Dorjé Chöpa: The Diamond Sūtra

Dorjé Chöpa (རྡོ་རྗེ་གཅོད་པ་), or The Vajra Cutter Sūtra is known in English as The Diamond Sūtra. Its full title is the Vajracchedikānāma-prajñāpārmitāmahāyānasūtra or in Chöké, འཕགས་པ་ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ་རྡོ་རྗེ་གཅོད་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ།

The text is one of the short sūtra-s on the perfection of wisdom, claimed by historians to have been composed around the beginning of the Christian era, although traditional Buddhists believe it to date to the Buddha Shakyamuni himself. In Bhutan, this sūtra is recited in rituals to help cure illnesses, overcome obstacles, accomplish wishes and so forth. Many families sponsor one thousand recitations of Dorjé Chöpa as a religious service. It is also the book that Bhutanese traditionally used when learning how to read; specifically, by reciting the Dorjé Chöpa aloud with a teacher and spelling the words. According to traditional belief, this carries the benefits of not only having an educational exercise but both teacher and student also accrue merit for reading the sūtra.

The Diamond Sūtra is set in the grove of Prince Jeta in Śrāvastī, India, and presented as a dialogue between the Buddha and one of the Buddha’s monk disciples, Subhūti, or Rabjor (རབ་འབྱོར་). The Buddha discusses with Subhūti the non-essentiality of all things, stressing the point that there is no self, being, soul or person. The Buddha explains that what we conceive as good and bad, birth and death, existence and enlightenment are inherently impossible because there is no real entity or true existence. He exhorts Subhūti and his disciples to not hold on to form, sound, smell, taste, or touch, and for that matter all phenomena. In fact, neither should they hold on to the absence of phenomena. The focal message conveyed by the Dorjé Chöpa is that wisdom can be perfected by realizing that all ‘things’ are inherently empty. One should view everything as illusory, momentary and empty. One should even view the Buddha as empty and eventually abandon even good things, like a boat after crossing the river.

The text contains numerous thought-provoking and paradoxical statements such as “because the world does not exist, it is called the world”, “because there is no perfection of wisdom, we call it perfection of wisdom”, “the Buddha’s teachings show neither truth nor falsity”, etc. In the text, the Buddha extols the benefits of upholding this sūtra, which ends with the verse:

View all compounded things like a dream

Like a flickering lamp and a star,

Like illusion, phantom and bubbles,

Like dew-drops, lightning and clouds.

As the Diamond Sūtra is focused on how one can perfect wisdom through understanding emptiness, and emphasises rejecting attachment to things, it is believed that one must read, or sponsor readings of, this sūtra with a similar spirit and intent.


Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why We Do What We Do.