So I have been procrastinating on this post for a while. And here is why: This particular read has hit a place so deep within me I didn't even know that place existed. How do I talk about something like that? I honestly can't - I still don't know a way how, so I am simply going to share a bit of the background on what I read, my reactions to it (the ones I can put in words - barely) and let you read it and think for yourself on this one.
Book #3: The Diamond Sutra
The Diamond Sutra is a discourse given by the Buddha to one of his elder disciples, Subhuti. It was a writing that was found in 868 and means "Perfection of Wisdom." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Sutra) I am not sure what the title means but I wanted to offer some background, so there it is. The Sutra is relatively short (25 pages) and uses simple language (this is to encourage you to read it) and can be found at multiple places on the web. As a side note, you should never really have to buy books or pay to learn about the Buddha's discourses - that is not what they are meant for - and most monasteries and websites true to that do hand out free literature for you to study and read and merely ask for donations - from the goodness of your heart and nothing else. When I see Amazon charging a lot of money for these same books/discourses it kind of makes me sad because that's not what these writings are meant to encourage. Side note over.
I think it is a very small statement to say that the Diamond Sutra has changed me. It is brought life - mine and in general - and the happenings of the world into a new light, a new perspective for me. This seems like the sutra that can lead you wherever you want it to with your interpretation. However, I did some research and it seems that many monks have revered this sutra and hold it to be one of the most profound and important ones there are. And all of this research was conducted after I reached that conclusion myself. One of the things the Buddha would say to his disciples was that he was telling them of enlightenment and giving them the dharma as he knew it, but it was up to them to find the truth in what he said and to reach their own conclusions.
Last week I started a free online course on Buddhism given by Bikkhu Bodhi because I wanted a source to learn and take notes on the foundation of Buddhism as an "ism." One of the things that stuck was how I was told meditation is important, and dharma is important, but each are incomplete without the other - how can you have knowledge without practice, and how can you practice without knowledge? I thought it was odd because usually only one or the other is encouraged - but it did resonate well with me and the concept stuck. And then came along the Diamond Sutra, it was briefly mentioned in Book #2: The End of Your Life Book Club and so I sought it out from the myriad of Buddha dharma books on my shelf. As I read the sutra one morning, in one sitting, I let the words sink in and I saw just how true it is to have both knowledge and practice.
All this time whenever I have meditated I have followed a certain path, a certain technique, and it has seemed to work for me, but other than some peaceful moments, I'm not sure what I have been looking for or waiting for. But this sutra showed me just that. It showed me the point of meditation, it showed me what I want to look for, it "opened" my eyes and mind a bit. There are a few lines in the sutra that brought me to that point: "should thus develop a pure and clean mind which should not abide in form, sound, smell, taste, touch and dharma. They should develop a mind which does not abide in anything." That's the key of meditating - to develop a mind that is free, a mind that does not attach itself to anything. What confused me a little bit was the mention of keeping your mind clear of "dharma" - but I had been thinking that keeping that in your mind was the point all along. So I read on and I found some more lines that confused me further.
These lines went, "these particles of dust are not (real), (but) are (merely) called particles of dust. The Tathagata says the universe is not (real), but it is (merely) called the universe." It is a paradox really - there is no "is" but there also is no "is not" to put it in basic terms. To take it further out the lines refer to the universe - there is no universe, and there is no not universe - it simply is a term. Similarly, there is no suffering, and there is no not suffering - it is merely a term - and so simply, with such brilliance this thought brings you to the principle of Buddha dharms: to understand that the root of everything is suffering, to acknowledge suffering, and to walk the path to the cessation of suffering. Think about the fact there is no suffering or not suffering - this that these are just terms, and feel the pressure of suffering, the depth of suffering disappear for a moment. And in the next you forget about the is and is not and you are back to our reality. The answer: meditation.
But it really is not that easy. In order to walk the path of Enlightenment we must let go of our attachments. But here is the tricky part - in order to get to "truth" we must give up attachment to "non truth" as well. So we meditate and observe but let go - we sever our attachments and let go of the "non-truth" (ego). But then we find this "truth" and attach to it! That makes it the non-truth again and we find ourselves back where we began. What this sutra is essentially telling us is that we cannot attach to anything - not even the truth, not even dharma, because attachment in any form is still attachment and it will still lead to suffering. To really get to the truth we must perceive it through meditation, watch it, understand it, and then like all else during true meditation - let it go.
So it is letting go of all attachments that leads us to the Buddha - to Enlightenment. But what about non-Buddha, what about non-Enlightenment? The path takes us further than simply letting go of attachments. The path is to perceive and not attach. The path is to meditate and observe the fleeting thoughts - to perceive the truth and non-truths alike. Enlightenment is just a word too, it is not the path. It is a path of perceiving and letting go. But it is the perception that is critical - we must meditate to get to the perception, and maintain it to let go of what we see, of what we wish to attach to next.
The Diamond Sutra has a "follow up" sutra - the Heart Sutra. This sums up the Diamond Sutra and allows the way to the cessation of suffering. This is what happened to a Bodhisattva: "he investigated and perceived that the five aggregates (skandhas) were non-existent thus securing his deliverance from all distress and sufferings." If everything is non-existent, and the names are just given by us as names and nothing more, then when you let go of attachment to these things that exist only in names, there leaves no such thing as "suffering" because there is no suffering and no not suffering - these are just left as words that are illusions.
From what I reflected reading this sutras, I formed a path - a way to possibly practice these sutras. It is to meditate - to sit and reflect. Detach. If a wandering thought comes - let it - observe it but then (and this is crucial) let is pass! Don't hold on to it, don't engage it, don't do anything - just let it pass.
3) Let it go
Because eventually the wandering thoughts will stop. Eventually there will be no fleeting moments, eventually that moment of knowing there is no is and no not is will come and stay. And once that nothingness is there, that will be the end of suffering. A quote from the Heart Sutra sums it up perfectly:
"Because of gainlessness, Bodhisattvas who rely on Prajna-paramita (the sutras), have no hindrance in their hearts, and since they have no hindrance, they have no fear, are free from contrary and delusive ideas and attain the Final Nirvana."
And finally, a mantra to take with you, something to remember the Diamond sutra, the Heart sutra, to repeat and understand, to always remember what was said and observed in these sutras: The Prajna-paramita mantra: "Gate (pronounced "gathay"), gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha"
(Translated by the Dalai Lama as "go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_Sutra)