Download this Document

Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion
By Thich Nhat Hanh

A basket filled with words
"What do you think, Subhuti? Can someone meditate on the Tathagata by means of the thirty-two marks?"

Subhuti said, "Yes, World-Honored One. We should use the thirty-two marks to meditate on the Tathagata."

The Buddha said, "If you say that you can use the thirty-two marks to see the Tathagata, then the Cakravartin is also a Tathagata?"

Subhuti said, "World-Honored One, I understand your teaching. One should not use the thirty-two marks to meditate on the Tathagata."

In Buddhism there are many different methods of meditation. One is the meditation on the image of the Buddha. According to this method, one visualizes the Buddha with thirty-two serene and beautiful marks. Sometimes the name of the Buddha is called so that the image of the Buddha can appear more clearly in the mind of the practitioner, who then feels peaceful and calm. The monks were accustomed to this practice and did it whenever they wanted to see the image of the Tathagata. That is why Subhuti answers quickly, "Yes, World-Honored One. We should use the thirty-two marks to meditate on the Tathagata."

A Cakravartin is a king who keeps the wheel of righteousness turning throughout his reign. He, too, was said to have the thirty-two marks of a great person. In light of the Diamond Sutra, we should not identify the body of thirty-two marks with the Buddha. In fact, we should make just as great an effort to look for the Buddha where the thirty-two marks are absent--in stagnant water and in beggars who have leprosy. When we can see the Buddha in these kinds of places, we have a signless view of the Buddha. This is not to say that the meditation on the Buddha through the thirty-two marks is erroneous. To a new practitioner, this meditation can bring confidence, stability, and peace of mind.

The precious lotus is blooming on the throne of awakening.

The Buddha's light reaches in the ten directions.

His understanding envelops the realm of all dharmas.

His love penetrates mountains and rivers.

On seeing the image of the Awakened One, I feel all my afflictions vanish.

I praise his boundless merit and vow to study and practice in order to attain the fruit of awakening.

While going through difficult moments in life, if we contemplate the Buddha with the thirty-two marks, we feel fresh and relaxed. The Diamond Sutra does not tell us not to do that. It just teaches us to look more deeply and to also meditate on the Buddha outside of the thirty-two marks. The Buddha will suffocate if we grasp him too firmly. One Zen master stopped using the word "Buddha" because people overused the word so. He told his community, "From now on, every time I use the word 'Buddha,' I will go to the river and wash my mouth out three times." His statement is completely in accord with the dialectics of prajnaparamita, but when people heard his words, they thought he was being disrespectful. Only one honored guest in the community understood. He stood up and said, "Venerable sir, I deeply appreciate your words. Every time I hear you say the word 'Buddha,' I will have to go to the river and wash out my ears three times." How wonderful! Both men were free of empty words. Those of us who use Buddhist terms without conveying the teaching of the Buddha should wash out our mouths and ears. We must be cautious. The Vietnamese musician Pham Duy wrote these words in his song Man Is Not Our Enemy:

Our enemy wears the colors of an ideology.

Our enemy wears the label of liberty.

Our enemy has a huge appearance.

Our enemy carries a big basket filled with words.

Then the World-Honored One spoke this verse:

"Someone who looks for me in form

or seeks me in sound

is on a mistaken path

and cannot see the Tathagata."

When we first learn to meditate, we may visualize the Buddha with his thirty-two special marks. We may even see the Buddha in our dreams. But once our wounds are healed, we should leave those images and see the Buddha in birth, sickness, old age, and death. Nirvana is made of the same substance as attachment, and awakening of the same substance as ignorance. We should be able to sow the seeds of awakening right here on Earth and not just in empty space. The beautiful lotus grows out of the mud. Without afflictions and suffering, we cannot make a Buddha.

This section of the sutra has taught us not to be bound by the idea of the thirty-two marks. We may come to think that the thirty-two marks are of no value, but, in truth, the practice of mindfulness always gives birth to beautiful marks. The fruits of practice--serenity, peace, and happiness--are truly there, but they cannot be seen in collections of views. They reveal themselves only in the wondrous reality.

More By This Teacher

Buy the Book

Back to Index


© Copyright Efini Design 98, 99, 2000 and 2001. All Rights Reserved.