Skip to main content

The Diamond Sutra on display: Text panel 1

By Vic Swift 13 May 2014

The whole text of the earliest dated printed book — the Diamond Sutra — will be on display at the British Library for the first time over a period of eighteen months between March 2014 – August 2015.

Following extensive conservation, the Diamond Sutra scroll currently remains in separate panels giving the unique opportunity to show all the panels in turn (see timetable below). Each panel will be on display for two months in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library, open to all and with free admission. Each panel will then be shown in turn, remaining on display for two months. The frontispiece will be shown again for the final display in July and August 2015.

The display also includes a copy of a Chinese almanac printed just a decade later, in AD 877, and two pages from a printed copy of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit with a phonetic transcription in Chinese, an early example of Korean printing using moveable type and the earliest examples of Japanese printing, the Million Charms of Empress Shotoku. See this earlier post for more information on these.

The first text panel of the Diamond Sutra on display (May–June 2014) contains the opening six sections of the Diamond Sutra.

First text panel of the printed Diamond Sutra. Digitised image on black background.
See the whole of the Diamond Sutra online on the IDP website.

The following English translation of the first panel (by Lapiz Lazuli Texts) is based on Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation of the original Sanskrit:

1. The cause of the Dharma assembly

Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was in Śrāvastī, residing in the Jeta Grove, in Anāthapiṇḍada’s park, along with a great saṃgha of bhikṣus, twelve hundred and fifty in all. At mealtime, the Bhagavān put on his robe, picked up his bowl, and made his way into the great city of Śrāvastī to beg for food within the city walls. After he had finished begging sequentially from door to door, he returned and ate his meal. Then he put away his robe and bowl, washed his feet, arranged his seat, and sat down.

2. Elder Subhūti opens the question

From the midst of the great multitude, Elder Subhūti then arose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, and knelt with his right knee to the ground. With his hands joined together in respect, he addressed the Buddha, saying, “How extraordinary, Bhagavān, is the manner in which the Tathāgata is skillfully mindful of the bodhisattvas, and skillfully instructs and cares for the bodhisattvas! Bhagavān, when good men and good women wish to develop the mind of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi, how should their minds dwell? How should they pacify their minds?” The Buddha replied, “Excellent, excellent, Subhūti, for it is just as you have said: the Tathāgata is skillfully mindful of the bodhisattvas, and skillfully instructs and cares for the bodhisattvas. Now listen carefully, because your question will be answered. Good men and good women who wish to develop the mind of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi should dwell thusly, and should pacify their minds thusly.” “Just so, Bhagavān. We are joyfully wishing to hear it.”

3. The true way of the Great Vehicle

The Buddha told Subhūti, “Bodhisattva-mahāsattvas should pacify their minds thusly: ‘All different types of sentient beings, whether born from eggs, born from wombs, born from moisture, or born from transformation; having form or no form; having thought, no thought, or neither thought nor no thought—I will cause them all to become liberated and enter Remainderless Nirvāṇa.’ Thusly sentient beings are liberated without measure, without number, and to no end; however, truly no sentient beings obtain liberation. Why? Subhūti, if a bodhisattva has a notion of a self, a notion of a person, a notion of a being, or a notion of a life, he is not a bodhisattva.

4. The wondrous practice of non-abiding

“Moreover, Subhūti, bodhisattvas should not abide in dharmas when practicing giving. This is called ‘giving without abiding in form.’ This giving does not abide in sounds, scents, tastes, sensations, or dharmas. Subhūti, bodhisattvas should practice giving thusly, not abiding in characteristics. Why? If bodhisattvas do not abide in characteristics in their practice of giving, then the merits of this are inconceivable in measure. Subhūti, what do you think? Is the space to the east conceivable in measure?” “Certainly not, Bhagavān.” “Subhūti, what do you think? Is the space to the south, west, north, the four intermediary directions, or the zenith or nadir, conceivable in measure?” “Certainly not, Bhagavān.” “Subhūti, for bodhisattvas who do not abide when practicing giving, the merits are also such as this: inconceivable in measure. Subhūti, bodhisattvas should only dwell in what is taught thusly.

5. The principle for true perception

“Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be perceived by means of bodily marks?” “Certainly not, Bhagavān. The Tathāgata cannot be perceived by means of the bodily marks. Why? The bodily marks that the Tathāgata speaks of are not bodily marks.” The Buddha told Subhūti, “Everything that has marks is deceptive and false. If all marks are not seen as marks, then this is perceiving the Tathāgata.”

6. The rarity of true belief

Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, will there be sentient beings who are able to hear these words thusly, giving rise to true belief?” The Buddha told to Subhūti, “Do not speak that way. After the extinction of the Tathāgata, in the next five hundred years, there will be those who maintain the precepts and cultivate merit, who will be able to hear these words and give rise to a mind of belief. Such beings have not just planted good roots with one buddha, or with two buddhas, or with three, four, or five buddhas. They have already planted good roots with measureless millions of buddhas, to be able to hear these words and give rise to even a single thought of clean, clear belief. Subhūti, the Tathāgata in each case knows this, and in each case perceives this, and these sentient beings thus attain immeasurable merit. Why? This is because these beings are holding no further notions of a self, notions of a person, notions of a being, or notions of a life. They are holding no notions of dharmas and no notions of non-dharmas. Why? If the minds of sentient beings grasp after appearances, then this is attachment to a self, a person, a being, and a life. If they grasp after notions of dharmas, that is certainly attachment to a self, a person, a being, and a life. Why? When one grasps at non-dharmas, then that is immediate attachment to a self, a person, a being, and a life. Therefore, you should neither grasp at dharmas, nor should you grasp at non-dharmas. Regarding this principle, the Tathāgata frequently says, ‘You bhikṣus should know that the dharma I speak is like a raft. Even dharmas should be relinquished, so how much more so the non-dharmas?’

‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

MARCH 2014 – AUGUST 2015

Monday 09.30 – 20.00

Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00

Wednesday 09.30 – 20.00

Thursday 09.30 – 20.00

Friday 09.30 – 18.00

Saturday 09.30 – 17.00

Sunday 11.00 – 17.00

Public holidays 11.00 – 17.00

Sir John Ritblat Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB

May – June 2014

1st panel printed text

July – August 2014

2nd panel printed text

September – October 2014

3rd panel printed text

November – December 2014

4th panel printed text

January – February 2015

5th panel printed text

March – April 2015

6th panel printed text

May – June 2015


July – August 2015



If you have feedback or ideas about this post, contact us, sign in or register an account to leave a comment below