Geshe Michael Roach and Diamonds

Geshe Michael Roach has long had a love affair with diamonds. In fact he spent 17 years working in New York City’s diamond trade (the same time period that he claims to have been studying for his Geshe Degree in South India).

Geshe Michael Roach constantly claims that diamonds are the closest thing in our conventional reality to emptiness (the ultimate Buddhist viewpoint on the manner in which all phenomena exist), however the meaning of emptiness is explained as a mere absence, while diamonds are a positive phenomena. Traditionally, if it is likened to anything from conventional reality, it is likened to unobstructed space — a mere absence.

And so then I became ordained,
And as a means to keep
These teachings from ever
Being lost in our world,
And to spread them further still,
I entered the diamond trade.

But I did so because
It would be a way
Never to forget
What I had seen upon
The Path of Seeing.
For of all the objects
In this lie of reality,
There is only one highest metaphor
For the ultimate reality,
And that is the diamond.

— Geshe Michael Roach, Letter to Lamas, 16 January, 2003

Geshe Michael Roach states, in his book the Diamond Cutter, which deals with using Buddhist principles to create wealth:

“Pure diamond is the closest thing to an absolutely clear physical substance. With no light reflecting off of its surface you cannot see the pure diamond at all. Diamond gives a perfect reflection of light. Diamond is the hardest thing in the universe. A diamond is 3 times as hard as the next hardest mineral. It is a metaphor for that which is absolute. Diamonds represent, in the ancient Tibetan way, a hidden potential in all things: This is usually referred to as ’emptiness”.

The title of this book is gleaned from an ancient Buddhist text, whose name is often translated as, “The Diamond Cutter Sutra”, however it is also known as the “The Vajra Cutter Sutra” which deals with the subject of emptiness (Vajra is a Sanskrit term having a meaning similar to “adamantine”).


Venerable George Churinoff

Renowned Buddhist scholar, Venerable George Churinoff, explains from the notes to his recent excellent translation of the Vajra Cutter Sutra:

Often translated as Diamond Sutra or Diamond Cutter Sutra. However, the word “vajra” used in the title is not explained as meaning ‘diamond’ in either the sutra itself or the Indian commentaries we have access to (those of Asabga, Vasubandhu, and Kamalashila).

In fact, the Buddha does not even mention the word ‘vajra’ in the discourse itself (at least not in the Tibetan or Sanskrit editions), naming it merely “Prajnaparamita”: “Subhuti, the name of this Dharma discourse is ‘the wisdom gone beyond’; it should be remembered like that.”

In his introduction to his edition and translation, the Buddhist scholar Edward Conze said (p. 7): ‘It is usual, following Max Mueller, to render Vajracchedika Sutra as ‘Diamond sutra’. There is no reason to discontinue this popular usage, but strictly speaking, it is more than unlikely that the Buddhists here understand vajra as the material substance which we call ‘diamond.’

Kamalashila’s commentary (p. 204a) takes ‘vajra’ to mean the adamantine implement: ‘Like this, it is the ‘vajra cutter’ in two ways. Because it cuts off the afflicted obstructions and the subtle obstructions to omniscience, which are as difficult to destroy as the vajra — this indicates its necessity to abandon the two obstructions. Alternatively, the cutting is ‘vajra-like’ since it is similar to the shape of the vajra: the vajra is made bulbous on the ends and thin in the center. Similarly, this wisdom gone beyond is also taught as extensive in the beginning and the end — the ground of aspirations activity and the buddha ground. The thin middle indicates the pure grounds of superior intention. Hence, it is like the aspect of a vajra, and this indicates three grounds as its subject matter.’

Buddhapalita states

In order to well establish the meaning of the unknown by the meaning of the known; worldly people normally say space does not exist in any way.

Thus partisans claim “All of those proliferations are space” intending “all of those do not exist in any way”. Therefore, because of demonstrating the example “The remaining five elements [dhaatu] should be stated to be equivalent with space”, space established as emptiness is demonstrated first.

Nagarjuna writes

In the Acintyastava
Not arising, unceasing, not annihilated, and not permanent,
that is like space, not within the range of words or knowledge.

And in the Bodhicittavivarana
Without characteristics and non-arising, no coming to be, without description,
space, awakened mind and awakening posess the characeristic of non-duality.

The Buddha of the great nature, who resides in the essence of awakening
and all those bearing love, at all times know that emptiness is equivalent with space.

Smirtijnana’s commentary on Bodhicittavivarana

“”Space and…” is peace; awakened mind [bodhicitta] is non-conceptual wisdom; awakening is the undeceived actual realization of all phenomena. The charactersitic of non-duality is that there is no difference between space and awakened mind. Thus, for example, just as space exists conventionally, not ultimately, likewise awakened mind exists as a correct relative, but not ultimately. The meaning of that is, that “the wisdom of emptiness is like space”. Since although it is empty it is also wisdom,therefore, the wisdom of emptiness is natureless. That exists conventionally like space, yet does not exist when investigated.

And again:

The support of the mind without objects is the characteristic of emptiness.
They assert the meditation of emptiness as the meditation of space.

Smirtijnana’s commentary on this Bodhicittavivarana

If it is asked what is the charactersitic of that mind which is relative, and unchangingly empty? Since it is a mind which cannot be shown, “…it exists like space.”

The mind which is not an object which can be demonstrated with the words “this exists, this does not” has a characteristic equivalent with space. Thus, worldly people described it conventionally as space, as its characeristic is ultimately essenceless.

Therefore, the one who knows the meditation on space is asserted to be meditating on emptiness. The one who knows realizes the meaning. Therefore it is also stated in the Perfection of Wisdom “Subhuti, Meditating on space is meditating the perfection of wisdom.”


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