The Supremacy of Unconditioned Merits
The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, if there were as many Ganges Rivers as there are grains of sand along the Ganges River, do you think there would be numerous grains of sand along all those Ganges Rivers?” Subhuti answered, “Yes, World-Honored One, there would be numerous grains of sand indeed. The Ganges Rivers alone would be incalculable. How much more for the grains of sand along them?” The Buddha asked again, “Subhuti, if a good man or woman filled trichiliocosm (S: trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu) equal in number to the grains of sand along all those Ganges Rivers with the seven precious gems, given by him or her as a gift, would he or she obtain many merits?” Subhuti answered, “Yes, World-Honored One, he or she would obtain very many merits.” The Buddha then told Subhuti, “If a good man or woman were to receive and hold from this Sutra even only four lines of verse and speak them for others, his or her merits and virtues would surpass those of the good man or woman who filled trichiliocosm equal in number to the grains of sand along all the Ganges Rivers with the seven precious gems, given by him or her as a gift.”
Excerpts from Mastering the School Tenets of the Diamond Sutra
Venerable Xiao Pingshi
The title of this chapter in the Diamond Sutra clearly tells us that the merits obtained from one’s personal realization of the unconditioned dharma are diamond-like, indestructible, far superior, and have no equal. The Buddha reminds Subhuti that if a good man or woman completely, partially, slightly, or even minimally upholds the four-line gatha of “this Sutra” and is able to explain it to others, the merits and virtues he or she will obtain as a result will surpass those obtained by a good man or woman who offers the invaluable seven jewels. Hence, the unconditioned merits and virtues accumulated from the dharma offering of “this Sutra” are the most supreme merits and virtues of all.
What does “this Sutra” exactly mean? As the notion of unconditioned merits and virtues is acquired through our wisdom and our attainment of prajna, the prajna-related seeds will be kept in our diamond-like mind. Given that this mind is permanent, solid, and indestructible, the seeds stored therein will remain for all eternity. That is, the merits gained through the unconditioned dharma will automatically bring forth the corresponding virtues transcending the three realms, unlimited by space and time. On the other hand, any offerings not associated with the unconditioned dharma will accumulate only merits subjected to the mundane world. From the Buddhist perspective, the true accumulation of merits and virtues lies in the elimination of self-view or self-attachment or in the further realization of “this Sutra,” the tathagatagarbha (the unconditioned dharma). Thus, the merits and virtues we will obtain from our offerings through this unconditioned dharma will be limitless, incalculable, and transmundane.
The quotes below from The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch convey the underlying messages connecting the Diamond Sutra, the tathagatagarbha, and the unlimited virtues of the unconditioned dharma.
The patriarch kept his robe (S: kaṣāya) hidden and would not let anyone see it. He preached the Diamond Sutra for me. When he reached the word “..should be non-abiding and bringing forth the mind,” I experienced instantaneous enlightenment, [realizing that] all the myriad dharmas do not transcend their self-natures. I informed the patriarch of this, saying:
“No matter when, the self-natures are fundamentally and naturally pure.
No matter when, the self-natures are fundamentally neither generated nor extinguished.
No matter when, the self-natures are fundamentally and naturally sufficient unto themselves.
No matter when, the self-natures are fundamentally without movement.
No matter when, the self-natures are able to generate the myriad dharmas.
The notion of the five self-natures realized by the sixth Patriarch, Chan Master Huineng, also points to the non-abiding mind of the tathagatagarbha. This is the True Mind, which is originally pure, unlike the conscious mind, which is originally impure.
This quote points to the fact that enlightenment in the Chan School does not involve trying to transform impure perceptive minds into pure perceptive minds, that is, trying to transform our conscious mind into a nirvanic mind. Rather, it is about clearing our conscious mind and then using this cleansed mind to look for another mind that is originally pure in nature: the eighth mind, the tathagatagarbha.
To unlock the profundity of the Diamond Sutra and what Chan Master Huineng has realized, one must understand the unconditioned and flawless nature of the diamond-like mind, the tathagatagarbha, and how it can simultaneously give rise to taintless conditioned dharma. Due to the intrinsically existing five self-natures of this mind, which is non-abiding and instantaneously bringing forth the mind, anyone who has realized it will earn infinite merits and virtues. This is the essence of the Supremacy of Unconditioned Merits taught in this chapter of the Diamond Sutra.
Mastering the School Tenets of The Diamond Sutra, Vol. 3, pp. 6-39