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The Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra is the world's oldest printed book. Written in Chinese and featuring an illustrated frontispiece, the woodblock printed scroll is five-metres long and dated 868AD.

The frontispiece depicts the Buddha, surrounded by monks, devotees and deities. In the lower left-hand corner, the Buddha's disciple, Subhuti, listens as the Buddha presents the teaching known at the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra of 868AD was the jewel among thousands of scrolls, documents and painted silks that explorer Aurel Stein obtained from a hidden library cave near Dunhuang in 1907. The cave had been sealed for a thousand years.

The Diamond Sutra is one of Buddhism's best-known teachings and is still recited in monasteries today. Buddha is said to have taught the Diamond Sutra towards the end of his life.

The sutra begins by relating how one day after the Buddha had finished his daily walk to gather alms, he returned to his monastery, put away his bowl and sat down.

Subhuti approached, kneeled before the Buddha and asked a question. The sutra unfolds as a dialogue between the Buddha and Subhuti about impermanence and the nature of reality. It concludes with an oft-quoted poetic verse:

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

The Diamond Sutra of 868 now lives at the British Library, whose Turning the Pages project includes three ways to get a close look online at the world's oldest printed book.

  • Broadband version
    (Includes optional audio file of the Diamond Sutra being recited by the nuns and monks of the Fo Kuang Shan Buddhist order in Taiwan.)

  • Medium bandwidth version
    (Includes audio introduction to the scroll's significance. Note this version requires Abobe Shockwave and can be slow to load.)

  • Low-bandwidth version.
    (Includes the same audio introduction as the medium-bandwidth version.)

If you would like to know more about the Diamond Sutra as a Buddhist teaching, one of the most accessible ways to learn is through videos by an American monk named Hyungak (Paul Muenzen). He has provided a 12-part explanation of the Diamond Sutra.

Teachings by the fourteenth Dalai Lama, intended for advanced practitioners, are also available online. These teachings are delivered in Tibetan and translated into English. A list of the teachings is available HERE.