Guest Post by Russ Riley

Today, the first ever guest post at The Endless Further.

My nephew, Russ Riley (left), is a student at Hastings College in Nebraska.  Last semester, he took a class on Buddhism, and naturally, to complete the course he was required to write a final paper.  I think it’s pretty good.  His teacher did, too.  Gave Russ an A-.  And I want to share it with you.

Now, since we live some 1500 miles apart from each other, I have not been much of an influence in Russ’ life.  So whatever interest he has in Buddhism is a result of his own spiritual journey.  Matter of fact, I don’t believe we had ever talked about Buddhism together until just recently.

Likewise, I gave him some guidance on the paper (after all, what good is having an uncle who is Buddhist if you can’t tap into his vast storehouse of wisdom), but I didn’t help him too much.  And it was his professor who suggested the theme of Jack Kerouac and the Beat movement and how jazz music relates to Buddhism. 

In any case, without further ado, here is one young man’s thoughts on some of the Dharma:

How You See Is What You Get

Russ Riley

The search for happiness can be a tough one, especially with the monotony of everyday life. When people are in our way and we have to be somewhere right now, it can be easy to forget what is actually happening right now. We can very easily get caught up in our thoughts and emotions and before we know it we’re stuck in a fit of anger and frustration: all because that car didn’t get out of my way, or because I didn’t deserve to stub my toe on that crack in the sidewalk. When we practice Buddhist philosophy we can come to an understanding that happiness is all around, and that our perception is what needs to change. In order to find true happiness we must let go of our expectations and live in the present moment.

Where am I? Here. What time is it? Now. This is something we don’t often think about with our Western mindsets. To Be Here Now means to live completely in the present moment. It means not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future, but thinking about the feelings and senses of the eternal present. It means thinking about the hardness of the chair you’re sitting in, the feeling of your breath flowing in and out across your lips, the breeze lightly brushing your skin. When we practice being in the present moment we are practicing one of the most important aspects of Buddhism. One person who was particularly good at this was Jack Kerouac, one of the most influential writers of the 1950’s. He was known for his spontaneous behavior and helping create a movement called the beat movement. His writing style was as spontaneous as the lifestyle he lived and wrote about, as he often typed on 120-foot long teletype paper. This style was called spontaneous prose, a much practiced stream of consciousness with a trail of untampered thoughts, one leading to the next. Kerouac developed this style so that the words on the page were his purest thoughts. It is quite clear that this writing style has many similarities to that of an improvised jazz solo, even more specifically, a bebop solo played by Charlie Parker. Phrases were well thought out, allowing breathing space for the reader, just like Parker’s solos, each passage based around a key idea. Both based in New York in the 50’s, they ended up crossing paths and Kerouac was blown away by Parker’s spontaneity and originality in his musical phrases. As the bebop movement grew, it became more than just music. It became a lifestyle, an image of these fast paced, high energy entertainers living a life free from all the worries and problems of the real world. A prime example of this lifestyle is the beat generation, which Kerouac wrote about and helped start. Being a ‘beat’ meant you were nonconforming and original, questioning social, religious, and political matters. It meant living in the moment, being in the now.

Kerouac has said that bebop and Parker in particular were very influential on his life and works. In fact, Kerouac was so moved by Charlie Parker that he wrote the following poem about him, comparing him to Buddha.

Charlie Parker looked like Buddha
Charlie Parker, who recently died
Laughing at a juggler on TV
After weeks of strain and sickness,
Was called the Perfect Musician.
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of Buddha
Represented in the East, the lidded eyes
The expression that says “All Is Well”
This was what Charlie Parker
Says when he played All Is Well.
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s joy, or
Like the perfect cry of some wild gang
At a jam session
“Wail, Wop”
Charlie burst his lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
And what they wanted
Was his eternal Slowdown.

