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The Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra



The Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra.


Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching, taken as a whole, divides into Five Periods and Eight Teachings. The Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra belongs to the fourth, or prajna period, and among the first four teachings, it is the third, the specific teaching.

The Great Prajna Sutra which contains what the Buddha said about prajna, comprises over 600 volumes of which the Vajra Sutra is just one. Prajna is important, as can be seen by the fact that the Buddha, having spoken prajna for a full twenty years, declared that the Prajna Sutras would be disseminated to every land.

Tripitaka Master Hsüan Tsang, partially fulfilling that prediction, translated the Great Prajna Sutra from Sanskrit into Chinese in the Tang Dynasty at Da Xing Shan Monastery with the aid of more than one thousand bhiksus and over two thousand laymen. Da Xing Shan was not a small place. From the Abbot’s room to the front gate was a distance of over three miles and the monk in charge of opening and shutting the front gate usually rode a horse in order to cover the distance in a reasonable length of time. Being so large, the monastery easily accommodated the three to four thousand people involved in the work of translation.

During the year the Great Prajna Sutra was translated, the peach trees blossomed six times. That auspicious occurrence testified to the importance of the Prajna Sutra. It is also widely known that the flower spirits and the grass and tree spirits all came to protect the wonderful dharma assembly.

The opening lecture of the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra marks the beginning of another prajna assembly in America. The events which led to this assembly began in 1968 when a group of eager students from Seattle came to the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco to participate in the first official seven-day meditation session ever held in America, lasting daily from six in the morning to nine in the evening – although the participants found it rigorous, it was actually very expedient. Authentic dhyana sessions start at 3:00 am and run straight through to midnight.     

At that time those people made a good impression on me and it was clear that they could work within the discipline of the Buddhadharma. During that session they requested explanation of the Shurangama Sutra. It is said,

Dharma does not arise alone.
Relying on conditions it is born.
The Way is not practiced in vain.
Meeting conditions there is a response.

I met their request, and during the summer of 1968 the Shurangama Sutra was lectured in its entirety. It was followed by the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra.

I have come to America to create High Masters, future Patriarchs, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. After hearing the Shurangama Sutra, several Americans wish to leave the home life under me. To broaden their understanding of the Buddhadharma and for the sake of all the other fruits of the Way who will follow them, I am lecturing the Dharma Blossom Sutra.

On the anniversary of the day Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva left the home life, several people requested an explanation of the Vajra Sutra. I consented and began to speak the sutra in addition to the lectures on the Dharma Blossom Sutra.

The explanation of the Vajra Sutra will be simplified by omitting the usual discussion of the Seven Types of Sutra Titles and the Five Profound Meanings. Let’s just open the door and look at the mountain.

The work divides into three sections:

1. General Explanation of the Title;
2. The Translator;
3. Detailed Explanation of the Text.

is a Sanskrit word which defies translation because of its numerous connotations, but essentially vajra is an indestructible substance, usually represented by diamond. Vajra is here metaphorically extended to refer to the principles of this discourse on dharma. Vajra refers to the vajra mind, the vajra nature, and the vajra prajna. The vajra prajna is the vajra nature which in turn is the vajra prajna.

Vajra is identical with the self-nature, the essential life force of all living beings, because both are indestructible and adamantine. Furthermore, the eternally dwelling mind all beings have in common is the same as the vajra nature, since it too cannot be destroyed. Prajna, as the highest form of wisdom living beings can attain, is real mark prajna, eternally indestructible. It is therefore referred to as vajra prajna.

According to the traditional explanations of the Seven Types of Sutra Titles, vajra in the title refers metaphorically to prajna, an essential Buddhist dharma. But more pointedly it may be said that prajna is vajra, the mind is vajra, the nature is vajra. To discriminate by way of analogy only serves to dull the brilliance of that splendid truth. Although various phenomena may be used as figurative expressions of the one principle, as is here the case in speaking of the one principle as an indestructible vajra, originally and conclusively the one principle is singular, beyond any analogy.

Such divisions of the one principle are mere expedients which serve to accord with the various understandings of living beings. Divided we have the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra, united it is the Vajra Sutra. It could also be called the Prajna Paramita Sutra. There is no need for rigid interpretation. The Vajra Sutra itself speaks of “no fixed methods.” If a person holds tightly to the view that one is one and two is two, the explanation of the principle becomes lifeless.

Vajra is durable, luminous, and able to cut. The substance of vajra is durable, able to destroy what nothing else can, and yet is itself indestructible. The substance of vajra fully controls devious influences, including heavenly demons and outside ways.

