Comparing Sutras

Since I’m teaching a class on the Diamond Sutra for the next six weeks, I expect it will be on my mind a lot. You can expect me to write about it for a while and I hope that’s ok.

What’s significant about the Diamond Sutra is that it’s down to earth and it presents the Buddha as a normal person, like us. It might not seem like a down to earth text the first time you read it. There’s a lot of talk about space and counting grains of sand and things like that.

Here is an example, comparing the first chapter of the Diamond Sutra with the beginning of another Sutra that was written around the same time, so we can compare thest two and see how down to earth the Diamond Sutra really is.

Diamond Sutra Opening:

This is what I heard one time when the Buddha was staying in the monastery in Anathapindika’s park in the Jeta Grove near Shravasti with a community of 1,250 bhikshus, fully ordained monks.

That day, when it was time to make the round for alms, the Buddha put on his sanghati robe and, holding his bowl, went into the city of Shravasti to seek alms food, going from house to house. When the almsround was completed, he returned to the monastery to eat the midday meal. Then he put away his sanghati robe and his bowl, washed his feet, arranged his cushion, and sat down.

Avatamsaka Sutra:

As soon as the Buddha entered this concentration, the magnificent pavilion became boundlessly vast, the surface of the earth appeared to be made of indestructible diamond, the surface of the ground covered with a net of all the finest jewels strewn around with flowers of many jewels with enormous gems strewn all over; it was adorned with sapphire pillars, with well-proportioned decorations of world-illuminating pearls of the finest water, with all kinds of gems combined in pairs, adorned with heaps of gold and jewels, with a dazzling array of turrets, arches, chambers, windows, and balconies.

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So, you can see clearly that the Diamond Sutra is just about seemingly ordinary things happening. The Avatamsaka Sutra, on the other hand, makes the Buddha sound like a wizard or something.

So, when I say the Diamond Sutra is down to earth, this is what I’m talking about.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. Daniel has a BA in English from KU and he works for the federal government. Once a Novice Monk in the Rinzai Tradition, he dropped out of monk school to become a regular person. He has taken his inspiration mainly from Zen renegades and madmen like Ikkyu and Han Shan. Daniel has taken Bodhisattva Vows in both the Nagarjuna and Asanga lineages. He is a frequent guest teacher on Daily Dharma Gathering.

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