Posts written by Bill M. Mak

My Journey as a Buddhist

My Journey as a Buddhist, from Diamond Sutra to Diamond Sutra (Part 1)

 My first memory of something related to Buddhism was the sound of sutra-chanting where I heard in a Zen monastery in Lantau when I was a young child. Though neither of my parents was Buddhist, my mother a Protestant Christian and father a freethinker, they were nevertheless sympathetic to Buddhism. My father, beside being a philanthropist who always busied himself with various charity projects, was much interested in Buddhist teachings. During the summer vacations, my father would bring me to some of the remote monastery in Lantau Island or New Territories for meditation sitting and to live with the monks. Those early morning chanting had always held a special fascination for me. It was like sound of waves washing into my whole being, awe-inspiring and exhilarating at the same time. Later I found out that it was called the Diamond Sutra.


In my childhood days, I had always had my hair trimmed very short and the monks would tell me jokingly that I look just like a novice. An old nun even once remarked that I had been a yogi in my past live which I only half-believed. When I sat for meditation as a seven years old child, the monks took it nonetheless very seriously and would give me a bat if I was dozing away. The beating I received, which was harder than necessary, left me a very negative impression which lasted for years. Little did I know at that time that the monk who delivered the blow would become my first Buddhist teacher years later.


It was not until my university years when I started to take serious interest in Buddhism. At that time, I gave up my studies in science and turned to linguistics with a specialization in Sanskrit. I was fascinated by the ancient religious texts and in particular, the Indian religions which Buddhism was a part of. My multilingual bookcase was soon filled with books like the Bible, Bhagavadgītā, the Japji of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Yogasūtra and also the Diamond Sūtra. As a linguistic student, though I could read through the Diamond Sutra in Sanskrit, its meanings completely escaped me as it was so unlike anything I had read. For over years, this Buddhist sutra remained an enigma to me.

It was almost ten years after I first started reading the Diamond Sutra when I finally found the need to understand it completely. The reason why I could understand only the surface meaning of the text but not its true meaning was that, as I thought at that time, because I was not a Buddhist. After all texts were all written for specific audience in mind and without proper context and background knowledge, they could not deliver the intended message. Thus with this desire to gain the “insider’s view” I decided to learn more about the religion and eventually, became a Buddhist.

With my years of training in science, I had always been a diehard skeptic and religious conversion was not an easy one. Unlike Christianity where there were churches with open doors and priests and missionaries ready to answer every single one of your religious queries, the Buddhist door was an iron door tightly shut. It was a tortuous process, but thanks to my father’s Buddhist friends and other Buddhist teachers whom I came across one after another, the Buddhist faith gradually became clear to me. At a more personal level, I began to understand that Buddhism was a path of self-cultivation. Though I did not aspire to become enlightened, it became apparent to me that the Buddhist path was a well-trodden one, praised by the wise ones and made people only into better persons.

My life was gradually becoming surrounded by everything Buddhist. After years of exciting but rather uninspiring work, which inflated my asset and my ego, I took the very humbling path of resuming my Buddhist studies once again at Hong Kong University. I also took the time to explore and find out for myself what the Buddhists and the Buddhist communities were doing, to experience for myself whether the practice lived up to the theories. Perhaps most importantly, I started to gain many Buddhist friends. It was due to the positive influence of these kalyānamitra-s that a certain Buddhist identity took root in me. In my mind, they were the embodiment of wisdom and compassion and I too want to become one of them. Looking around in our society, it is hard to believe that there are truly people who are wise and yet kind and friendly at the same time, tolerant enough even to people who do not share the same faith – these are the Buddhists.

After I took my refuge in the Three Jewels and my lay precepts from my first Buddhist teacher who was from the Zen tradition, the chanting of Diamond Sutra thus became my daily homework. As my understanding of the Buddhism at both levels of intellect and faith deepened, I began to appreciate the beauty of the Sutra. In retrospect, it was a very liberating experience to shed with “thunderbolt wisdom” all the false identities I had built up for myself, which was defined by labels such as career, wealth or even trivial things like education or clothes one puts on. In a place like Hong Kong where everyone seemed to be trapped in a rat race for wealth and status, unable to see their existence beyond what they possessed materially or nominally, leading the imaginary life of pleasure they created in their own minds, the Sutra breathed a fresh air, bringing peace, kindness, understanding and other human virtues to a world of madness.


