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The Chinese Diamond Sutra, the oldest known dated printed book in the world, printed in the 9th year of Xiantong Era of the Tang Dynasty, or 868 CE. British Library.

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The Buddhist text known around the world as the Diamond Sutra (although a more accurate translation of the Sanskrit title might be, for instance, the Vajra Cutter Sutra) is a short Mahayana sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom (prajna-paramita) genre, which teaches the practice of the avoidance of abiding in extremes of mental attachment. A copy of the Diamond Sutra, found among the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early 20th century, is, in the words of the British Library, "the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book.'[1]

The first translation of the Diamond Sutra into Chinese was done sometime around the beginning of the fifth century by the venerated and prolific translator Kumarajiva[2]. The Kumarajiva translation has been particularly highly regarded over the centuries, and it is this version that appears on the 868 CE Dunhuang scroll.

The original Sanskrit title of the Diamond Sutra is वज्रच्छेदिका प्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र Vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra. Some common translations of this title into major Asian languages include:

  • Chinese: 金剛般若波羅蜜多經, shortened to 金剛經, pinyin: jīngāng bōrě bōluómìduō jīng or jīngāng jīng
  • Japanese: kongou hannya haramita kyou, shortened to kongou kyou
  • Korean: 금강반야바라밀경 (金剛般若波羅蜜經), shortened to 금강경 (金剛經)
  • Vietnamese; Kim cương bát-nhã-ba-la-mật-đa kinh, shortened to Kim cương kinh
  • Tibetan (Wylie): ’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa rdo rje gcod pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo


The Diamond Sutra, like many sutras, begins with the famous phrase "Thus have I heard" (एवं मया श्रुतम्, evaṃ mayā śrutam, 如是我聞). In the sutra the Buddha has finished his daily walk with the monks to gather offerings of food and sits down to rest. One of the more senior monks, Subhuti, comes forth and asks the Buddha a question.

What follows is an often repetitive dialogue regarding the nature of perception. The Buddha often uses paradoxical phrases like "What is called the highest teaching is not the highest teaching".[3]

The Buddha is trying to help Subhuti unlearn his preconceived, limited notions of the nature of reality, enlightenment, and compassion.[4] At one notable point the Buddha teaches Subhuti that what makes a Bodhisattva so great is that the Bodhisattva does not take pride in his work to save others, nor is his compassion calculated or contrived. The Bodhisattva practices sincere compassion that comes from deep within, without any sense of ego or gain.

In another section, Subhuti expresses concern that the Diamond Sutra will be forgotten 500 years after it is taught (or, alternatively, during the last 500 years of this era). The Buddha assures Subhuti that well after he is gone there will be some who can grasp the meaning of the Diamond Sutra and put it into practice. This section seems to reflect a concern found in other Buddhist texts that the teachings of the Buddha would eventually fade and become corrupted. A popular Buddhist concept, known as mappo in Japanese, also reflects this anxiety.

In section 18 it is stated that the Tathagata does have the human eye as well as the divine eye, the eye of insight, the eye of transcendent wisdom and the Buddha eye. [5]

A famous four-line verse appears at the end of the sutra, a list of vivid metaphors for impermanence:[6]

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

In practice

Since it can be read in approximately forty minutes, the Diamond Sutra is often memorized and chanted in Buddhist monasteries. This sutra has retained significant popularity in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition for over a millennium, especially in East Asia, and most importantly within the East Asian meditation tradition (Zen and related disciplines), where it is extensively recited, taught, and commented upon even today. The text resonates with a core aspect of Zen, the theme of non-abiding.

It is repeatedly stated in the Diamond Sutra that if a person embodies even four lines of the sutra within his sadhana (spiritual practice), he will be blessed.

As the earliest printed book

There is a wood block printed copy in the British Library which, although not the earliest example of block printing, is the earliest example which bears an actual date. The copy is a scroll, about 16 feet long, purchased in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein in the walled-up Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, in northwest China from a monk who was guarding the caves known as the "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas." The colophon, at the inner end, reads: "Reverently made [caused to be] for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [11 May 868]". This is about 587 years before the Gutenberg Bible.

See also



  3. Diamond Sutra, Sec. 8, Subsec. 5 金剛經,依法出生分第八,五:結歸離相
  5. The Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, see 18 taken from the site of Plumvillage
  6. Saunders, R. (1924) Epochs in Buddhist History: The Haskell Lectures, 1921.University of Chicago Press. ISBN 1-4325-6989-9


  • Thich Nhat Hanh: The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajñaparamita Diamond Sutra. Berkeley, CA, USA: Parallax Press, 1992 ISBN 0-938077-51-1
  • Mu Soeng: The Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way We Perceive the World. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000 ISBN 0-86171-160-2

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Diamond Sutra. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.