Jack Kerouac thought Charlie Parker looked like Buddha. At the beginning of the poem, Kerouac refers to Parker as the Perfect Musician, similar to how a monk would call Buddha the Perfect Being. Kerouac, a man who practiced Zen Buddhism for part of his life, compares Parker’s face to Buddha. He also attributes a spiritual significance to his musical playing abilities. Kerouac praises Parker’s creative energy as if it were a spiritual force working towards a musical awakening. When he wrote about his writing style, spontaneous prose, he compared it to playing jazz music. In an excerpt from the book, Essentials of Spontaneous Prose, Kerouac describes his theory of composition: “PROCEDURE: Time being of the essence in the purity of speech, sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image.” This example of how the artistic visions of Kerouac and Parker crossed paths is perfect. They both had a thirst for spontaneity and originality. Kerouac saw the Zen in Charlie Parker’s approach to jazz in this new style called bebop. In this poem, Kerouac isn’t so much comparing Parker as a person to Buddha, but more so it’s a reference to how Charlie Parker’s playing makes him feel. All Is Well.

In 1956, a Zen Buddhist and friend of Kerouac, Gary Snyder, suggested that Kerouac write a sutra. What he wrote became The Scripture of Golden Eternity. The work consists of 66 prose poems, which deal with the nature of our consciousness and the impermanence in everything. Mainly influenced by his Buddhist background, the title “scripture” alludes to his Catholic upbringing. In the first verse, he says:

Did I create that sky? Yes, for, if it was anything other than a
conception of my mind I wouldn’t have said “sky”-That is why I
am the golden eternity. There

are not two of us here, reader and writer, but one, one golden
eternity, On-Which-It-Is, That-Which-Everything-Is.

In this passage Jack Kerouac introduces another very important concept in Buddhism, which is, the oneness of everything and nothing. He believed that everything is a part of something greater. That we are all one essence functioning in a nonexistent and unimportant reality. Kerouac refers to himself as a divine being when calling himself the “golden eternity.” He also implies that others are part of this divine being when he says, “You are the golden eternity because there is no me and no you, only the golden eternity.” He is emphasizing the importance of the unity of humanity. I think the golden eternity refers to the realization of Buddhist philosophy, the principle that once one understands the endless mystery of everything and nothing, once one realizes we are all one energy, one can understand true happiness.

The problem in Western society today is that we are so focused on individualism and being different from others. We generally define ourselves by what we are not, instead of what we are. This creates a “this and them” mindset and only feeds our nasty egos. In the West we have our Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. But upon first inspection of this saying, it feeds the ego. It is based on you helping other people for personal benefit. I will act in a positive way towards you, so that the result is you acting positive towards me. I’m helping you with the intentions of getting help for myself. This should not be the case. We should be compassionate to others simply because it is the right thing to do. In Buddhism, it is said that every sentient being is the same energy. If you look close enough, smaller than atoms, protons, and electrons, there is just energy. If we think this way, it becomes obvious that we must not be harmful to others, because we are all the same. Not the same beings, but the same being.  Another more scientific way to look at it is to look at the four most common elements in the human body; hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Not only are they most common in human bodies, but every other living thing on Earth. Furthermore, these elements are among the most abundant in the universe, with hydrogen making up 75%, oxygen the third most abundant, followed by carbon, neon, iron, and nitrogen. The same elements that make up 96% of the human body make up more than 75% of our universe.

The idea that we are all one is an idea that was brought forth by Siddhartha Gautama himself. This teaching is described best in one of the earliest surviving Buddhist texts, the Vajracchedika Pranjaparamita Sutra, or the Diamond Sutra. It was discovered by Aurel Stein in 1907 in the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas. The complete history is unknown, but it is said to be an adaptation of another sutra, translated in 401 CE by Kumarajava, who translated many of the Buddhist sutras. The Diamond Sutra explains that a bodhisattva must abandon all concepts of “self,” he or she should get rid of all notions “other.” When a bodhisattva helps someone, he or she should not have the idea that someone is being helped. One must empty the mind of all concepts of discrimination. Buddha says that the ultimate truth cannot be expressed in words. He says no one can attain transient wisdom, and that the very idea of attainment is one that should be forgotten.

