The Vagrakkhedika

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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In order to make this collection of Mahayana works more complete and useful to students in Japan I have added a translation of the Vagrafcfchedika, which is much studied in Japan, and the Sanskrit text of which was published by me in an editio princeps--in the Anecdota Oxoniensia, 1881.

The Vagrafcfchedika, or the Diamond-cutter, is one of the most widely read and most highly valued metaphysical treatises in Buddhist literature. In Japan the Vagrafcfchedika and the Pragnaparamita-hndaya are read chiefly by the followers of the Shin-gon sect, founded by Ko-Bo, the great disciple of the famous Hiouen-thsang, in 816 A. D. The temples of this sect in Japan amount to 12,943. Written originally in Sanskrit, it has been translated into Chinese, Tibetan, Mongol, and Mandshu. Its full title is Vagrafcfchedika Pragnaparamita i.t: The Diamond-cutter, the perfection of wisdom, or, as it has sometimes been rendered, 'the Transcendent Wisdom.' Mr. Bunyiu Nanjio in his Catalogue of the Tripitaka, p. 1, has shown that it forms the ninth section of the Mahapragna-paramita-sutra, and that it agrees with the Tibetan translation of the text in 300 slokas.

An account of the Tibetan translation was given as far back as 1836 by Csoma Korosi in his Analysis of the Sher-chiu, the second division of the Kanjur, published in the Asiatic Researches, vol. xx, p. 393 seq. Our text is there described as the Diamond-cutter or the Sutra of wonderful effects, in which Sakya in a colloquial manner instructs Subhuti, one of his principal disciples, in the true meaning of the Pra/naparamita The Tibetans, we are told, pay great respect to this Sutra, and copies of it are found in consequence in great abundance [1].

The first Chinese translation [2] is ascribed to Kumâragîva of the latter Tsin dynasty (A. D. 384-417). An English translation of this Chinese translation was published by the Rev. S. Beal in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1864-5.

There are several more Chinese translations, one by Bodhiruki (A. D. 509), one by Paramârtha (A. D. 562), one by Hiouen-thsang (A. D. 648), one by I-tsing (A. D. 703), one by Dharmagupta of the Sui dynasty (A. D. 589-618).

The text and German translation of the Tibetan translation were published in 1837 by M. Schmidt in the Mémoires de l'Académie de St. Pétersbourg, tom. iv, p. 186.

The Mongolian translation was presented by the Baron Schiling de Canstadt to the Library of the Institut de France.

The Mandshu translation is in the possession of M. de Harlez, who with the help of the Tibetan, Mandshu, and Chinese versions has published a valuable French translation of the Sanskrit text of the Vagrakkhedikâ in the Journal Asiatique, 1892.

[1. See also L. Feer in Annales du Musée Guimet, vol. ii, p. 201.

2. See preface to my edition of the Vagrakkhedikâ, Anecd. Oxon., 1881.]

At first sight it may seem as if this metaphysical treatise hardly deserved the worldwide reputation, which it has attained. Translated literally into English it must often strike the Western reader as sheer nonsense, and hollow repetition. Nor can anything be said in defense of the form or style adopted in this treatise by the Buddhist philosophers who wished to convince their hearers of the truth of their philosophy. This philosophy, or, at least, its underlying doctrine, is not unknown to us in the history of Western philosophy. It is simply the denial of the reality of the phenomenal world. Considering how firmly a belief in phenomenal objects is established in the ordinary mind, it might well have seemed that such a belief could not be eradicated except by determined repetition. But that the theory had been fully reasoned out before it was stated in this practical, but by no means attractive form, may be gathered from the technical terminology, which pervades our treatise. There are two words, in particular, which are of great importance for a right apprehension of its teaching, dharma and samgnâ. Dharma, in the ordinary Buddhist phraseology, may be correctly rendered as 'law.' Thus the whole teaching of Buddha is called the Good Law, Saddharma.

