The Diamond Cutter Sutra

1. The Cause of This Teaching

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1. The Cause of This Teaching


Thus have I heard, once the Bhagavan was dwelling in Shravasti, at the Jeta grove of the Anatapindada garden, together with a great sangha of 1,250 monks.


“ONCE WHEN Buddha Shakyamuni was living with a sangha of 1,250 fully ordained monks at Jetavana Anatapindada garden in Shravasti, I heard the Buddha say thus.” According to Mahayana, this passage explains the five perfections:

1.The perfect place: Jetavana Anatapindada garden in Shravasti.

2.The perfect time: sometime after Buddha Shakyamuni reached buddhahood.

3.The perfect followers: 1,250 fully ordained monks.

4.The perfect teaching: the profound meaning explained in the Diamond Cutter Sutra.

5.The perfect teacher: the guide of the three realms, Buddha Shakyamuni.

Thus have I heard, once

These words, added by sutra compilers, mean, “I heard these vajra words at that time.” What did they hear? The Diamond Cutter Sutra that is about to be explained.

Before entering the great parinirvana, Buddha Shakyamuni gave permission to Ananda and other disciples to compile the three baskets (Tripitaka) of teachings: the Sutra, Vinaya, and Shastra. In order to demonstrate the authority of a sutra, they should add (1) at the beginning, “Thus have I heard, once”; (2) connections in the middle, like “the Bhagavan asked” and 12“Manjushri answered”; and (3) at the end praise, like “gods, nagas, humans, asuras, and gandhavas all rejoiced.”

Furthermore, sutras fall into three categories: taught by the Buddha in person, taught through the blessings of the Buddha, and taught with the permission of the Buddha. “Thus have I heard” was not said by the Buddha in person but it was added with permission of the Buddha.

After the Buddha entered parinirvana, three councils were convened to compile the Buddha’s doctrines. There is disagreement on when these councils were held. Some say they occurred two years after the Buddha’s parinirvana, others say 110 years, or 180 years, or close to 400 years after. It is impossible to be certain. What is known is that through these three compilations, the Tripitaka was written down.

In regard to the compilation of the Tripitaka, it is generally agreed that the Sutra Pitaka, or Basket of Discourses, was compiled by Ananda, who was the foremost disciple in scholarship and memory; the Vinaya Pitaka by Upali, who was the foremost disciple in upholding pure precepts; and the Abhidharma Pitaka by Mahakasyapa, the disciple who was unexcelled in ascetic practices.

Since the Diamond Cutter Sutra belongs to the Sutra Pitaka, “I” in “Thus have I heard” refers to Venerable Ananda.

“Once” could be explained in two ways:

1. When the Buddha gave a teaching. There have been debates on how long the Buddha taught the Dharma. Some believe for forty-nine years, while others say for only forty-five years. Since it was not clearly recorded in which year and on which day this Diamond Cutter Sutra was taught, here “once” could be explained as one day.

2. When an ordinary being gives a Dharma teaching, it must have a specific time, place, audience, and subject, but for the Buddha, these are not necessarily fixed. The Buddha could give various teachings to different sentient beings in countless worlds in the past, in the present, and in the future simultaneously. This state is inconceivable and unfathomable. In this way, “once” could also include the three times of past, present, and future.


According to the Commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization, just like Vaishali and Sarnath, Shravasti was one of the six great cities of ancient India and was ruled by King Prasenajit at the time of the Buddha.


Jetavana Anatapindada garden

There is a story about this garden: After taking refuge in the Buddha, the lay practitioner Anatapindada requested the Buddha to give teachings in Shravasti and planned to buy land to build a monastery there for the Buddha. He searched and found that the garden of Prince Jeta was pleasant, peaceful, and suitable for meditation. So he explained to the prince his intention to buy this land.

Reluctant to sell this garden, the prince joked with him, “Unless you can cover the whole land with gold, I will not sell it.” Since he had made offerings to six buddhas in his past lives, Anatapindada had the supreme merit of being able to see treasures buried underground. So he went home, opened his treasure house, and with the help of his elephants, transported enough gold to cover the land.

Inspired by his earnestness, Prince Jeta said, “When we discussed this transaction, we didn’t include the trees. The land is now yours, but the trees are still mine. Let’s offer this garden to the Buddha together.”

Afterward, this garden was named the Jetavana Anatapindada garden. As promised, Anatapindada erected an assembly hall, and the Buddha often taught the Dharma there.

When visiting India in 1990 with my lama, Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, we went on a pilgrimage to this famous Jetavana Anatapindada garden. However, we saw only ruins and rubble; no monastery and no city remain.

It is chronicled that Buddha Shakyamuni displayed clairvoyance and subjugated the six masters of the heretics at that site. In memory of this event, each year Lhasa holds ceremonious Dharma gatherings from the first to the fifteenth day of the month of miracles, the first month in the Tibetan calendar, and our Buddhist institute also holds a fifteen-day Dharma Gathering of Vidyadharas.