The light, which is the characteristic mark of vajra, has the power to break up all darkness, yet protects itself from all destruction. Light dawns when darkness is destroyed. In protecting the faultless dharma, vajra eradicates all that is divergent and perverted. When deviant teachings persist in the world, then darkness flourishes. When deviant teachings are seen for what they are, then the faultless proper dharma shines forth more brightly to abide far longer in the world.

As light is the characteristic mark of vajra, cutting is its function. Vajra can cut like the keen blade of a knife. Cutting metal, carving jade, slicing through steel as if slicing through mud – that is the power of vajra. Such sharpness pierces all obstructions and controls all deviations. Nothing can defeat it.

The mind which is vajra does not refer to the mind within the breast. That heart is flesh and has very little use when compared to the vajra mind.

The mind of vajra is also not the false-thinking mind, the sixth mind-consciousness. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind each have a consciousness:

Eyes have eye-consciousness,
ears have ear-consciousness,
the nose has nose-consciousness,
the tongue has tongue-consciousness,
the body has body-consciousness, and
the mind has mind-consciousness.

Common people, whose awareness does not penetrate beyond the sixth mind-consciousness, consider the flesh heart to be their true mind. That is the first mistake. The second mistake is thinking that their false-thinking mind is also their true mind, as Ananda did in the Shurangama Sutra:

The Buddha told Ananda, “That is not your mind. It is the dust (objects) before you, the empty false marks of thought which delude your true nature. Because of this, from beginningless time right up to your present life, you have taken a thief as your son, lost your original source, and thereby undergo the turning of the wheel.”

This passage from the Shurangama Sutra is very important. It speaks of the sixth mind-consciousness which has an exceptional talent for preoccupying itself with trivial and inconsequential thoughts. Those false thoughts that are produced send the sixth consciousness suddenly east, west, north, south; suddenly up, suddenly down. One need not sit in a rocket in order to go to the moon; the mind just gives rise to the thought, “Ah, the moon...” and instantly one is there. A single false thought sends one straight to India, a single false thought and one is off to China. One produces a false thought and the streets of Japan are right before one’s eyes. The same is true of Germany, France or anywhere one has been; a single false thought and one is there again.

Ananda thought the false-thinking mind was the real mind. The Buddha told Ananda, “That is not your mind. What is it? It is just the empty false appearance of dust objects before you. Those appearances manifest from your false thinking and delude your true nature. From beginningless kalpas until now you have always taken that for your mind. To do so is like thinking a thief is your son, and it makes you lose the knowledge of your eternal source. That source is the eternally indestructible precious nature, the enlightened bright mind. For that reason you appear and disappear endlessly in the six paths of the turning wheel.”

The third mind is the true suchness mind which is real mark prajna. The true suchness mind is so great there is nothing beyond it, and so small there is nothing within it. One will find nothing smaller or larger than true suchness. The true suchness mind is the vajra mind, the real nature of every one of us.


Green bamboo…yellow flowers –
Everything is prajna.

The Sanskrit word prajna is included among the Five Kinds of Terms Not Translated which were established by Dharma Master Hsüan Tsang in the Tang Dynasty. The list comprises terms not translated because they:

1. are secret;
2. have many meanings;
3. refer to something not existing in the translator’s country;
4. traditionally have not been translated; and
5. are honored terms.

Although prajna could be translated as “wisdom,” since it contains many meanings the original Sanskrit is retained.

There are Three Kinds of Prajna,

1. literary prajna;
2. contemplative prajna; and
3. real mark prajna.

The sutras which elucidate the principles of prajna may be grouped in Eight Divisions and also fall into Ten Categories which are:

1. The Great Prajna Sutra. It consists of 600 volumes of prajna literature. When Tripitaka
Master Hsüan Tsang translated the Great Prajna Sutra, the peach trees blossomed six
times in one year. Ordinarily peach trees blossom only once a year, but during the
translation period the blossoms opened and fell approximately once every two months,
or six times during the year.

2. The Light Emitted Prajna Sutra, consisting of 30 volumes, was spoken by the Buddha
as he emitted light.

3. The Mahaprajna Sutra, also consists of 30 volumes, and although Maha means great,
this sutra is not the Great Prajna Sutra listed above.

4. The Light Praise Prajna Sutra, which consists of 10 volumes, is so named because
while speaking prajna the Buddha emitted light to praise it.

5. The Way Conduct Prajna Sutra consists of 10 volumes.

6. The Shorter Chapters on Prajna Sutra also consists of 10 volumes.

7. The Prajna Sutra of the Victorious Heavenly King contains seven volumes.

8. The Prajna Sutra of the Humane King Who Protects His Country consists of two volumes.

9. The Real Mark Prajna Sutra is complete in one volume.

10. The Manjushri’s Questions on Prajna Sutra also consists of one volume.

Within those Ten Categories are contained a total of 701 volumes of Prajna Sutras.

