksambodhi, and give rise to the mind which does not dwell on sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or anything at all. Even if the mind dwells on something, it is regarded as non-dwelling. 

“Therefore, the Buddha said that a bodhisattva should not dwell on form when he performs the acts of giving. Subhuti! A bodhisattva should perform the acts of giving to benefit all sentient beings. The Tathagata said, ‘All phenomena are non-phenomena. Also, all sentient beings are not sentient beings.’ Subhuti, the Tathagata speaks truthfully, realistically, accordingly, credibly, and absolutely. 

“Subhuti, all the dharma [anything] obtained by the Tathagata are neither real nor false. Subhuti, if a bodhisattva dwells on anything while performing acts of giving, it is as if he is in the dark; he will not see anything. If a bodhisattva does not dwell on anything when performing acts of giving, he is not blinded and will be able to see all sorts of forms as if the sun is shining. 

“Subhuti! In future lives, should there be good men and good women who can accept and uphold, read or recite this sutra, they will be known and seen by the Tathagata through his wisdom, and they will attain vast and boundless merits.” 

All right, I have talked about believing, comprehending, accepting, and upholding. The term “most rare” refers to the non-phenomena of self, non-phenomena of others, non-phenomena of sentient beings, and non-phenomena of lifespan. If you can believe, understand, accept, and uphold it, it would be “most rare.” So, why is it “most rare”? Because the notion of the non-phenomena of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan is indeed extremely rare. Only Sakyamuni Buddha would make such a statement, no other religious founders have ever done so. 

There are many religions in the world. Christianity began when Jesus of Nazareth came to earth. After he was baptized in the river by John the Baptist, the gates of heaven opened. According to the Bible’s New Testament, [there was a voice from heaven that said,] “This is my beloved son.” The Holy Spirit then descended onto Jesus like a dove, after which his body radiated light. Thereafter, he started preaching the gospel. In the New Testament, there are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, referring to all the apostles who later evangelized the gospels. 

At the age of 33, Jesus arrived in the holy city of Jerusalem, which was part of the Roman Empire at the time. As Jesus amassed his sphere of influence, he was accused of being a false prophet. The Roman prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, presided at Jesus’ trial and sentenced him to crucifixion. Jesus was only 33 when he died. Christianity is monotheistic, believing in one god. Jesus is part of the trinity of God (the Father), Jesus (the Son), and the Holy Spirit. Believing in the Trinity means believing in a single god, Jehovah, the Lord of Heaven. 

During the Roman Empire, there was the Western Church and the Eastern Church. The Western Church later became the Catholic Church, centered in the Vatican City in present day Rome, led by the Pope. Meanwhile, the Eastern Church became the modern day Eastern Orthodox Church,[1]concentrated in the then-Byzantine Empire in present-day Turkey, Greece, [and in Eastern Europe]. These are the Catholic churches, which follow both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Holy Bible. They are, of course, monotheistic. 

Muhammad was the last of the three renowned prophets—Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Moses led the Hebrews across the Red Sea, and together, they wandered into the wilderness for many years. When Moses arrived at Mount Sinai, he pointed at Canaan and said to the Hebrews, “That is the land given to you by God, where all of you need to be.” That place is now the region of Palestine. Located there is the city of Jerusalem, a holy site for four religions—Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, as well as Islam. The three sites considered sacred to Muslims are Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Islam is also monotheistic. 

Muhammad passed away at the age of 63. Muhammad was originally born into a wealthy family before they lost their wealth. From a young age, he worked as a shepherd and herded sheep. He relied on his own efforts and joined a camel caravan business, employed by a widow. The young Muhammad eventually took charge of the business. In his twenties, he married the forty-year-old widow as his first wife. Altogether, Muhammad ended up having twelve wives. I am so envious of him! [chuckles]   

The Al Quran permits polygamy—in which a man is allowed to marry four wives—although monogamy is still encouraged. I have read the Holy Quran from beginning to end. The Quran was a compilation of God’s revelations to Muhammad, compiled by his disciples. When he went to a cave located between Mecca and Medina, he saw the angel Gabriel, who told him that he was the last prophet after Moses and Jesus. He also believed in a single god. God is Allah, Allah is God, who is also Jehovah. 