But in our treatise dharma is generally used in a different sense. It means form ({Greek ei?dos}), and likewise what is possessed of form, what is therefore different from other things, what is individual, in fact, what we mean by a thing or an object. This meaning has escaped most of the translators, both Eastern and Western, but if we were always to translate dharma by law, it seems to me that the whole drift of our treatise would become unintelligible. What our treatise wishes to teach is that all objects, differing one from the other by their dharmas, are illusive, or, as we should say, phenomenal and subjective, that they are in fact of our own making, the products of our own mind. When we say that something is large or small, sweet or bitter, these dharmas or qualities are subjective, and cannot be further defined. What is large to me may be small to another. A mile may seem short or long, according to the state of our muscles, and no one can determine the point where smallness ends and length begins. This applies to all things, which we are supposed to know, that is, which we are able to name. And hence the Buddhist metaphysician tells us that all things are but names, samgnas [1], and that being names they are neither what they seem to be nor what they do not seem to be. This extreme Pyrrhonism is afterwards applied to everything. Dust is not dust, because we cannot draw a line between the smallest molecules, the smallest granules, the smallest dust, and the smallest gravel. There are no signs (no {Greek tekmh]ria} or {Greek shmeia}) by which we can know or distinguish these objects. There are in fact no objects, independent of us; hence whoever speaks of things, of beings, of living beings, of persons, &c., uses names only, and the fact that they are names implies that the normal things are not what they seem to be. This, I believe, is the meaning of the constantly recurring phrase: What is spoken of as 'beings, beings indeed' that was preached or called by Buddha as no-beings; that is, every name and every concept is only a makeshift, if it is not altogether a failure; it is certainly not true. We may speak of a dog, but there is no such thing as a dog. It is always either a greyhound or a spaniel, this or that dog, but dog is only an abstraction, a name, a concept of our mind. The same applies to quadruped, animal, living being, and being; they are all names with nothing corresponding to them. This is what is meant by the highest perfect knowledge, in which nothing, not even the smallest thing, is known, or known to be known (par. 22). In that knowledge there is no difference, it is always the same and therefore perfect (par. 23). He who has attained this knowledge believes neither in the idea, i.e. the name of a thing, nor in the idea of a no-thing, and Buddha by using the expression, the idea, or name (samgna) of a thing, implies thereby that it is not the idea of a thing (par. 31). This metaphysical Agnosticism is represented as perfectly familiar even to children and ignorant persons (par. 30), and if it was meant to be so, the endless repetition of the same process of reasoning may find its explanation.

[1. Samgna and dharma correspond in many respects to the Vedantic namarupe.]

That this extreme skepticism or Pyrrhonism is really the popular view of the present followers of the Mahayana Buddhism was clearly stated at the Congress of Religions, held in Chicago, in September 1893. A Deputy sent by the leading sects in Japan, submitted to the Congress an outline of the doctrines of the Mahayana Buddhists drawn up by Mr. S. Kuroda. This outline had been carefully examined and approved by scholars belonging to six of the Buddhist sects in Japan, and was published with authority at Tokyo in 1893. This is what he writes of the Mahayana metaphysics:

'The distinction between pure and impure is made by the mind; so are also all the changes in all things around us. All things that are produced by causes and conditions are inevitably destined to extinction. There is nothing that has any reality; when conditions come things begin to appear, when conditions cease these things likewise cease to exist. Like the foam of the water, like the lightning flash, and like the floating, swiftly vanishing clouds they are only of momentary duration [1]. As all things have no constant nature of their own, so there is no actuality in pure and impure, rough and fine, large and small, far and near, knowable and unknowable, &c. On this account it is sometimes said that all things are nothing. The apparent phenomena around us are, however, produced by mental operations within us, and thus distinctions are established. 'These distinctions produced by mental operations are, however, caused by fallacious reasoning nurtured by the habits of making distinctions between ego and non-ego, good and bad, and by ignorance of the fact that things have no constant nature of their own and are without distinctions (when things thought of have no corresponding reality, such thinking is called fallacious. It may be compared to the action of the ignorant monkey that tries to catch the image of the moon upon water). Owing to this fallacious reasoning, a variety of phenomena constantly appear and disappear, good and bad actions are done, and the wanderings through the six ways or states of life are thus caused and maintained.

'All things are included under subject and object. The subject is an entity in which mental operations are awakened whenever there are objects, while the object consists of all things, visible and invisible, knowable and unknowable, &c. The subject is not something that occupies some space in the body alone, nor does the object exist outside of the subject. The innumerable phenomena of subject and object, of ego and non-ego, are originated by the influence of fallacious thinking, and consequently various principles, sciences, and theories are produced.

