Those who have recited the Vajracchedikā Sūtra (the Diamond-Cutter of Perfect Wisdom) many times will know the meanings of prajñā, what emptiness (śūnyatā) means, what the non-perception of a self, a being, a soul, or a person means and the meaning of this famous Dharma sentence:
Those who by my form did see me,
And those who followed me by voice
Wrong the efforts they engaged in,
Me those people will not see.
Another paragraph defines the meaning of Tathāgata: "Since previous lives, the Tathāgata has neither ever come nor gone in the future who is so-called the Tathāgata."
In the Saṃyuktāgama Sutta, there is a story about self and possession of self, which Ananda presented to the Buddha that: "I have ever heard the Tathāgata who preached about the self and possession of self, but I do not completely understand it at all. I hope that the Blessed One will kindly explain it for me and the Assembly."
The Blessed One replied, "Listen to this: if you clap your hands together, then surely a sound is made. So, where did that sound come from and after that the sound is gone, where will that sound abide?”
"Dear Lord, that sound does not come from anywhere or reach to anywhere. Due to conditions, it is emitted and without conditions, it does not utter.”
The Buddha concluded, "In the same way, self is something unreal; it is like the sound of two hands clapping. But because human beings have delusion and ignorance, they think it is true, but in fact, self is nothing. And possession of self is what belongs to self, like a pile of firewood, though it has the shape, after burning, the firewood is only a pile of ashes. It is not real. For a long time, beings thought “this is mine, this belonged to me, but nothing was mine.”
From the basic tradition of Theravāda and over a few hundred years later, the theory of non-self in the Sutta Pitaka has been sublimed in the spirit of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) or Prajñā of the Mahāyāna (Bắc
Truyền). The Vajracchedikā Sūtra states the doctrine of non-self in another way: there is no self, no being, soul or person. Through the two cited examples of both traditions, there is not much difference in the doctrine of non-self. The latter is not the difficult metaphors, but the true form non-self of all things, but beings do not understand and practice this.
The Vajracchedikā Sūtra has thirty-two passages in total. Venerable Bhikkhunī Giới Hương relies on the Vietnamese translation of the most Venerable Trí Tịnh and the English translation of Edward Conze. She annotates each paragraph which is supported with many well-illustrated quotations from other scriptures in order to help the reader easily understand the deep meaning. When reading the Key Words in the Vajracchedikā Sūtra, we are more receptive to it, as there are stories about ancestors Đức Sơn, Long Đàm or King Kalinga and sages. She has explained it thoroughly, but emphasizes here that the reader or the practitioner must attest to the Dharma as it is. This result will come fast or slow depending on the wisdom and performance of each person. The Vajracchedikā Sūtra considers the importance of Dharma practice, not Dharma theory or wasting time in unreasonable explanations. This is illustrated by the most eloquent story of Shénxiù and Dajian Huineng Patriarch.
In the old days, writer Nguyễn Du, author of Kim Văn Kiều, has more than 300 recitations of this Vajracchedikā Sūtra and composed a unique master work for Vietnamese literature. Nowadays, how many times have we monks and nuns practiced the Vajracchedikā Sūtra? That is the duty of every practitioner. For ten years (2003 to 2012), I spent two to three months each year in the peaceful mountains and hills of Đa Bảo Temple in Sydney, Australia. Every day, I translated Buddhist scriptures, as well as writing books, while at night, I recited this priceless Vajracchedikā Sūtra, probably not less than 500 times and nearly two hours at a time. From then on, I felt a big emptiness and looked at everything around Đa Bảo mountains or anywhere that depended on the divine power of the Diamond Cutter of Perfect Wisdom to assess everything in this life.
In Vietnamese Buddhism, we are in need of Dharma practice, such as the Tibetans do to maintain and preserve their Buddhist traditions. Without studying Dharma theory, it is difficult to display the true mind with only Dharma practice—study is important too, unless the practitioners are Bodhisattva incarnations, like the Dajian Huineng Patriarch in China. Today, in Vietnamese Buddhism in the country, as well as overseas, we hope that all monks and nuns strive to constantly practice the practical values of the sūtras in Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayana, which are all precious. The more science advances, the more we clarify the Buddha's teachings and what we practice, the more we increase the intrinsic value of each person to realize everything. When Dharma is understood, we will comprehend the Buddha; when we have understood the Buddha, we will understand the Dharma, like the arhats when enlightened often say, "The incarnation is ended; the conduct is done. What we need to do, we have finished and we know for sure that we are no longer born again.” Those enlightened by this Dharma will be liberated from birth and death in this present life.
Now, Ven. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương has compared, explained, noted, interpreted and used many means through the lens of Theravāda and Mahāyāna to welcome and invite readers to approach Emptiness in her new way. The readers can absorb the spirit of the Formless, so that they can integrate into the Selflessness of Nirvāna. Then our true Buddha Nature will manifest itself as the sunshine beginning to wonderfully radiate in the east.
Wishing Buddhist readers to cherish this sutta by practicing, reciting and carefully studying the explanations from the Key Words that Ven. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương presents. It is a great benefit for many.
Library of Viên Giác Hannover, Germany
February 4, 2016
Thích Như Điển
Founder, Viên Giác Pagoda
The Vajracchedikā Prajñā Pāramitā Sūtra (the Diamond Cutter of Perfect Wisdom) is a Mahāyāna Sūtra. Over thirty years ago when I was a sramini, I often sat under the carambola tree of the temple to memorize the Vajracchedikā Sūtra. The sūtra was read in Sino-Viet which was very hard to understand. Yet if it was read in Vietnamese, it was still hard for a young novice like me at that time. My master did not request me to memorize it; he just told me to read it in order to be ready for the Vajracchedikā Sūtra’s chanting event in the temple. However, there was something inside urging me to learn it by heart, such as it may benefit some way in the future or I may memorize it for the contest (as memorizing the Quan Âm Quảng Trần previously), or I just tried to find a reason to be sitting under the carambola tree, collecting its fruits which were on the ground. I tasted and enjoyed the sweet fruits.
After thirty years, my mind is growing up and the question has been answered. I memorized the Vajracchedikā Sūtra for those reason and for another reason which was never known before, that is, to publish the book, Key Words of the Vajaracchedikā Sūtra in 2014. I humbly pay homage to my master: Venerable Master Hải Triều Âm who transmitted the key teachings of the Vajracchedikā Sūtra to me. This gift was like giving round and firm rice grains which will sprout on due occasion—the seeds of awakening and liberation.
The wisdom of Vajaracchedikā is formless and wordless, but we venture to use earthly language to explain, so there will be many mistakes. We wish readers and the high enlightened teachers to please bear with me. "Serving beings means to offer to the Buddhas."
May all readers be happy in the right teaching of the World Honorable One.
Namo the Boddhisattva Assembly
of Vajracchedikā Prajñā Pāramitā.
Huong Sen Buddhist Temple
January 20, 2014
Sincerely bowing three times,