Another essential Buddhist concept deals with our perceptions.  Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Perception is very important for our well-being, for our peace. Perception should be free from emotion and ignorance, free from illusion. In Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an obstacle to understanding.” He explains that if we hold something as truth, we need to be ready to abandon it or else when truth comes to knock at our door we will not open it. He gives a very good example: A man with a young son whom he loved very much was away on a business trip. While he was gone, bandits came and burned down his village and took his son. When the man returned he saw the destruction and panicked. He found a corpse of an infant whom he thought was his child. He held a cremation ceremony and carried his son’s ashes wherever he went. He loved his son more than anything. One night his real son escaped and came knocking on his door in the middle of the night. When the man asked who it was the boy told him it was his son. He man became angry and thought it was some boy making fun of him and yelled at him to go away. They never saw each other again (48). Knowledge is an obstacle to our understanding. Understanding means to throw away your knowledge. For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.

Guarding knowledge is not a good way to understand, but throwing away what we hold as truth will help us better understand and become more aware. Kerouac wrote a verse in The Scripture of the Golden Eternity that expresses this concept very well. It states:

Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.

In the first line of this verse Kerouac is referring to meditation, seeing the world as it truly is, free from illusion, being totally aware. One will see good things and bad things, but underneath all of that is just energy. Understand that it is all emptiness, empty of any self that is intrinsic, permanent, and independent. He refers to atoms emitting light, saying there is no personal separation of any of it. All things are all interdependent. We are all one. When Kerouac says, “A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not” he is implying that whether good or bad, change happens. One day it is cloudy, another day it is not, but do not worry about stuff happening, be happy. Think not of the future, nor of the past, but be here now. This attitude is where Zen and Beat align. Happiness is all around, you just have to perceive it as such. In the last line of this verse Kerouac means that when we are looking for truth, we may be confronted with what we think is not truth. When we let go of our previous knowledge, we can fully understand. The idea of light and dark can be compared to that of good and evil. The Buddhist understanding is that good and evil are not two separate things, but they are innate, inseparable aspects of life. The line “devoured by darkness” is referring to the fact that it can be very difficult to let go of what we hold as truth. In order to truly understand and perceive reality, we must be ready to abandon our truths. Without darkness, there is no light. Without light there can be no darkness.

Kerouac’s verse reminds me of a famous singer and song writer who became quite well known for his teachings of peace and love. His name was John Lennon and he wrote a song called Tomorrow Never Knows, which says, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. It is not dying, it is not dying. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining.” The idea of this verse correlates with Kerouac’s Scripture verse quite well. In Zen, not knowing is an important concept. When we can lay down all our thoughts, let go of our preconceived notions and expectations, and surrender to the void, we can truly understand and see the light.

No matter who you are, where you are from, which religion you are a part of, you can practice Buddhism. We can all help the world be a more peaceful place by starving our ego and fueling our compassionate loving side. Abandon your views, let go of your judgments, be in the present moment and desire nothing. Buddhism is not a set of beliefs, but a way of life. There are no rules and constrictions, just concepts to practice and apply to daily life. Be good to one another, for deep down, we are all the same energy. With these realizations we can find our Buddha nature and contribute to a more loving peaceful world. Happiness is everywhere as long as we remember where we are, and what time it is; as long as we remember to Be Here Now.

Work Cited
Camia, George -. “Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, & Zen Buddhism.” Roots Rock Boston. Roots Rock Boston, 3 Aug. 2009. Web. 19 May 2017.

Weekes, Henry, Mo Hafeez, Samuel Burnt, Tobias Berchtold, Richard Birch, and Ayush Joshi. “Bebop: Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, and the ‘Beat Generation’.” Wall of Sound Magazine. Wall of Sound Magazine, 10 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 May 2017.

Inc., Wolfram Research. “Abundance in the Universe of the Elements.” Abundance in the Universe for All the Elements in the Periodic Table. Wolfram Research Inc., n.d. Web. 19 May 2017.

Kerouac, Jack. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. San Francisco: City Lights, 1994. Print.

Hanh, Thich Nhat, Rachel Neumann, and Mayumi Oda. Being Peace. Berkeley: Parallax, 1987. Print.