'To set forth the principle of "Vidyámátra" (all things are nothing but phenomena in mind), phenomena of mind are divided into two kinds--"1 Gosshiki" (unknowable) and "Fumbetsujishiki" (knowable). They are also divided into eight kinds--1. Kakshur-vigñána (mental operations depending on the eye), 2. Sütra-vigñána (those depending on the ear), 3. Ghrána-vigñána (those depending on the olfactory organs), 4. Gihvá-vignána (those depending on the taste), 5. Káya-vigñána (those depending on the organs of touch), 6. Manovigñána (thinking operations), 7. Klishía-mano-vigñana (subtile and ceaseless operations), 8. Álaya-vigñána (all things come from and are contained in this operation; hence its name, meaning receptacle).

'According to the former division, the various phenomena which appear as subjects and objects are divided into two kinds--the perceptible and knowable, the imperceptible and unknowable. The imperceptible and unknowable phenomena are called "Gosshiki," while the perceptible and knowable phenomena are called "Fumbetsujishiki." Now what are the imperceptible and unknowable phenomena? Through the influence of habitual delusions, boundless worlds, innumerable varieties of things spring up in the mind. This boundless universe and these subtle ideas are not perceptible and knowable; only Bodhisattvas believe, understand, and become perfectly convinced of these through the contemplation of "Vidyámátra;" hence they are called imperceptible and unknowable. What are the knowable and perceptible phenomena? Not knowing that these imperceptible and unknowable phenomena are the productions of their own minds, men from their habitual delusions invest them with an existence outside of mind, as perceptible mental phenomena, as things visible, audible, &c. These phenomena are called perceptible and knowable. Though there are thus two kinds, perceptible and imperceptible phenomena, they occur upon the same things, and are inseparably bound together even in the smallest particle. Their difference in appearance is caused only by differences both in mental phenomena, and in the depth of conviction. Those who know only the perceptible things without knowing the imperceptible are called the unenlightened by Buddha. Of the eight mental operations, the eighth, Álaya-vigñána, has reference to the imperceptible, while the first six refer to the perceptible phenomena. All these, however, are delusive mental phenomena.

In contradistinction to the fallacious phenomena, there is the true essence of mind. Underlying the phenomena of mind, there is an unchanging principle, which we call the essence of mind; the fire caused by fagots dies when the fagots are gone, but the essence of fire is never destroyed. The essence of mind is the entity without ideas and without phenomena, and is always the same. It pervades all things, and is pure and unchanging. It is not untrue or changeable, so it is also called "Bhütatathatá" (permanent reality).

'The essence and the phenomena of mind are inseparable; and as the former is all pervading and ever-existing, so the phenomena occur everywhere and continually, wherever suitable conditions accompany it. Thus the perceptible and imperceptible phenomena are manifestations of the essence of mind that, according to the number and nature of conditions, develop without restraint. All things in the universe, therefore, are mind itself. By this we do not mean that all things combine into a mental unity called mind, nor that all things are emanations from it, but that without changing their places or appearance, they are mind itself everywhere. Buddha saw this truth and said that the whole universe was his own. Hence it is clear that where the essence of mind is found, and the necessary conditions accompany it, the phenomena of mind never fail to appear. So the essence of mind is compared to water, and its phenomena to waves. The water is the essence; the waves are the phenomena; for water produces waves when a wind of sufficient strength blows over its surface. The waves, then, are the phenomena, the water is the essence; but both are one and the same in reality. Though there is a distinction between the essence and the phenomena of mind, yet they are nothing but one and the same substance, that is, mind. So we say that there exists nothing but mind. Though both the world of the pure and impure, and the generation of all things, are very wide and deep, yet they owe their existence to our mind. Men, however, do not know what their own minds are; they do not clearly see the true essence, and, adhering to their prejudices, they wander about between birth and death. They are like those who, possessing invaluable jewels, are, nevertheless, suffering from poverty. Heaven and hell are but waves in the great sea of the universe; Buddhas and demons are not different in their essence. Let us, therefore, abide in the true view and reach the true comprehension of the causality of all things.'

I hope that this will justify the view I have taken of the Vagrakkhedikâ, and that my translation, though it differs considerably from former translations, will be found to be nearest to the intentions of the author of this famous metaphysical treatise.

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