Diamonds and Doubts

In Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond thriller, Diamonds are Forever, M., the crusty chief of MI6, tells 007 that diamonds are “the hardest substance in the world. Last forever.”  Marilyn Monroe famously told us, through the lyrics of Leo Robin, “A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Malcolm Forbes once put the stones in their proper perspective when he stated, “Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.”

The Vajra symbol

Buddhism has its own take on this gem first worn as a jewel in India some 5,000 years ago. In Buddha-dharma, the diamond, or vajra, represents the highest level of transcendent wisdom or prajna-paramita. The English word “diamond,” by the way, comes from the ancient Greek adamas meaning “unbreakable.” Because diamonds are so hard that they cannot be broken, and they are so sharp that they can cut through almost anything, transcendent or diamond wisdom is said to cut through all delusions.

Vajra also represents Indra’s thunderbolt, however, it is with the connotation of diamond that the word is most commonly used in Buddhist texts. The diamond is the symbol of the Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra or the “Diamond Cutter Transcendent Wisdom Sutra.”

Delusions are plentiful and varied, and doubt is one. Doubt is an obstacle, a hindrance, a mental fetter, and the “prajna diamond” cuts off doubts. That’s one interpretation of the Diamond Sutra taught by Han Shan, the Chinese Buddhist scholar from the Ming Dynasty, [1. “The Diamond Cutter of Doubts,” translated by Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk), Ch’an and Zen Teaching Volume 1, Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1993]

The full title Diamond Prajna-paramita indicates the teaching expounded in this sutra which aims at revealing the Buddha’s Diamond Mind. Moreover, this Diamond Mind was the fundamental mind of the Buddha in His practice, as a cause, resulting in His enlightenment, as an effect  . . . he taught Bodhisattavas to use the Diamond Mind as a cause in their practice so that they could enter the initial door of Mahayana. This is why he purposely taught them to cut off their doubts (about it).”

Doubt as it is used here does not refer to doubt about the dharma, but doubt about oneself, in particular, doubt regarding one’s own “diamond mind.” Chih-i said, “When doubt veils the mind, it is difficult to open any dharma doors.”

When we harbor doubts about ourselves, about our mind’s capacity to grow and learn, and find purpose, and happiness, we’re not able to progress very far in Buddhist practice, let alone in life. It’s important that we try to summon up confidence in the knowledge that our very mind is Buddha, that our mind has the potential to shine brightly like a diamond, and with that confidence we make it hard and resistant to suffering, and sharp, so that it can cut through our doubts and delusions.

One way to dealing with doubt is handle it in the same manner we deal with errant thoughts in meditation. When doubtful thoughts arise, simply label them as doubts, and then move on confidently. For as Norman Fischer paraphrases Dogen, [2. Dogen’s Time Being (Uji) 1,]

“So though people commonly have doubts about things that they can’t be entirely sure of, in fact, they can’t even tell whether a doubt that they had in the past, or even a doubt that they had a moment ago, is the same as the doubt that they have now.  And so, they should be doubtful about their doubting – not as certain of it as they so often seem to be.  Doubt is doubt for the time being.  Nothing more.  Doubt itself is time.”

I say that the time being is the perfect time to lay doubts about oneself aside and advance confidently along the Buddha Way.



Are We Buddhas?

We are Buddhas because the qualities of the Buddhahood are inherent within us. We have the potential to realize enlightenment. If we did not, then there would be no possibility of realizing anything close to enlightenment. We call this potential Buddha-nature.

When we say something like “we are Buddhas”, we’re speaking figuratively. It’s meant in the most fundamental sense and doesn’t mean that we have already attained anything and therefore there’s no need for practice, effort, or struggle. It just means that we have this potential, that the seed of Buddhahood is there.

But, in the end, it means attaining a state of mind where one sees that there is nothing to attain.

To Buddhas, there is no such thing as buddha. Buddha is just a concept, an idea, a mental representation that refers to the ability of a living being to realize something so subtle and deceptively simply that it defies adequate explanation. Nearly everything we think we know about buddhas belongs to the realm of appearance. Nagarjuna said that Buddhas “will stand outside appearance, outside sensation, outside concepts, outside forms, and outside consciousness.”  We call it breaking free.

To a Buddha, concepts and forms and so on are unreal, empty. A Buddha has achieved this understanding by breaking free from his or her own mind:

The Buddha taught the dharma of quieting the mind . . . The primary point of the Thus-Gone One’s method consists of realizing the non-existence of the self. If the self does not exist, ego disappears. When the notions of a self and ego are purged, the mind is in the state of nirvana. Thus all living beings quiet their mind and break free. As soon as all living beings are calm in nirvana, there is no need to seek Buddhahood. Thus the mind that used to seek something is still, and all desire to grasp and to let go will vanish. Because the internal mind and external objects are empty, the One Mind remains immutable. This is the method to quiet the mind.

A Commentary on The Diamond Sutra by Ch’an Master Han Shan