Riley, David. “Jack and the Buddhastalk.” The Endless Further. The Endless Further, 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 19 May 2017.

Riley, David. “Secrets of the Diamond Sutra.” The Endless Further. The Endless Further, 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 19 May 2017.

Share

What the Mind Carries

On September 10, 1950, exactly 65 years ago today, Beat nomad Neal Cassady composed a letter to future Beat chronicler Jack Kerouac. He wrote from the engine of a train and shared with his friend his thoughts about becoming more absorbed by the landscape and the people he saw, noting:

neal-jack-01cNow, eyeball kicks are among the world’s greatest, second to none actually in terms of abstract thought, because it is thru the way you handle these kicks that is what determines your particular conclusion (in abstraction in the mind) to each moments outlook . . .

One’s mind carries at all times the pressure of its own existence, and remembers previous eyeball views to recall what its previous life has been & feeding on this stuff, carries a heavy understanding of things it is capable of knowing & this knowing is blocked from coming out, because while one’s mind carries one’s life’s past constantly, it also carries before it all day the world which comes in thru the eyeball.” *

It was Cassady who, in a roundabout way, was responsible for stimulating Kerouac’s interest in Buddhism, but in 1950 I don’t think either of them knew much about it, and anyway Cassady never got into it like Kerouac did. Nevertheless, Cassady’s thinking in this passage seems to me rather dharmic.

Vision (“eyeball kicks”) is not free from conceptual or abstract thinking and how we think about what we see dictates to a large degree our view in each moment. This is true for the practice of mindfulness as well, because when we meditate we are not completely liberated from our senses.  Not to mention that meditation is “seeing” with the inner eyeball.

Additionally, we are not separated from the past or future while we are in the “present moment.” When discussing Buddhist meditation, particularly mindfulness, we are fond of saying that the aim is to let go of the past and have no anticipation for the future. Certainly, we wish to release our attachment to the past and not obsess about things to come, but actually the past is always present, and in each moment and with each thought we shape the future.

In meditation, we center ourselves in the present by focusing attention upon some object, often our breath. Nyanaponika Thera, in his book The Heart of Buddhism Meditation, wrote

If there is any further interest in the object, or if its impact on the senses is sufficiently strong, closer attention will be directed towards details . . . This will enable the mind to compare the present perception with similar ones recollected from this past . . . This stage marks a very important step in mental development . . . It also shows us the close and constant connection between the functions of memory and attention (or mindfulness), and will thereby explain why in Pali, the language of the [early] Buddhist scriptures, both these mental functions are expressed by the one word sati.”

[Sati is a Pali word we translate as “mindfulness.”]

We can take this further to say that meditation involves not only the recollection of past perceptions but also past experiences. I think at times some folks are so focused on “letting go,” another phrase we are very fond of, that it becomes escapism.  Perhaps we need to let go of this idea of letting go. Without the past there is no present, so we have to deal with it to develop ourselves. And rather than letting go of sufferings we should embrace them, for without suffering we could never know happiness.

I was making up all kinds of sayings as I went along. I was started on my new life with my new equipment: a regular Don Quixote of tenderness. In the morning I felt exhilarated and meditated first thing and made up a little prayer: ‘I bless you, all living things, I bless you in the endless past, I bless you in the endless present, I bless you in the endless future, amen.’”

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

– – – – – – – – – –

* Neal Cassady, The First Third, City Lights Books, 1971, 196

Graphic based on the 1952 photo taken by Carolyn Cassady

Share

Poetry: Word Atoms Emitting Light

Since it is now April, that means it is National Poetry Month, sponsored by Academy of American Poets who began this yearly celebration of poetry in 1996. It is the largest literary celebration in the world, with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, poets and poetry lovers joining together to laud and bring attention to this sublime form of literature.

NPM15_ForSite_FINAL_FINALEach year, the Academy of American Poets, along with award-winning designer Chip Kidd, commission a poster in celebration of National Poetry Month. This year’s poster (on the left) was designed by Roz Chast , a New Yorker cartoonist and 2014 National Book Award finalist. It’s based on a line of poetry from Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry.”