Christians believe that upon the second coming of Jesus, their souls will join their buried bodies, come back alive, and follow Jesus to heaven. This is recorded in the Book of Revelation. Likewise, in Islam, on Judgement Day, every believer will be resurrected. The body and soul enjoins and will go to heaven. 

I always wonder why the soul has to merge with the physical body first before going to heaven? Deceased Muslims must be buried facing in the direction towards Mecca, regardless of where they are. Mecca is a sacred site in which the Sacred House of God is located. But why must the soul unite with the physical body? I find it strange. But it is written in both the Quran and the Bible. 

It is also written that Islamic martyrs would go to heaven to be served by seventy-two virgins. What about female martyrs? Well, it is not mentioned. Since ancient times, it has been rather male-oriented. When Muhammad was alive, he talked about three important treasures: a woman being a treasure of the man, the Five Pillars of Faith (practices to be a pious Muslim), and to praise Allah and do everything in the name of Allah. “Self” still exists here. If you go to heaven to have seventy-two virgins to serve you, then desire still exists. 

I learned in bible school that Christians believe in one heaven and one hell. Likewise, in Islam, there is a heaven (paradise) and a hell. Even when one has gone to heaven, humans can never become a god, as God (Jehovah) is the only god that exists. Judaism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Islam—all monotheistic religions believe in one God, one heaven and one hell. 

Buddhism is different. The Vajra Sutra is different and the “most rare.” Why? Because, unlike other religions, the sutra talks about rebirths in the six samsaric realms—heaven, asura, human, animal, hungry ghosts, and hells. There are six realms of rebirth, not just one heaven and one hell. And instead of one heaven, there are the three heavenly realms (desire, form, and no-form). 

Furthermore, Buddhism even transcends all the heavenly realms! The heavenly realms are still part of the rebirth cycle, so according to the Buddha, any heavenly being will still need to reincarnate in the rebirth cycle after his merits have been exhausted. In contrast, according to [Abrahamic] religions, nothing goes beyond heaven and hell. If one goes to hell, there will be endless suffering from hellfire, whether it be of Islamic or Christian belief. So, monotheism believes in one heaven, one hell, one human realm, and one god. 

Humans typically center around the “self,” as is the case in other religions. But the Buddha’s teaching is different because the [notion of] “self” is destroyed. The Vajra Sutra speaks on the non-phenomena of self. It destroys the self, the desirous entity! All the other world religions still hold a concept of “self,” but only the Buddha speaks of a religion without a “self.” Well, I said “religion” here, although it is not really a religion. Either way, whether it is a religion or not, it does not matter as “religion” is just a term. 

Buddhism destroys everything with the notion of the non-phenomena of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. The non-phenomena of lifespan represents time, and the non-phenomena of sentient beings represents space. Only Sakyamuni Buddha was able to speak on this very clearly, which is why it is absolutely “most rare”!  

Only the Buddha could articulate that there is no “self,” and without self, there will be no desire. [Conversely,] most religions do not talk about abandoning desires. In the least, they still desire to ascend to heaven to have a good life there. In the Quran, what is heaven like? According to the Quran, there is plentiful wine in heaven. One could endlessly drink sweet wine in golden goblets and would not be intoxicated. But [on earth], Muslims must not drink alcohol. A practicing Muslim must never touch alcohol nor eat taboo food. They are forbidden from consuming blood and pork, for these things are considered unclean. This relates to Noah’s story, in which God created pigs to eat the waste otherwise uneaten by other animals. That is why pigs are considered dirty! On Noah’s Ark, all waste are to be eaten by the pigs, as willed by God. Pigs are therefore considered dirty and hence forbidden from consumption, as described in the Quran. 

“Self” and desire are not transcended in other religions. Only Sakyamuni Buddha stated the notion of no self, which subsequently results in no desires. This notion is the “most rare.” If you have reached a spiritual realm where you are no longer desirous, then you are a sage. Why are you a sage? Because when you have no desires, you will not create karma anymore. Karma is generated due to desire. 

