Perfect peace lies in freedom
from characteristic distinctions

Diamond Sutra Section 14

Upon the occasion of hearing this Discourse Subhuti had an interior realisation of its meaning and was moved to tears. Whereupon he addressed Buddha thus:

It is a most precious thing, World-honoured One, that you should deliver this supremely profound Discourse. Never have I heard such an exposition since of old my eye of wisdom first opened.

World-honoured One, if anyone listens to this Discourse in faith with a pure, lucid mind, he will thereupon conceive an idea of Fundamental Reality. We should know that such an one establishes the most remarkable virtue. World-honoured One, such an idea of Fundamental Reality is not, in fact, a distinctive idea; therefore the Tathagata teaches: "Idea of Fundamental Reality" is merely a name.

World-honoured One, having listened to this Discourse, I receive and retain it with faith and understanding. This is not difficult for me, but in ages to come -- in the last five hundred years, if there be men coming to hear this Discourse who receive and retain it with faith and understanding, they will be persons of most remarkable achievement. Wherefore?

Because they will be free from the idea of an ego-entity, free from the idea of a personality, free from the idea of a being, and free from the idea of a separated individuality. And why? Because the distinguishing of an ego-entity is erroneous. Likewise the distinguishing of a personality, or a being, or a separated individuality is erroneous. Consequently those who have left behind every phenomenal distinction are called Buddhas all.

Buddha said to Subhuti:

Just as you say! If anyone listens to this Discourse and is neither filled with alarm nor awe nor dread, be it known that such an one is of remarkable achievement. Wherefore? Because, Subhuti, the Tathagata teaches that the First Perfection [the Perfection of Charity] is not, in fact, the First Perfection: such is merely a name.

Subhuti, the Tathagata teaches likewise that the Perfection of Patience is not the Perfection of Patience: such is merely a name. Why so ? It is shown thus, Subhuti:

When the Rajah of Kalinga mutilated my body, I was at that time free from the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, and a separated individuality. Wherefore? Because then when my limbs were cut away piece by piece, had I been bound by the distinctions aforesaid,
feelings of anger and hatred would have been aroused within me.

Subhuti, I remember that long ago, sometime during my last past five hundred mortal lives, I was an ascetic practising patience. Even then was I free from those distinctions of
separated selfhood.

Therefore, Subhuti, Bodhisattvas should leave behind all phenomenal distinctions and awaken the thought of the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment by not allowing the mind to depend upon notions evoked by the sensible world -- by not allowing the mind to depend upon notions evoked by sounds, odours, flavours, touch-contacts or any qualities. The mind should be kept independent of any thoughts which arise within it. If the mind depends upon anything it has no sure haven.

This is why Buddha teaches that the mind of a Bodhisattva should not accept the appearances of things as a basis when exercising charity.

Subhuti, as Bodhisattvas practise charity for the welfare of all living beings they should do it in this manner. Just as the Tathagata declares that characteristics are not characteristics, so He declares that all living beings are not, in fact, living beings.

Subhuti, the Tathagata is He who declares that which is true; He who declares that which is fundamental; He who declares that which is ultimate. He does not declare that which is deceitful, nor that which is monstrous. Subhuti, that Truth to which the Tathagata has attained is neither real nor unreal.

Subhuti, if a Bodhisattva practises charity with mind attached to formal notions he is like unto a man groping sightless in the gloom; but a Bodhisattva who practises charity with mind detached from any formal notions is like unto a man with open eyes in the radiant glory of the morning, to whom all kinds of objects are clearly visible.

Subhuti, if there be good men and good women in future ages, able to receive, read and recite this Discourse in its entirety, the Tathagata will clearly perceive and recognise them by means of His Buddha-knowledge; and each one of them will bring immeasurable and incalculable merit to fruition.


"The mind should be kept independent." Thought, in itself is positive. Though it may seem to be inextricably enmeshed with and coloured by sensible perception, this is due to an habitual laissez faire reaction to phenomenal stimuli.

The declarations of the Tathagata are concerned with Principal Truth, upon which all relative aspects -- including the conformity of thought to things -- depends.

"That Truth to which the Tathagata has attained..." The idea of reality implies the idea of unreality, and vice versa. As each of these ideas suggests the other they must be linked together in the mind, but by objective comparison they are contradictory. So worldly knowledge is dichotomizing, distinguishing and estimating, but Tathagata-knowledge is formless, imageless, transcendental and free from all dualism.

The Heart Sutra  |  Contents

Moon over Ren Ci Buddhist Hospital, Singapore, July 2009