Together with a great sangha of 1,250 monks [bhikshus]

In the Tibetan version and Yi Jing’s Chinese translation, besides the 1,250 fully ordained monks, it says there were also “great bodhisattvas” in attendance. In my view, their translations were based on one Sanskrit version. Kumarajiva’s and Xuan Zang’s translations, which are slightly different, do not mention “great bodhisattvas.” I believe this is because they used different Sanskrit versions.2

As we know, it is very common to see discrepancies in the phrasing and even the contents of Indian scriptures, so when encountering different 14translations, avoid asserting “this is authentic, that is fake.” Never simply agree on one version and be against another. Instead, understand that all these sutras were compiled by panditas with the dharani of never forgetting. Since their capacity for never forgetting varied, understand how very common it is to see inconsistencies among different translations.

For our discussion here, we will follow the view that, among the Buddha’s audience, besides monks of the Basic Vehicle, the Theravada, there were also bodhisattvas of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana. Therefore this sutra belongs also to the Mahayana.


Then, when it was time to eat, the Bhagavan put on his robe, held his bowl, and entered the great city of Shravasti to request food.

Put on his robe

If the Bhagavan had to straighten his robes before going out, there is no need to mention why we followers need to do the same. As disciples of the Buddha, make whatever you wear look pleasing. Certainly this is not to encourage you to spend lots of time dressing and grooming yourself, but rather to encourage you to dress and behave in a manner that ordinary people do not get the wrong view, thinking that Buddhists are weird.

After Dharma study, some people think they have seen through everything, so they become sloppy and go about unkempt and unwashed. They believe this is a necessary “high state” for a Buddhist, but in fact they have just gone to extremes. The result is that their family members start to worry but keep quiet in order to avoid conflict, and their colleagues remain at a respectful distance from them. Actually, proper dress and a decent appearance are essential for lay practitioners and are also a skillful means for benefiting sentient beings.

Request food

Some people might question, “Why does the Buddha become hungry at lunchtime like us and have to go out requesting food?” As a matter of fact, it was to help sentient beings accumulate merit and to give Dharma teachings that the Buddha went out to request food, and not because of his own hunger.


The Sutra on the Inconceivable Secret says, “Like a gold ball, the Buddha’s body has no innards.” The Golden Light Sutra also says, “It appeared that Buddha Shakyamuni was requesting food, but he never needed the food because the Buddha could never be hungry.” Even if Buddha Shakyamuni was hungry, he could simply turn earth, wood, and rocks into food through his power of clairvoyance, and so he would have no need to beg for food. Through his power of blessing, one item becomes many and insipid food becomes ambrosial. As said in the Ornament of Clear Realization: “In the mouth of the Buddha, even inferior food can turn into nectar.”

During a three-month rain retreat in Veranja, Buddha Shakyamuni and his disciples suffered a famine due to crop failures. The Buddha was afraid that Ananda would not be able to stand such great hardship, since he was of royal birth, so he gave him a grain of wheat. After eating it, Ananda had no hunger for seven days. Ananda was amazed and gained enormous faith in the blessing of the Buddha. Moreover, the Buddha had the samadhi of Akasagarbha, which could gather all worldly wealth. Therefore there is no real need for the Buddha to request food.

Some people say, “Buddha Shakyamuni is the king of beggars.” This is obvious slander and has immense demerit. Although the Buddha did lead bhikshus to beg for food in the city, this was simply a manifestation. Likewise, even though the Buddha had uprooted his attachment toward “I,” he still appeared to say “my disciple” and “my patrons.”


In the city, after begging for food door to door, the Buddha returned. After having his meal, he put away his robe and bowl, washed his feet, and sat on his throne.


This is still a common practice in Thailand. Holding bowls and walking barefoot, monks are usually on the streets before daybreak. Donors come out even earlier and wait with food in their hands at intersections, then joyfully line up and make offerings to the monks once they see them coming. Besides food, they also offer personal hygiene items and clothes. Monks usually have very large bowls and always come back with full bowls. After having breakfast, they have enough left for lunch.

In India, begging time is usually sometime before noon. However, as 16said in the sutras, on a few occasions monks go to beg at noontime. However, this does not happen in Thailand.

Washed his feet

Washing the feet after eating a meal is also a tradition in Thailand. In the past, when Geshe Sherab Gyatso visited Thailand, the king himself served the water for him to wash his feet. When we visited Thailand, we didn’t have such preferential treatment, but some lay practitioners did serve us water for washing our feet.

Sat on his throne

After washing his feet, the Buddha sat straight up on his Dharma throne. It is important to keep our body straight while teaching or listening to the Dharma and when meditating. Some people like to lean back while reading books and chanting prayers; this is very bad. If our body is not straight, the channels are not straight, and this greatly affects our memory and meditation. Tibetan Buddhism always emphasizes body posture; whether chanting prayers or meditating, our body must be straight and sitting cross-legged.

We can understand that the Buddha had his meal, washed his feet, perhaps relaxed on his cushion for a while, resting in mindfulness, and then was ready to teach the Diamond Cutter Sutra.

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