The buddhadharma teaches you to dispel all desires; when you have no notion of self, then you will have no more desires. [Since desire is to satisfy your “self.”] If you are often mindful that you are [intrinsically] empty, in which the self does not exist, then you will have no more desires. When desire no longer exists, one’s behavior and conduct would abide with those of the holy sages of heavens and earth. Desire generates karma, so people with no desire generate no karma. When there is no karma, there is no cause for birth and no cause for death. Without birth and death, that is eternal life. In Buddhism, the everlasting life is nirvana. This is markedly different from concepts of everlasting life in other religions, which is why it is the “most rare.” Only Grandmaster Lu can explain what the “most rare” is. [applause] 

Buddhism talks about the five poisons: greed, anger, delusion, doubt, and pride. Money, looks, fame, food, and sleep are all desires. They shall all be destroyed! Greed, anger, delusion, doubt, and pride must be eradicated. If you can rid of these things, your desire and karma will disappear, and you shall enter nirvana. 

Again, I often use the moon as an example. Since there are no human beings on the moon, do good and bad exist there? No. How could there be good or bad if no humans exist? [Good and bad are human concepts after all.] Even if you were on the moon, alone, what desires would arise? None! You would not have any desire for money, sex, fame, food, or sleep. Nothing at all! Sakyamuni Buddha said that nothing [intrinsically] exists, and that is the real phenomena. 

Consider the legendary Yellow Emperor, Emperor Xuanyuan, the ancient Chinese emperor and ancestor of the Chinese people. The emperor once asked the sage, Guang Chengzi, the same question Confucius asked Laozi—what is the Dao? Both Laozi and Guang Chengzi gave the same answer, “Ultimate nothingness.” They stated that the ultimate nothingness is the Dao. When everything is non-existent, that is the Dao. 

If you are totally non-existent, you are definitely pure, without any desires. You have become a pure sage. [Nothingness and purity cannot be destroyed.] That is why the Vajra Sutra is indestructible; it is like diamond. Westerners refer to it as the “Diamond Sutra” since diamonds are very precious and indestructible. The Vajra Sutra is indestructible indeed! How can you destroy nothingness? Only things that exist can be destroyed. If you have a “self,” this self can grow old and die. The karma generated within it will cause one’s endless reincarnation. When you cultivate spiritually until you attain the “non-self,” you will be indestructible and will have an everlasting life. This is what it means! 

According to Buddhist scriptures, when one has desire, one must have karma. This is the reason why I study Buddhism, because Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching is different from the monotheistic religions. Therefore, this “most rare” is indeed most rare. Most rare because everything is completely non-existent, and therefore, there is no desire whatsoever. When one is non-existent, one has no desires. Thus, one becomes a desireless sage who lives in harmony with heaven and earth. 

Why must the soul unite with the physical body before going to heaven? Why is the soul still attached to its physical body? Isn’t it possible for the soul to ascend directly to heaven? I think… I understand why they place a cross on a tomb now. It is so that when Jesus returns, they can be united with their souls. In their resurrection, they maintain youthfulness—not sure which age—when ascending to heaven. But when a person dies, the physical body decays, so which body are they talking about? Thereby, the souls could have gone directly to heaven. The Buddha also said the physical body has no use. The physical body cannot avoid aging and will eventually die. It then becomes ashes and returns to dust. How could the buried body still exist? That is what I find strange…

We have been discussing the different religions of the world. The Buddha said by eliminating “self,” one transforms into an everlasting pure body. When you do not have any desires, you will be one with heaven and earth, that is the realm of nirvana. This kind of person is extremely rare. That is all I can explain on “most rare.” It is the first and foremost in rarity. Because there is no self and there is no karma. As a result, there is no cause for birth and no cause for death. It is everlasting. This is buddhahood.

Why? Because [it is extremely rare for] a person to not have any view of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. Why is that so? The phenomena of self is non-phenomena… 

Why? Because everything eventually disintegrates and the phenomena disappears, so essentially they are non-phenomena. Similarly, the phenomena of others, sentient beings, and lifespan are also non-phenomena. All human beings, time and space are all non-phenomena. Why? [Only] those who abandon all phenomena are called buddhas. If you abandon all phenomena and are absolutely pure, then you are a buddha. That is all we will talk about today. 

Om mani padme hum.


[1]  Also known as the Orthodox Catholic Church

Next discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 43, 19 December 2021 - Chapter Fourteen—Extinction Upon Abandoning Phenomena (continued)

Previous discourse on the Vajra Sutra: 
Discourse 41, 12 December 2021 - Chapter Fourteen—Extinction Upon Abandoning Phenomena (continued)    

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