The Diamond Cutter

he first time I ever heard the Diamond Cutter chant I cried. I didn’t know what I was listening to, but it’s words rushed my heart so profoundly that I immediately went up to my teacher, who played it on the harmonium to open class, and asked her more about what it meant and how I could learn it.

Before I go into why I love the Diamond Cutter chant, it’s only appropriate to share it:
Taraka timi ram dipo / Maya-avasyaya budbudam / Supinam vidyud abhram ca / Evam drastavyam samskrtam

Along with an English translation:
As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space / an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble / a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightening / view all created things like this

The chant is just a short verse of the extensive Diamond Cutter Sutra, or “Diamond Sutra”. The communication between the Buddha and a monk explores what is and is not real, a concept that has fascinated yet terrified me since childhood. I can recall having way too existential thoughts way too early in life, which is probably why i clung to this chant from the start before even knowing its meaning. Was I only here on this earth because I perceived myself to be? Would any of the surroundings exist if I didn’t take them in through my senses? When I die, would these things and these places continue? If I’m the only person interpreting my world, then who’s to say?...
Firstly, just notice how “me” centric those questions were. It is, of course, difficult to think about a reality outside your material body, sense objects and nature that you observe (especially as a child). But this is ignorance in its most genuine form, and that’s why it is strenuous to live this way, because ignorance is the root of all suffering. Perceiving the unreal as real, the impermanent as permanent, and the non self (physical body, mind) as the self, we get trapped in a dimension of self-ness, as opposed to selflessness.

The Diamond Sutra addresses our existential questions in a comforting and beautiful way, helping us to see in a new light. It’s words teach us that everything is illusory, where the Buddha uses things we are familiar with but cannot grasp materially, like a lightening bolt or cloud, as a metaphor for all misperceived. As with a dream or even smoke, just because we interpret them through our senses, doesn’t make them real or last...because what’s real to me is real to me, and everything is ultimately fleeting. These verses advise us to approach all created things this way. When we worry less about what is and is not, we see things more clearly and perfectly, like a diamond.  We “cut” away the false perception.

This insight has helped me overcome those questions on existence, fears about death, and ultimately the self-grasping “I” and “me” outlook. When we chant the Diamond Cutter, we reinforce these ideas, we share this message, we begin to free ourselves and others from suffering. Knowing that our world as we see it is but an illusion, we become less attached. And when we are less attached, we can reallocate the energy once exerted on clung-to things and ideas to the newly freed space for service and devotion. This is liberation, and this is ultimately the goal of the Diamond Sutra.

(PS: If you do not have a harmonium at home to play it, I suggest listening to this version by Mercedes Bahleda)

Martel Catalano