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The Diamond Sutra is one of the most valued and widely read philosophical works in Buddhist literature. It is very popular amongst ardent Buddhists in China, and excepting the Lotus of the Good Law, and the Leng-Yen-Ching, perhaps no other Sutra ascribed to Buddha is regarded by the Chinese with so great esteem.
In Japan, The Diamond Sutra appears to be perused extensively by what Max Müller termed the Shin-Gon sect, founded by Ko-Bo, a disciple of the renowned pilgrim Hiuen-Tsang, about the year 816 a.d.
The Diamond Sutra was written originally in Sanscrit, and in process of time translated into the Tibetan, Chinese, Mongol, and Manchu languages. It represents the Mahayana school of Buddhist thought, a school founded by Nagarjuna, which flourished primarily at Tchakuka, and thereafter influenced appreciably a considerable part of the Buddhist Church.
In the year 1836, Csomo Körösi published an account of the Tibetan translation, which interesting document may be consulted in Vol. XX. of the Asiatic Researches. The Diamond Sutra is therein designated “The Sutra of Wonderful Effects,” a treatise by means of which Sakyamuni Buddha instructs Subhuti, one of his conspicuous disciples, in The Prajna-Paramita of transcendent wisdom.
To Kumarajiva, a native of Kashmir, who gained distinction as a monk of the later Chin dynasty (a.d. 384–417), is conceded the honour of having first translated The Diamond Sutra into the Chinese language. Of subsequent Chinese translations, perhaps the most noteworthy is the text ascribed to the scholarly Hiuen-Tsang, and completed about the middle of the seventh century.
A rendering into English of Kumarajiva’s Chinese translation was accomplished by the Rev. S. Beal, and published in TheJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1864–65. The text and German translation of the Tibetan version were published in 1873 by M. Schmidt, in The Mémoires de l’Académie St Pétersbourg. The Mongolian translation was presented by the Baron de Constadt to the library of the Institut de France. The Manchu translation is in the possession of M. de Harlez, who, with the aid of the Tibetan, Manchu, and Chinese versions, published a French translation of the Sanscrit text of The Diamond Sutra in the Journal Asiatique, 1892. It has been observed that “at first sight it may seem as if this metaphysical treatise hardly deserved the world-wide reputation which it has attained.” Regarding this descriptive “world-wide reputation,” devout Buddhists might suggest in extenuation, that throughout many centuries, the “spiritual wisdom” of The Diamond Sutra produced in countless minds a “conscious blessedness of perfect peace.” This “spiritual wisdom” also appeared to be a “strong incentive to holiness,” and a grateful inspiration to those who had entered “the path which leads to Nirvana.” In a few renowned monasteries of Central China, our Buddhist friends frequently affirmed that, by contemplating the “spiritual wisdom” of The Diamond Sutra, the mind would inevitably become “transfused with the mellow light of imperishable truth.”