T. S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” That is not only a good description of poetry, but to my mind, it also describes Buddha-dharma. Poetry has been an integral part of Buddhist literature, many of the sutras have large sections of text composed in verse, and Buddhist poetry is nearly a genre of its own. So it seems fitting for a Buddhist blog to join the National Poetry Month celebration.  And, as in previous years, I will feature poetry in many of this month’s posts.

Today, something from Jack Kerouac, whom many people consider a Buddhist writer, although his interest in Buddhism lasted only a few years, from 1953-57. During that time, he was, in his own uniquely Beat fashion, a rather dedicated Buddhist, and a number of his novels, particularly The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels, are infused with Buddhist philosophy.

I don’t recall who it was, but one of his fellow Beats once suggested to Kerouac that he should write his own sutra. And so, he did. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity contains 66 prose poems and was first published in 1960. Here is perhaps the most famous of those poems:

kerouac-1b3c22

Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.

Share

Jack and the Buddhastalk

Today some more about Jack Kerouac’s connections with Buddhism. I’m one of those people who consider Kerouac an important American novelist. He possessed a phenomenal memory, almost total recall, and as his “novels” were autobiographical, he documented the affairs of a small group of people who would become known as the Beat Generation, and who would have a tremendous influence on American culture. His writing style was as spontaneous as the life he lived and documented, a completely unique voice in literature.

No, that’s not an ancient Buddhist scroll, it’s Kerouac’s original manuscript of “On The Road,” that he typed onto a 120-foot roll of teletype paper. (Photograph: AP)

Like Alan Watts, also identified with the Beat Generation to some extent, Kerouac was one of my earliest Buddhist influences. Unlike Watts, however, it was not what Kerouac wrote about Buddhism that impressed me, which in his novels is not a great deal, but simply that he was into Buddhism. Kerouac was cool, so Buddhism must be cool. That’s how I reasoned things back then.

Kerouac was probably introduced to Buddhism by Allen Ginsberg, who according to Gerald Nicosia (Memory Babe*), in 1953 “had begun an intensive study of Chinese and Japanese art, literature, and religion,” and “began to communicate his new enthusiasm to his friends almost immediately.” Nicosia reports that in late ’53, Kerouac was describing himself as a “big Buddhist.”

Kerouac’s interest in Buddhism, although intense, lasted only a few years. By 1957, he no longer considered himself Buddhist, and those readers familiar with his life story know that in his later years (he died in 1969), he retreated to his mother’s house in Lowell, MA where he returned to his Catholic roots, practiced his alcoholism and adopted some rather conservative views.

While he dabbled with meditation, I suspect Kerouac was more of a book-reading, intellectual kind of Buddhist. Nicosia says the texts most influential on him were the Surangama and Lankavatara Sutras, the Tao te Ching, the Sutra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch, and most especially, the Diamond Sutra, as I wrote about the other day. All these works are found in Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible that he carried around with him in a leather wrapper. It’s likely that this one book was his sole source of Buddhist information, as it also contained a biography of the Buddha.

Various paperback editions of “The Dharma Bums.” (click to enlarge)

Buddhism permeated Kerouac’s writing during the period he immersed himself in its philosophy. The Dharma Bums is essentially the story of the relationship between himself and Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder), “the number one Dharma Bum of them all.” Snyder was, and is, a Zen Buddhist, but Kerouac was not particularly attracted to Zen, he was more interested in Indian and Chinese Buddhism. In the novel, he writes,

I’d say that was a lot of silly Zen Buddhism.” This took Japhy back a bit. “Lissen Japhy,” I said, “I’m not a Zen Buddhist, I’m a serious Buddhist, I’m an oldfashioned dreamy Hinayana coward of later Mahayanism,” and so forth into the night, my contention being that Zen Buddhism didn’t concentrate on kindness so much as on confusing the intellect to make it perceive the illusion of all sources of things.”

Desolation Angels, which he began writing in 1958 or 59, and not published until 1965, also reflects his interest in Buddhism, and as well, Japanese culture in the way he incorporated haiku poetry into his prose.

