The Diamond Sutra (Emptiness)

The Final Word on the Nature of Reality

We are finished, then, with the Bodhisattvas, but not with the Bodhisattva Hall. Under the Bodhisattvas is a large panel containing approximately 5,000 Chinese characters. This is the full Chinese text of The Diamond Sutra, one of the central sutras of the Mahayana tradition. Its primary teaching is emptiness, an idea that was mentioned above. An excellent translation of this sutra can be found in Edward Conze's Buddhist Wisdom. The Sutra says that the Bodhisattva "should regard the ego's temporal world/ As a falling star, or Venus chastened by the Dawn,/ A bubble in a stream, a dream,/ A candle-flame that sputters and is gone." This indicates the insubstantiality of the world.

However, emptiness should not be confused with nothingness. There is something there; it just doesn't have its own, independent reality. Remember the exercise on "mindful breakfast"? Thinking about the people and elements that went into your bowl of corn flakes helps you to see that you are not a free-standing entity.

The Buddha's description of this involved an image known as "Indra's Net of Gems." Imagine an infinite, three-dimensional net; this is the universe. At each knot in the net there is a jewel; these are the things in the universe. Now, every gem is reflected in every other gem; conversely, all gems are reflected in one gem. So if one gem moves, every gem in the universe changes. This exemplifies the idea of emptiness: nothing is unaffected by any change in the universe; all is intimately interconnected. (There is a special room in the Museum that portrays this idea; check it out after your pilgrimage!)

So it's good to take a moment, look at The Diamond Sutra, and consider the implications of emptiness.


Now focus on the Chinese characters under the Bodhisattvas, as you move slowly toward the left end of the room. This is the Diamond Sutra. Contemplate the idea of emptiness, and recite these words:

This world is empty, and all things change,

Impermanent as a shooting star, or the Morning Star at Dawn;
Like a bubble in a stream, or a fleeting night's dream,
Like a candle-flame that sputters and is gone.

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