WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Dorje Chodpa is one of the most common books that we find in Bhutan. Literally translated, it is The Vajra Cutter Sūtra although it is commonly known as The Diamond Sūtra in English.

It is one of the short sūtras on the perfection of wisdom. It is claimed by historians to have been composed around the time of the beginning of the Christian era when the perfection of wisdom sutras emerged although traditional Buddhists believe it to be teachings passed down from the Buddha’s time. Since its beginning, it has been translated into numerous languages and the oldest dated printed book in the world is a version of The Diamond Sūtra in Chinese printed in 868 AD. We can assume that The Diamond Sūtra perhaps also reached Bhutan around this time.

In Bhutan, the sūtra is read as a ritual to help cure illnesses, overcome obstacles, accomplish one’s wishes and so forth. Many families would sponsor the recitation of Dorje Chodpa a thousand times as a religious service. It is also the book, which the Bhutanese traditionally used as a tool to learn how to read. A student would begin the educational journey by learning how to read by reciting the Dorje Chodpa aloud with spelling after a teacher. In this way, the teacher and student would not only have an educational exercise but accrue a lot of merit for reading a powerful and profound sūtra.

The Diamond Sūtra is set in the grove of Prince Jeta in Sravasti, India. It is a dialogue between the Buddha and Subhūti (Rabjor) one of the Buddha’s monk disciples. The Buddha discusses the non-essentiality of everything with Subhūti, stressing the point that there is no self, being, soul or person. The Buddha explains that what we conceive as good and bad, birth and death, existence and enlightenment are possible because there is no real entity or true existence. He exhorts Subhūti and his disciples to not hold on to form, sound, smell, taste, touch and for that matter all phenomena, or their absence. The focal message conveyed by the Dorje Chodpa is the perfection of wisdom through the realisation of emptiness of all things. One should view everything as illusory, momentary and empty. One should even view the Buddha as empty and eventually abandon even good things, like a boat after crossing the river. What need to mention about giving up bad things?

It contains a lot of thought provoking paradoxical statements such as “because the world does not exist, it is called the world”, “because there is no perfection of wisdom, we call it perfection of wisdom”, “the Buddha’s teachings show neither truth nor falsity”, etc. The Buddha extols the benefit of upholding this sūtra and even the short gist of it in four lines. The texts ends with the verse:

View all compounded things like a dream

Like a flickering lamp and a star,

Like illusion, phantom and bubbles,

Like dew-drops, lightning and clouds.

As The Diamond sutra is basically about how one should perfect the wisdom through understanding emptiness, and about giving up attachment to things, one must read, sponsor reading and own this sutra with such spirit and awareness.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.


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