Translator's note: This discourse dramatizes a problem that often arises in meditation practice — a speculative question arises that, if followed, pulls one out of concentration. Sister Vajira shows how to deal with the situation: recognize that the terms in which the question is expressed are just that — terms — and that whatever reality there is in the issue raised by the question can be reduced to phenomena observable in the immediate present. In ultimate terms, this comes down to the arising and passing away of stress, which should be observed and comprehended to the point where one can see through to that which neither arises nor passes away.
At Savatthi: Then, early in the morning, Vajira the nun put on her robes and, taking her bowl and outer robe, went into Savatthi for alms. When she had gone for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Grove of the Blind to spend the day. Having gone deep into the Grove of the Blind, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day’s abiding.
Then Mara the Evil One, wanting to arouse fear, “horripilation,” (sic) and terror in her, wanting to make her fall away from concentration, approached her and addressed her in verse:
“By whom was this living being created?
Where is the living being’s maker?
Where has the living being originated?
Where does the living being
Then the thought occurred to Vajira the nun: “Now who has recited this verse — a human being or a non-human one?” Then it occurred to her: “This is Mara the Evil One, who has recited this verse wanting to arouse fear, “horripilation,” and terror in me, wanting to make me fall away from concentration.”
Then, having understood that “This is Mara the Evil One,” she replied to him in verses:
“What? Do you assume a ‘living being,’ Mara?
Do you take a position?
This is purely a pile of fabrications.
Here no living being
can be pinned down.
Just as when, with an assemblage of parts,
there’s the word,
even so when aggregates are present,
there’s the convention of
For only stress is what comes to be;
stress, what remains and falls away.
Nothing but stress comes to be.
Nothing ceases but stress.”
Then Mara the Evil One — sad and dejected at realizing, “Vajira the nun knows me” — vanished right there.
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Campa, on the shore of Gaggara Lake. Then Vajjiya Mahita the householder left Campa in the middle of the day to see the Blessed One, but the thought then occurred to him, “Now is not the right time to see the Blessed One, for he is in seclusion. And it is not the right time to see the monks who develop the mind, for they are in seclusion. What if I were to visit the park of the wanderers of other persuasions?” Then he headed to the park of the wanderers of other persuasions were staying.
Now on that occasion the wanderers of other persuasions had come together in a gathering and were sitting, discussing many kinds of bestial topics, making a great noise & racket. They saw Vajjiya Mahita the householder coming from afar, and on seeing him, hushed one another: “Be quiet, good sirs. Don’t make any noise. Here comes Vajjiya Mahita the householder, a disciple of the contemplative Gotama. He is one of those disciples of the contemplative Gotama, clad in white, who lives in Savatthi. These people are fond of quietude and speak in praise of quietude. Maybe, if he perceives our group as quiet, he will consider it worth his while to come our way.” So the wanderers fell silent.
Then Vajjiya Mahita the householder went to where the wanderers of other persuasions were staying. On arrival he greeted them courteously. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the wanderers said to him, “Is it true, householder, that the contemplative Gotama criticizes all asceticism, that he categorically denounces & disparages all ascetics who live the rough life?”
“No, venerable sirs, the Blessed One does not criticize all asceticism, nor does he categorically denounce or disparage all ascetics who live the rough life. The Blessed One criticizes what should be criticized, and praises what should be praised. Criticizing what should be criticized, praising what should be praised, the Blessed One is one who speaks making distinctions, not one who speaks categorically on this matter.”
When this was said, one of the wanderers said to Vajjiya Mahita the householder, “Now wait a minute, householder. This contemplative Gotama whom you praise is a nihilist, one who doesn’t declare anything.”
“I tell you, venerable sirs, that the Blessed One righteously declares that ‘This is skillful.’ He declares that ‘This is unskillful.’ Declaring that ‘This is skillful’ and ‘This is unskillful,’ he is one who has declared [a teaching]. He is not a nihilist, one who doesn’t declare anything.”
When this was said, the wanderers fell silent, abashed, sitting with their shoulders drooping, their heads down, brooding, at a loss for words. Vajjiya Mahita the householder, perceiving that the wanderers were silent, abashed… at a loss for words, got up & went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he told the Blessed One the entirety of his conversation with the wanderers.