In 1956, Snyder suggested to Kerouac that he should write a sutra. This resulted in The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, which Kerouac subsequently lost and was published without his participation in 1960. This work consists of 66 prose poems, and my favorite is Scripture 22:

Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.

You can read the entire work here.

During his Buddhist period, Kerouac also put together a “book of Dharma,” originally an attempt to explain Buddhism without using Buddhist terms. He struggled to get Some of the Dharma, as it was eventually titled, published during his lifetime, but it didn’t see publication until 1996:

Buddhism is a return to the Original mind.

Return those shoes
to the shoemaker
Return this hand to my father
This pillow to the pillowmaker
Those slippers to the shop
That wainscot to the carpenter,
But my mind
my tranquil and eternal Mind
Return it to whom?

In 2009, Penguin Books released Kerouac’s Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha, featuring a forward by Robert Thurman, who reveals that like many others, his interest in Buddhism was sparked by reading The Dharma Bums in his youth; Thurman calls it “the most accurate, poetic, and expansive evocation of the heart of Buddhism that was available at that time.”

Snyder: “the number one Dharma Bum of them all.”

Gary Snyder quoted in Memory Babe:

Jack made the moment everything – the present was where he wanted to be, and for people around him the present became the only thing that mattered.”

Overall, Jack Kerouac’s sense of what it meant to be in the present moment, along with his grasp of Buddhism, was to some degree immature and naive, fueled by a certain amount of hedonism and self-aggrandizement. Nicosia writes: “Although Jack would say, ‘I am Buddha,’ Gary was sure Jack knew better.” However, through the legacy of his words (“cease to cherish any arbitrary conceptions as to your own self, the selfhood of others, of living beings, of an Universal Self”), we get the sense that on an elemental and intuitive level, he got it. It’s just too bad he didn’t stick with it.

Here’s Kerouac in 1959 on the Steve Allen Show reading a medley of On the Road and Visions of Cody. He had a page of “Cody” taped inside of the first edition of “Road” he reads from. Dean Moriarty is, of course, the legedary Neal Cassady.

*Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (Grove Press, 1983)

 

Share

Secrets of the Diamond Sutra

In an Huffington Post piece (I’ll include the link at the end of the post), Joyce Morgan summarizes the fascinating tale of Aurel Stein and his discovery of an ancient copy of the Diamond Sutra along with 40,000 other scrolls at the “Cave of the Thousand Buddhas” in 1907. It’s a story documented more fully in the book she co-authored with Conrad Walters, Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book.

That the Diamond Sutra (“Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra”) is, as described by the British Library, “the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book” is hardly news. However, I don’t think the complete story of this discovery has been told before, and I look forward to reading the book by Morgan and Walters soon. And for anyone interested in this subject, I recommend Kogen Mizuno’s Buddhist Sutras: Origin, Development, Transmission, a comprehensive account of the history of Buddhist texts.

The complete history of the Diamond Sutra (also called the “Diamond Wisdom” and “Diamond Cutter”) is unknown. It appears to be an adaption of the Maha Prajna-paramita Sutra, which I wrote about recently. The Diamond Sutra is thought to have been translated into Chinese in 401 CE by Kumarajava, who translated so many of the Buddhist sutras.

At the end of the Huffington Post piece, Morgan presents “4 Secrets of the Diamond Sutra” and I thought it might be interesting to expand upon them a little.

“The Diamond Sutra distills Buddhism’s central message that everything changes. It describes our fleeting world as a bubble in a stream.”

That’s certainly one of the themes of the Diamond Sutra, but there is much more. The Diamond Sutra, like the Heart Sutra, also based on the Maha Prajna-paramita, is an exposition on the Bodhisattva path. The sutra explains that a bodhisattva must abandon all concepts of “self,” “other,” “things,” and so on. When a bodhisattva helps another being, he or she should not have the idea that someone is being helped. In other words, one must rid the mind of all concepts and discrimination.

