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The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom by Red Pine

This translation of a classic text—said to produce enlightenment through hearing a single line—will help modern yogis achieve self-knowledge.

By Richard Rosen

But unlike classical yoga, which focuses on the salvation of the individual practitioner, the only completely right practice for the Buddha is that which compassionately helps other beings. This is the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva ("Buddha-in-waiting"), the spiritual warrior who, as Red Pine writes, "resolves to attain buddhahood in order to liberate others." Nowadays most yoga students and teachers are perhaps already committed to some form of this practice, whether they're aware of it or not; the Diamond Sutra helps us to recognize, appreciate, and solidify our determination to delay reaching our own final destination—nirvana—until we're sure that everyone else is along for the ride.

The knottiest teaching in this book is surely the doctrine of the "emptiness" of all things, of the self and being, of the teaching at hand, even emptiness itself. I won't pretend that I digested this one, though it seems to me that for the Buddha the self is a limiting factor and that selflessness paradoxically opens the bodhisattva up to all selves. As a longtime student of yoga scriptures, I'm accustomed to a nice atman or purusha hovering in the neighborhood, "eternal, pure, and joyful," (Yoga Sutra, 11.5) as Patanjali puts it—something on which to hang my metaphysical hat. The prospect of emptiness made me dizzy and left me wondering how I was supposed to create content for something that's utterly contentless. I felt better when I read that the Buddha's words are, to the uninitiated, the "most traumatic teaching" they will ever encounter. I suppose it's breathtakingly freeing to be free of everything, including freedom itself.

A diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance. You can't cut it, but it can cut through any substance. It's also extremely valuable and, in the way it reflects light, exceedingly beautiful. The Diamond Sutra, along with Red Pine's commentary, is a precious tool that reflects the brilliance of the Buddha's teaching and enables us, if we give it the chance, to cut through what's hardest in our lives: our own self-ignorance.

For a dyed-in-the-wool yoga student like myself, reading this book—and more importantly, meditating on its teaching—alternately confused and excited me, made me exquisitely uncomfortable by challenging a number of my cherished self-beliefs, and inspired new perspectives and new directions in my practice.

Contributing Editor Richard Rosen is deputy director of the Yoga Research and Education Center, in Santa Rosa, California, and teaches public classes in Berkeley and Oakland, California. His book The Yoga of Breath will be published next summer by Shambhala.

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