[The Blessed One said:] “Well done, householder. Well done. That is how you should periodically & righteously refute those foolish men. I don’t say that all asceticism is to be pursued, nor do I say that all asceticism is not to be pursued. I don’t say that all observances should be observed, nor do I say that all observances should not be observed. I don’t say that all exertions are to be pursued, nor do I say that all exertions are not to be pursued. I don’t say that all forfeiture should be forfeited, nor do I say that all forfeiture should not be forfeited. I don’t say that all release is to be used for release, nor do I say that all release is not to be used for release.
“If, when an asceticism is pursued, unskillful qualities grow and skillful qualities wane, then I tell you that that sort of asceticism is not to be pursued. But if, when an asceticism is pursued, unskillful qualities wane and skillful qualities grow, then I tell you that that sort of asceticism is to be pursued.
“If, when an observance is observed, unskillful qualities grow and skillful qualities wane, then I tell you that that sort of observance is not to be observed. But if, when an observance is observed, unskillful qualities wane and skillful qualities grow, then I tell you that that sort of observance is to be observed.
“If, when an exertion is pursued… a forfeiture is forfeited…
“If, when a release is used for release, unskillful qualities grow and skillful qualities wane, then I tell you that that sort of release is not to be used for release. But if, when a release is used for release, unskillful qualities wane and skillful qualities grow, then I tell you that that sort of release is to be used for release.”
When Vajjiya Mahita the householder had been instructed, urged, roused & encouraged by the Blessed One with a talk on Dhamma, he got up from his seat and, having bowed down to the Blessed One, left, keeping the Blessed One on his right side. Not long afterward, the Blessed One addressed the monks: “Monks, even a monk who has long penetrated the Dhamma in this Doctrine & Discipline would do well periodically & righteously to refute the wanderers of other persuasions in just the way Vajjiya Mahita the householder has done.”
Introduction by Translator:
This translation into English from Chinese has been done, firstly, after consulting the excellent exposition on this sutra in Chinese by the late Venerable Shi Zhi Yu (from Taiwan) under the title: Jin-Gang-San-Mei-Jing-Yi-Bo-Ji (Notes on A Wave from Vajrasamadhi Sutra – ISBN 957-99267-5-1). Secondly, it is modeled after the format as well as adopted some of the vocabularies used in the original English translation forming part of a dissertation by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, under the title: THE FORMATION OF CH’AN IDEOLOGY IN CHINA AND KOREA (ISBN 0-691-07336-8). All inadequacies and mistakes are entirely mine!
This sutra, although comparatively short, encompasses the essence of many, if not all the sutras, as clearly explained by the Buddha himself in the last chapter. It expounds the principle of DHARMAS, which means literally everything. For someone on the spiritual path, it gives a definitive view on what does not lead to enlightenment! Although this is a pre-eminent companion text for all followers of Ch’an (Zen), Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Taoism, and all non-dual spiritual paths, it can also act as a compass for all serious spiritual seekers.
As this sutra is full of gems, its reading should be done slowly with frequent reflections, if an uninitiated wants to reap maximum benefit out of it. It should be borne in mind that the wordings within small brackets ( ) represent alternative terms for the word or phrase immediately preceding it. On the other hand, wordings within large brackets [ ] are to help bring out the meanings more clearly, particularly in view of the fact that very often the same Chinese word can have more than one meaning.
Readers who are not familiar with the Buddha’s spiritual attainments, may be flabbergasted by the enormous size of the audience mentioned in the first chapter which could put some fiction novels to shame. However, as one progresses, it should not be difficult to realize that the Buddha is a Master of Non-duality. The taste of the pudding, however, is to put what is being expounded in this sutra through personal practice and experimentation.
May I thank those friends who helped me in one way or another in the completion of the translation, especially to Martin Ng with the proof-reading.
May all be blissful from moment-to-moment. K C Oon
Thus have I heard. The Buddha was once in the great city of Rajagrha (King’s House), on Mount Grdhrakuta (Vulture Peak), together with a great assembly of some ten thousand bhiksus (ordained monks), all of whom had attained the [full] arhat path. They included arhats Sariputra, Mahamaudgalyayana, Subuti, etc.
Also present were some two thousand bodhisattvas, mahasattvas (adepts on their way to full enlightenment). Their names were Liberation (Vimukti) Bodhisattva, Mind King (Cittaraja) Bodhisattva, Non-Abiding (Apratisthita) Bodhisattva, etc.