This is probably more the central theme of the sutra than the subject of impermanence. The Buddha explains that the ultimate truth cannot be expressed in words, and that no one attains Transcendent Wisdom (Prajna-paramita), and that, in fact, the very idea of attainment is a concept to be abandoned.

“Jack Kerouac was so influenced by the Diamond Sutra that he studied it daily for years and attempted his own rendition.”

Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palumbo, circa 1956

The great American novelist said it his favorite sutra. In The Dharma Bums, Kerouac makes four specific references to the Diamond Sutra, two of them reiterating the sutra’s theme of “without holding in mind any conceptions” and “ ‘Make no formed conceptions about the realness of existence nor about the unrealness of existence,’ or words like that.” There’s numerous allusions to the sutra with phrases like “shining diamond,” “diamond cutter,” etc. Kerouac’s Some of the Dharma, a book of notes and poems on Buddhism, is filled with references to the Diamond Sutra, as are many of his letters to friends.

References to the sutra can also be found in the opening section of another novel, Desolation Angels, where Kerouac describes his time spent on Desolation Peak in Washington State as a fire lookout. Then in Chapter 84, there appears to be an excerpt of his “rendition” (A Paraphrase of the Diamond Sutra). Raphael, by the way, is Gregory Corso:

Meanwhile Raphael has been reading the Diamondcutter of the Wise Vow (Diamond Sutra) that I paraphrased on Desolation, has it on his lap.

“Do you understand it Raphael? There you’ll find everything there is to know.”

“I know what you mean. Yes I understand it.”

Finally I read sections of it to the party to take their minds off the girl jealousies—:

“Subhuti, living ones who know, in teaching meaning to others, should first be free themselves from all the frustrating desires aroused by beautiful sights, pleasant sounds, sweet tastes, fragrance, soft tangibles, and tempting thoughts. In their practice of generosity, they should not be blindly influenced by any of these intriguing shows. And why? Because, if in their practice of generosity they are not blindly influenced by such things they will pass through a bliss and merit that is beyond calculation and beyond imagining. What think you, Subhuti? Is it possible to calculate the distance of space in the eastern skies? No, blissful awakener! It is impossible to calculate the distance of space in the eastern skies. Subhuti, is it possible to calculate the limits of space in the northern, southern, and western skies? Or to any of the four corners of the universe, or above or below or within? No, honored of the worlds! Subhuti, it is equally impossible to calculate the bliss and merit through which the living ones who know will pass, who practice generosity not blindly influenced by any of these judgments of the realness of the feeling of existence. This truth should be taught in the beginning and to everybody”…

They all listen intently… nevertheless there’s something
in the room I’m not in on… pearls come in clams.
The world will be saved by what I see
Universal perfect courtesy—
Orion in the fresh space of heaven
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven—

“Brevity is one reason for the Diamond Sutra’s popularity. It can be recited in 40 minutes.”

Well, it’s not as short of the Heart Sutra, of course. Some nice Chinese chanting of the Diamond Sutra at the end of this post.

“The Diamond Sutra of 868 A.D. is printed on paper, a material unknown in the West for another couple centuries.”

Not only that, but as Kogen Mizuno explains:

The world’s oldest extant examples of printing are dharani, or magical incantations, printed in Japan between 764 and 770 . . . These dharani were printed almost seven hundred years before the European development of movable type, with which the Gutenberg Bible is traditionally credited . . . Although Confucian writings seem to have been printed not long after the Diamond Wisdom Sutra, it was not until the beginning of the Sung dynasty that printing of the massive Tripitaka was undertaken (about one hundred years after the Diamond Wisdom Sutra). Though it would be another seven decades before the Chinese developed practical movable type, the earliest Tripitaka appeared nearly five centuries before Gutenberg Bible.”

Here is the Huffington Post piece on the Diamond Sutra.

This requires some patience, and about 43 minutes and 21 seconds: Diamond Sutra chanting in Chinese. It’s not the most beautiful Chinese chanting of this sutra that I’ve heard, but it’s the only authentic Chinese Buddhist version I could find on YouTube. If you listen carefully, you will hear what appears to be 2 or 3 part harmony.

Share