"At that time, Elder Subhūti arose from his seat in the assembly, uncovered his right shoulder, placed his right knee on the ground, put his palms together with respect, and said to the Buddha, “How rare, World-Honored One, is the Tathagata who remembers and protects all bodhisattvas and causes them to be well endowed. World-Honored One, how should good people who have resolved in their hearts to pursue anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi dwell or subdue their hearts?”
The Buddha said, “Indeed, Subhūti, it is as you say. The Tathàgata remembers and protects all bodhisattvas and ensures that they are well endowed. Now, listen attentively. I shall tell you how good people who resolve in their hearts on pursuing anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi should dwell and subdue their hearts. Venerable Subhūti answered, “Yes, certainly, World-Honored One. I want to hear. I am delighted to listen.”
Excerpts from Mastering the School Tenets of The Diamond Sutra
Venerable Xiao Pingshi
Venerable Subhūti was one of the Buddha’s ten most prominent disciples. He assumed the role of interlocutor for this occasion to assist Buddha Sakyamuni with the instruction pertaining to prajna. Subhūti’s name means “to auspiciously appear,” and this chapter, entitled “Subhūti Asks for Instruction,” comes about after he witnesses the Buddha performing His daily round of almsgiving.
The Diamond Sutra starts with the Buddha putting on His robe, holding His bowl, and going around to ask for alms, along with 1,250 great bhikshus. After returning to the ashram, the Buddha eats and finishes His meal, puts his bowl away, washes his feet, prepares His seat, and then sits down. On this occasion, Subhūti witnesses the Buddha’s intention to do so, and out of gratitude, he asks the Buddha for specific instructions. This is the starting point of this chapter.
Among the Buddha’s disciples, Subhūti was the one who best understood the teachings regarding the essence of emptiness, especially in eliciting and manifesting the true nature of emptiness. Elder Subhūti was already an enlightened bodhisattva and had gained a penetrating wisdom eye, with which he closely observed the Buddha’s teachings through His everyday routines of wearing robes and carrying bowls. In this chapter, Elder Subhūti’s role is to illuminate the Buddha’s teachings for others in the assembly. For instance, Elder Subhūti stands up, bares his right shoulder, kneels on his right knee on the ground, joins his palms together respectfully, and asks the Buddha for guidance. In fact, Subhūti’s baring of his right shoulder signifies the notion of “form is emptiness.” His gestures imply that this physical body denotes the emptiness nature of tathagatagarbha; that is, the physical body has the emptiness nature itself. Why? Because of our physical body, our five-aggregate selves will decay and decompose after our death. Yet, all the arising and ceasing dharmas of the five aggregates were brought forth from the emptiness nature (tathagatagarbha); therefore, all these dharmas are subsumed under the emptiness nature. By the same token, the principle applies to the rest of the demonstrations by Subhūti.
Subhūti does not only understand the underlying meaning of the emptiness nature demonstrated by the Buddha when He held the bowl, but he also knows how we are “remembered and protected” by the Tathagata. Subhūti then praises the Buddha, saying that such a rare occasion arises from our daily routines. Furthermore, the line “resolves in their hearts on pursuing anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi” from the quotes implies that bodhisattva practitioners should make the following Four Great Vows:
However innumerable sentient beings may be, I vow to save them all.
However inexhaustible afflictions may be, I vow to eradicate them all.
However immeasurable the teachings may be, I vow to study them all.
However difficult the unsurpassed Buddhahood Path may be, I vow to complete it.
Having made the pledge of the Four Great Vows, the bodhisattva will forever not enter remainderless nirvana after becoming a buddha as the anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi mind set forth upon taking the three refuges in the Buddha is truly peerless.
When we have completed the three refuges in the Buddha and the Four Great Vows, “How should we dwell, how should we subdue our hearts?” First, we must settle our minds. But which mind should we settle? We should settle our conscious mind and Manas as they are the delusive minds that will lead to our endless stream of transmigration. To be liberated from transmigration and eventually achieve Buddhahood, we must personally realize the Buddha Dharma and its teachings, which are equally important as they are inseparable from each other. As taught in the Lankavatara Sutra, post-awakening cultivation involves the realization of this True Mind, alayavijnana (tathagatagarbha), that which is immovable, real, and can be witnessed by enlightened Chan practitioners.
Therefore, it is crucial for us to attain enlightenment (realizing the True Mind) and thereby bring forth the anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi mind with certitude. Only then will we be able to extensively practice the six pāramitās after awakening. These are the underlying essences conveyed by the Buddha in this chapter of the Diamond Sutra, illustrating the importance of true enlightenment.
Mastering the School Tenets of the Diamond Sutra, Vol. 1, pp. 71-100