An investigation of dharma should include consideration of the places in which the Buddha spoke dharma and the number of assemblies that received the teaching. The prajna teaching was spoken in Four Places at Sixteen Assemblies:

1. Seven assemblies were held on Vulture Peak, also called Efficacious Vulture Mountain, near the city House of Kings.

2. Seven assemblies were held in the city of Sravasti in the Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary. That is where the Vajra Sutra was spoken.

3. One assembly was held in the Mani Jewel Treasury Palace of the Bliss From Others’ Transformations Heaven.

4. One assembly was held beside the White Heron Pool in the Bamboo Forest Park near the House of Kings.

The Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra was spoken at the third assembly held at the second location, the Jeta Grove. So the sutra begins, “Thus I have heard at one time the Buddha was staying in Sravasti in the Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary.”

Of the Three Kinds of Prajna – literary, contemplative and real mark – literary prajna arises from the study of sutras, but a true understanding of the literature only comes through contemplative prajna. Contemplative wisdom, fully developed, penetrates the final goal: real mark prajna. If prajna does not manifest, it is simply an indication that the basic wisdom inherent in all people has not been brought to fruition. The wisdom which is real mark prajna arises only when nourished by the waters of literary and contemplative prajna.

. Some say it is as sweet as pineapple. Not only that, it is the sweetest of sweets. It is separation from suffering and attainment of bliss. Whenever a task is well done the people of India say it is “paramita,” just as we would say it is “finished.” But paramita means more than just finished, it means the task has been perfectly accomplished.

Paramita means “arrived at the other shore.” If you take a bridge or ferry from San Francisco to Oakland, your arrival in Oakland is “paramita.” Receiving a certificate of promotion from elementary school is “paramita.” Obtaining a high school diploma is “paramita.” Acquiring a Bachelors degree is “paramita.” A Masters degree, a Doctorate, are also “paramita.” At present we are on “this shore” of birth and death. By passing through the sea of suffering we can arrive at the other shore of nirvana. This is also “paramita.”

Everything can be “paramita-ed.” For example, a person takes up the practice of dhyana meditation. The day that person opens enlightenment will be the day of paramita. The Shurangama Sutra Lecture and Cultivation Session in the summer of 1968 was another example. The day it began was “this shore.” One hundred and six days later was Mahaprajnaparamita. In general, any job done well and done completely is called paramita.

Now we are all studying Buddhadharma. In the beginning it is difficult to understand, and so some people come to the Lecture Hall once and do not dare to return, fearing the extreme difficulty in practice. One first needs good roots and then one needs patience. Those who remain to cultivate come to realize that the Buddhadharma is the most important thing in the world. “If I don’t understand the Buddhadharma it is as if I haven’t eaten enough. I must hear the sutras and listen to the dharma. It is more delicious than the finest food in the best restaurant.” If listening to sutras can be put in place of one’s heart’s delight, then, when one has attentively listened to the entire sutra, that too is paramita.

Pineapple “bo luo guo,” and paramita, “bo luo mi,” contain the same characters, “bo luo.” “Mi” means “sweet,” thus the pun: sweet as pineapple.

Sutra. Sutras provide a road to travel in cultivation. Going from the road of birth and death to the road of no birth and death, the common person penetrates to sagehood – to Buddhahood. One who wishes to walk that road must rely on the dharma to cultivate. The dharma is in the sutras.

The word sutra has many meanings.

1. It is called “an emanation” because it comes from the Buddha’s mouth.

2. Sutra is also called “a bright revelation” because it can illumine the whole world with   
its light.

3. Sutra is also called “a constant” because it is a method which never changes. Whether in the past or in the present, the sutra remains the same. Not one word can be taken out, not one added. It neither increases nor decreases.

4. The sutra “strings together.” Like beads on a string, the principles of the Buddhadharma are linked together in the lines of the sutra from beginning to end.

5. The sutra “attracts” living beings in the same way that a magnet draws iron filings. Living beings drawn to the sutras come to have a thorough understanding of the Buddhadharma.

6. The sutra is a “method” of cultivation held in veneration by living beings in the past, present and future.

7. Sutra is also called a “bubbling spring.” The principles flow from the sutras like water from a bubbling spring which moistens the entire earth, causing all living beings to be filled with the joy of dharma and to obtain delightful dhyana food. The complete title of the sutra is the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra.

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