The Spirit of the Diamond

The global diamond trade experienced a transformation in 1871 when the “De Beers” and “Kimberley” mines were discovered in South Africa, but before Africa became a powerhouse at unearthing and exporting these precious gems at unprecedented speeds, the worlds greatest diamonds came from India.

Prior to the 1800s, it was believed that India was the only source of diamonds in the world.

The Golconda Citadel and its surrounding mines in Hyderabad, India were the only major source of diamonds being exchanged and traded on Earth, including legendary stones like the Hope Diamond and the Daria-I-Noor. Perhaps that’s why diamonds hold such a special significance in Indian culture and its off-shoots, a revered position with spiritual and symbolic implications.

That’s what I want to share with you today. Not information about the monetary value of diamonds or their prominence in pop culture, but something deeper and more meaningful to the culture that has been part of my family for generations.

I want to talk about diamonds and spirituality.

For four thousand years, the Rigveda has formed the earliest Hindu scriptures. In it, Indra, the king of the Gods and model for all human rulers, smites sinners and demons with the Vajra trident he wields. Indra is so closely associated with his weapon of choice that he is sometimes referred to as Vajrabhrit, “bearing the Vajra” or Vajrahasta, “holding the Vajra in his hand.” While the word Vajra is often translated as “thunderbolt”, its other meaning sticks with me always: diamond

Indra carrying a varja (Wikipedia)

Though they couldn’t have known it at the time, the ancient Hindus were very perceptive in this choice of metaphor. The most tangible example of perfection in the natural world might just be the diamond.

On an atomic level, its carbon bonds form a crystalline lattice structure, separated from graphite by its nearly flawless symmetry. This mechanical perfection gives it the highest conductive quality for heat and electricity of any natural substance. The strength of a diamond is the stuff of legends. Until the development of modern lasers, nothing could cut a diamond except another diamond. It is no coincidence, then, that “diamond” and “adamant” share the same Latin root.

This durability explains the adoption of the diamond and Vajra by later Buddhists. The entire system of Tibetan Buddhism is a form of “Vajrayana” Buddhism, meaning literally “the diamond way” or “diamond vehicle.”

In this sense, the great monks and lamas of the Himalayas could think of no better metaphor for perfect truth which survives strife and struggles over generations than the diamond. Buddhist symbolism has a strikingly practical quality to it. The lotus, for instance, came to be a symbol of enlightenment because of its life cycle. The seed of a lily pad begins nestled in the dark mud at the bottom of a lake, unconscious and still, before breaking out of itself and snaking its way as a vine to the water’s surface. In the light of the world, it blossoms into a beautiful flower. In this same way, the lotus represents the individual’s path to realization, rising from the darkness into the light of true awareness.

With this in mind, consider the diamond. Buried in the depths of the Earth, hidden away beneath untold layers of rock and dirt, there is a stone. With meticulous care and effort, a master craftsman chips away and breaks it down, until it cannot be broken again. Patiently and lovingly, the craftsman hones and shapes the stone until it shines with a brilliance that rivals the stars in the sky.

I can attest that this task is still time-consuming today. Imagine how much more daunting an effort it must have been more than a millennium ago?

Every diamond is a reminder that some of the greatest beauty in life can be found in a humble stone. At the same time, every diamond is a testament to the work it takes to bring it forth.

In both their raw and finished forms, diamonds demonstrate what hides in plain sight; the hidden potential in all things that waits only for the time and attention to bring it out. The diamond’s clarity reflects the often misunderstood concept of emptiness and nothingness, perhaps more appropriately expressed as “no-thing-ness”. In the Avatasmsaka Sutra, this is expressed in the example of the God Indra’s glittering, bejeweled net at the center of the universe. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold.

Indra’s Net (source)

If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Each jewel reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, creating an infinite reflection.

This perspective, sometimes expressed with the idea of many candles that share one flame, suggests that there is an essential unity underlying and infinitely becoming all things.

Once again, nothing but a jewel can express its brilliance, but here the text goes deeper. Each jewel contains within it every other jewel, and in this way, each jewel contains within it everything that is. In their infinite depths they do not just rival the stars. They reflect and contain them.

While much can be made of this poetic license, I can only speak to my own experience. In the hours I have spent staring into their intricate patterns and repetitions, I have often been awed by the depths each diamond contains.

I think this idea is beautifully expressed by Rumi, the famous Persian poet:

“You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck.”

It is easy to become lost in a diamond. A single glint will strike my eye and I will lose all other thought except its beauty and disappear for a moment. In that moment I find a space for self-reflection. While each person seems to take their own interpretation of those depths back with them, for me, there is peace and a sense of hope to be found in the stillness and silence.

Older Post