My Buddhist identity became something I treasured very much and something I took a special pride of. In the following years, due to my academic pursuit, I had to travel around the world, first to mainland China, then Germany and Japan. It was my encounter with other Buddhists in these countries which made me constantly reflect on this identity I had created for myself. Little did I expect that such encounter led to a great transformation within me, both in terms of my identity as a Buddhist, as well as my understanding of Buddhism as a world religion at large.




實際上在古印度文獻裡,“金剛” 即“金剛杵”,是一件具有威力、殺傷力的武器。有語言學家推測vajra一詞來自古印歐語詞根weĝ,意思是充滿力量,像ojas (佛典一般譯作“精”或“神”)亦大概同於一源。然而“金剛杵”究竟是一件甚麼的武器呢?

按照印度最古老文獻《梨俱吠陀》的記載,金剛杵為天神因陀羅(Indra)的武器。因陀羅在印歐神話裡以不同的形貌出現,造型一般為手持金剛杵,是掌管風雨的神明,後來被佛教吸收,佛經裡一般作“帝釋”(Śakra,即釋提桓因Śakro devānām indraḥ的略稱)。因陀羅手持的金剛杵被視作雷電,形象類似希臘神話裡的宙斯(Zeus)。


印度文獻對金剛杵有不同的描述,有的形容為骨頭棒狀,有的形容為交叉雷電狀。其中比較常見的是一種類似我們現在說的“狼牙棒”。婆羅門書Maitrāyaṇī Saṁhitā 1.6.3:91有這樣的記載:“因陀羅以‘金剛’擊打敵人(vṛtra),從那[金剛]散出來的便是[我們用來作祭祀的]碎石。”這樣看來這支“金剛棒”本來並不是那麼堅固,擊打後那些刺頭還會掉下來變成碎石。




我們熟悉的《金剛經》一般指鳩摩羅什翻譯的《金剛般若波羅蜜經》。玄奘重譯時,對唐太宗說羅什翻譯不夠準確,並為經文題目補上“能斷金剛”; 後來義淨重譯時把經文題目譯作《佛說金剛能斷般若波羅蜜多經》,跟現存梵語寫本的vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā對上。那麼《金剛經》裡的“金剛”究竟是甚麼意思呢?








《八千誦般若經》的《常啼菩薩品》和《法上菩薩品》裡有如來“無所從來亦無所去”的說法(na khalu kulaputra tathāgatāḥ kutaś cid āgacchanti vā gacchanti vā. acalitā hi tathatā)。《金剛經》裡亦有同樣的說法。鳩摩羅什的《小品》把引文最後一句譯作“諸法如不動故”,“法如”即是“真如”tathatā,即是佛教真理的本體。《般若經》這個有趣的說法,靈感明顯來自梵語tathāgata一詞本來的歧義,加上對空的闡釋,把tathā理解為tathatā的省略,(ā)gata為“不來不去”。不來不去的就是不動,與大乘佛教的一元本體論相應。




一般來說,如來為佛的十號之一(即1.如來2.應供3.正遍知4.明行足5.善逝6.世間解7.無上8.調御9.天人師10.佛世尊。)什譯《成實論·十號品》云:“如來者乘如實道來成正覺,故曰如來。”這是比較標準的說法。如上所說先把複合詞前語幹理解為名詞tathatā(如實)的省略,後語幹理解為過去分詞āgata,兩者以“從格”(ablative)關係連結起來(即“從如實來的”或“來自如實的”),再以“多財釋”(bahuvrīhi, 定語複合詞)把形容詞理解為名詞,最後意思為“從如實來的人”或“來自如實的人”。[有關梵語名詞複合詞不同分析的歧義性,見拙文“梵語名詞複合詞分析—以依主釋(偏正複合詞)為中心”(2010)語言學研究(第八輯)106-123頁。]




那麼“如來”是佛教所創的術語,還是另有來頭?印度學者A. K. Coomaraswamy在一篇1938年的文章指出,“如來”的概念早在梨俱吠陀裡出現,tathā和動詞√gam這個搭配為對火神Agni的描述,與“升起的太陽”相關(RV.6.52.5)。Tathāgata很可能在佛陀時代以前已經存在,釋迦牟尼取詞重釋,成為原始佛教裡“阿羅漢”的等稱,後來在大乘佛教裡得到新的演繹,成為我們現在所理解的“如來”。