The Diamond Sutra is a spiritual treasure and a key text of Mahayana Buddhism. Estimates for its date of composition range from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D. The original texts are in Chinese and Sanskrit. There are two related explanations for the title "Diamond Sutra": 1. the teaching of the sutra cuts through diamonds or 2. the sutra itself is the diamond that in its radiance and strength cuts through and illuminates everything. The text consists of 32 chapters (the chapter divisions are not in the original sources) and about 30 pages. The Diamond Sutra is one of the few texts of whatever type that will repay endless study and which can transform the life of the receptive reader.
Red Pine has produced a translation and commentary on the Diamond Sutra which help greatly in exploring it. The organization of the book bears discussing. The book opens with a translation of the sutra, unadorned by commentary, which consists of about 30 pages. The translation is followed by a Preface in which Red Pine gives some background on the text and on Buddhism, sketches out his interpretation of the text, and explains to the reader how he came to the Diamond Sutra over the years.
The longest section of the book consists of a commentary of about 400 pages arranged in 32 sections, one for each chapter of the Diamond Sutra. Each section begins with the text of the Chapter followed by Red Pine's commentary on the chapter as a whole. He then reproduces again a smaller portion of each chapter -- a paragraph, sentences, or sometimes only a phrase --and offers commentary on it. The commentaries are sometimes Pine's own. He also draws down a selection of the enormous commentary the Diamond Sutra has generated over the centuries. Some of this commentary dates from early Chinese sources and other portions of it are contemporary in origin. I found the various commentaries fascinating in themselves and useful in starting to approach the Diamond Sutra.
Pine also gives the reader familiar with the original sources an analysis of textual variations. More importantly, he offers the general reader a glossary of the many names, places and sources to which his commentary refers, which are likely to be unfamiliar to those approaching the Diamond Sutra for the first time.
There is a great deal in the commentary, and in the Diamond Sutra itself, comparing the teaching of the Sutra, with its emphasis on the Bodisattva, who works with compassion for the salvation of all sentient beings, with the earlier, Theravada, school of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the Arahant and on individual enlightenment. There is deep discussion in the Sutra on no-self, and on non-attachment. It is a text that will reward repeated meditation and readings.
Red Pine's book will help the reader begin with the Diamond Sutra and its difficult teachings.
The Diamond Sutra features text and commentaries translated from the Chinese and Sanskrit by Red Pine, providing all interested in Buddhist teachings with new insights on the most studied of all the sutras. The author is a Buddhist scholar who has consulted dozens of commentaries in the course of his research, making for an exceptional translation.