At the end of the Diamond Sutra is a verse. I could say the verse is about the nature of things, or perhaps it is about conditioned existence, or perhaps it is about perception – but all of this would be an attempt to explain it. Although that is part of our task as practitioners – to understand this sutra – it is not the only part. We must practice the sutra too!
The verse is quite lovely and quite complicated. The complication is increased by the various translations, not so much of the verse itself, but of the passage leading into the verse.
The setup is that the Buddha is telling Subhuti that the person who teaches, memorizes, bears in mind, explains, illuminates, and so on (this is part of the translation confusion) just one verse of the Diamond Sutra will gain immeasurable merit. It is natural to ask – how should they do any of these things with regard to that one verse? For your enjoyment and confusion and well being, I include some versions here of what follows.
From Edward Conze:
And how would he illuminate it? So as not to reveal. Therefore is it said, “He would illuminate.”
As stars, a fault of vision, as a lamp,
A mock show, dew drops, or a bubble,
A dream, a lightning flash, or cloud,
So should one view what is conditioned.
From Alex Johnson:
Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquility and free from any attachment to appearances.
So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.
From Red Pine:
And how should they explain it? By not explaining. Thus is it called ‘explaining.’
As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
view all created things like this.
And, lastly, from a photocopy I have that does not name a translator:
And how should he or she make it known? By making known the unknown.
Stars, darkness, light,
A phantom, a dewdrop, a bubble,
A dream, a lightning flash, a cloud;
This is how all things should be seen.
(Note: This particular verse is from chapter 32 of the Diamond Sutra. Conze’s translation is in his Buddhist Wisdom, pages 68 – 69. Johnson’s translation can be found here. Red Pine’s version is from his Diamond Sutra, p. 27. The final version is from a photocopy I have, origins unknown.)