The Oldest Printed Text

The Diamond Sūtra

Man’s Oldest Preserved Printed Text
Ink on Paper, Cave 17, Donhuang, China

Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th day of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong’
[May 11, 868, CE]

British Museum Library, London


For the below excerpts, I’ve chosen the simpler but remarkably precise A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam translation from the Chinese[1947]. 

On ‘Enlightenment’:

Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment?

Subhuti answered: As I understand Buddha’s meaning there is no formulation of truth called Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’

Subhuti, what do you think? Does a holy one say within himself: I have obtained Perfective Enlightenment?

Subhuti said: No, World-honored One. Wherefore? Because there is no such condition as that called “Perfective Enlightenment.

World-honored one, if a holy one of Perfective Enlightenment said to himself “such am I,” he would necessarily partake of the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, or a separated individuality….

On ‘Teaching’:

Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata conceives the idea: I must set forth a Teaching. For if anyone says that the Tathagata sets forth a Teaching he really slanders Buddha and is unable to explain what I teach.’

‘Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?

Subhuti replied to the Buddha: World-honored One, indeed, the Tathagata has nothing to teach.’

On Achievement [‘Acquisition’]:

Then Subhuti asked Buddha: World-honored One, in the attainment of the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment did Buddha make no acquisition whatsoever?

Buddha replied: Just so, Subhuti. Through the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment I acquired not even the least thing; therefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.


Here is a brief parsing of the first two of the excerpted verses. You can apply the same sequence to the rest of the verses in the Sūtra.

‘Enlightenment’, a newly popular expression, is the settled conviction of the absence of a Separated ‘Self’. If you think you have newly arrived at that primal truth, you are not done with the platform of a Separated ‘Self’.

There is not, never was a Separated ‘Self’ to begin with; and there is no Separated ‘Self’ to newly realize its own absence.

You were never asleep. If you think you have newly woken up, by that very fact you are still asleep [Buddha, from Buddh: Awake, Cognizant].

The Teaching is that there is no ‘Teaching’. When you see that you gain the Teaching. Until then, you are held back in class.

The purport of the Self-Negating Expression is to scuttle all ‘Teaching’ including itself as a ‘Teaching’.


In the later periods, it was common for senior scholars to try and insert, delete or alter key phrases in the reconstructed verses as means of elaborating and legitimizing their own views or in a misguided attempt at straightening and simplifying the Loop. 

The way to spot a slide in the core content is to stay alert to sudden qualifying lines, lines conflicting with an earlier or later primary metric, or inappropriate, redundant refrains. In general, if the language slips to the linear, if it is avoiding confronting the Self-Loop, it is most likely a later addition.

So watch your step as you read these aged lines. They can be very helpful to the informed reader, fatally beguiling to the casually curious.


The Vajrachedika [‘Diamond-Cutter’] Sūtra