Furthermore, there were eighty thousand elders (grhapati). Their names were Elder Chastity (Brahmacarya), Elder Great Chastity (Mahabrahmacarya), Elder Luminary (Jyotiska), etc.
In addition, there were devas, dragons, yaksas (demons), gandharvas (demigod-musicians), asuras (titans), garudas (mystical birds), kinnaras (half horses/half men), mahoragas (great snakes), humans and non-humans — some six hundred million of them.
At that time the Lord was surrounded by the great assembly. He expounded a Mahayana sutra to them, entitled ‘The Practice and Benediction of the Single-Taste, Definite, Signless, Beyond-Creation, Absolute Reality of Self-Enlightenment’ (Vajrasamadhi Sutra). If one hears this sutra or retains only one four-line stanza of it, that person will be able to access the Buddha’s wisdom [in future]. He will be able to liberate, with appropriate expedients, sentient beings [who, in turn, can] become great spiritual mentors to all sentient beings.
After the Buddha expounded this sutra, he folded [his legs] into full-lotus pose and entered into diamond absorption (vajrasamadhi), with his body and mind motionless. At that time, a bhiksu (ordained monk) in the assembly named Agada, rose from his seat [to pay respects to the Buddha]. He joined his palms together, with his right knee on the ground. Reiterating the essence [of the sutra expounded], he recited the stanza:
The Lord, the embodiment of compassion,
With wisdom penetrating without obstruction,
In order to ferry sentient beings across [to the other shore],
Has explained the essence of the One-Truth.
All this was accomplished via the path of Single-Taste,
Never by means of the Hinayana (incomplete realization).
Where the taste of the essence has been spoken,
It enabled all to abandon the unreal.
Accessing the wisdom-base of all the buddhas,
That Absolute Reality,
The entire audience (now) knows how to transcend the world,
With no one unable to attain liberation (ultimately).
All the innumerable bodhisattvas,
Know how to ferry all sentient beings across (to the other shore).
For the assembly, they inquired extensively and profoundly,
On the calm-void characteristics of all dharmas.
They accessed the Absolute domain [of enlightenment].
The Tathagata, through his wisdom and expedients,
Speaks so that [all beings] will be able to access Reality,
In accordance with the One-Vehicle,
Without extraneous tastes.
Like the soaking by a single rain,
Multitudes of plants grow verdantly.
According to the differences in their natures,
Being soaked by the Dharma of Single-Taste,
Everyone is completely fulfilled.
Just as being soaked by a single rain,
All their bodhi-sprouts are matured.
Accessing the Diamond-Taste [of the diamond samadhi],
They realized the absorption of the Reality of dharmas.
They are determined to transcend doubts and regrets,
Through the seal of the One-Dharma.
Arising from his samadhi, the Lord spoke thus, “The wisdom-base of all the buddhas accesses the nature and characteristics of all dharmas. From this definitive wisdom-base, the buddhas’ expedients and spiritual powers in benefiting sentient beings are all done without signs. The essence of the One-Enlightenment is difficult to understand and access. It is not understood or recognized by adherents of the two vehicles [of sravakas and pratyekabuddhas]. It is only known by the buddhas and bodhisattvas who explain the Single-Taste to sentient beings capable of transcendence.”
Then Vimukti (Liberation) Bodhisattva immediately rose from his seat, with his palms joined together and his right knee on the ground, addressed the Buddha, “Lord! After the Buddha’s [physical] demise, the right dharma will vanish from the world and the semblance dharma will linger on. During the dharma-ending age, sentient beings [tainted by] the five turbidities (such as calamities, wrong views, unending worries, shortened life-span etc., over infinite world-cycles) will perform all types of evil deeds and transmigrate amongst the three (form, formless and desire) realms of existence without respite. May the Buddha, out of his mercy and compassion, proclaim for the later generations, the Single-Taste Absolute Reality [Dharma], to enable all sentient beings to be liberated.”
The Buddha said, “Good man, you asked about what caused my appearance in the world to liberate sentient beings to let them attain the fruition [of enlightenment] that transcends the world. This great matter [of a buddha’s appearance in the world] is inconceivable, because it is performed out of great mercy [and] great compassion. If I do not respond [to your questions], I will fall into miserliness [for with-holding the Dharma I have awakened to]. You should listen attentively and carefully. I shall proclaim [the Dharma] for