Shadows on the Wall

Thirty-two: Shadows on the Wall

[Gemmell & Mu Soeng]

The Lord Buddha addressed Subhuti, saying : “If a disciple, having immeasurable spheres filled with the seven treasures, bestowed these in the exercise of charity; and if a disciple, whether man or woman, having aspired to supreme spiritual wisdom, selected from this Scripture a stanza comprising four lines, then rigorously observed it, studied it, and diligently explained it to others; the cumulative merit of such a disciple would be relatively greater than the other.” 

“In what attitude of mind should it be diligently explained to others? Not assuming the permanency or the reality of earthly phenomena, but in the conscious blessedness of a mind at perfect rest. And Why? Because:

So you should see [view] all of the fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in the stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud;
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

When the Lord Buddha concluded his enunciation of this Sacred Sutra, the venerable Subhuti, the monks, nuns, lay-brethren and sisters, all mortals, and the whole realm of spiritual beings, rejoiced exceedingly, and consecrated to its practice, they received it and departed.

I chose to submit both Gemmell’s and Mu Soeng’s treatment of this final section of the Diamond Sutra. Gemmell gives it a flavor of Classical Spice while Mu Soeng’s translation of the concluding Gatha is more poetic; indeed, this “bubble”, this “phantom” that we call reality is truly just a passing fancy in a “dream” of the Buddhas. Immature beings mistake those certain “shadows on the wall” for Reality, whereas the developing Bodhisattvas enroute to Tathagatahood recognize them for what they truly are: animations of the animating Principle of Unborn Light. The Diamond Sutra throughout has portrayed conventional reality as a fanciful play of shadows dancing on impermanent and hollow walls, much like the imagery described in Plato’s famous allegory of the Cave. What is truly lasting in the Absolute Sense is the Grand Ultra-Meritorious Vision of the Tathagatas, whose imageless and deathless eyes reveal the True Source behind all dharmatas: the Dharmakaya.

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