The Diamond Sutra


This copy of the Diamond Sutra is the world's earliest complete and dated, printed book.

The word sutra comes from Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. It means a religious teaching and is most often used to describe the teachings of the Buddha. The Diamond Sutra was given its name by the Buddha himself because its teachings will 'cut like a diamond blade through worldly illusion to illuminate what is real and everlasting'.

This sutra is in Chinese and was found in a holy site called the 'Caves of a Thousand Buddhas' a cliff wall with 492 caves carved out of it. A monk discovered the sealed entrance to the hidden cave in 1900 and inside scrolls of paper and silk had been perfectly preserved. 

It is assumed that Buddhism (originally from India) spread to China along the network of trade routes known as the Silk Road. Most Chinese Buddhist followed the Mahayana tradition, which unlike Theravada Buddhism believes that everyone (and not just those who live a monastic life) can achieve enlightenment.

This scroll was made in 868, in seven sections, each printed from a single block and stuck together to create a scroll over five metres in length. It was found by explorer Sir Marc Aurel Stein in 1907.

The British Library is part of the International Dunhuang Project, a ground-breaking collaboration which aims to make more than 100,000 manuscripts, paintings and artefacts from Silk Road sites available on the internet.

To see more of the Diamond Sutra please go to our award winning Turning the Pages™. To hear a short talk about the Diamond Sutra please see here.

Full title:
The Diamond Sutra
© British Library
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Or 8210

Related articles

Printing landmarks

Article by:
The British Library

Did you know the Diamond Sutra, the world's earliest dated printed book, is in the British Library? Discover this and other landmarks of printing in the Library's collections.

A brief history of writing materials and technologies

Article by:
Ewan Clayton
The origins of writing, The art and design of writing

From the earliest incisions and scratchings to the quill pen of the middle ages, how did we come to get the diverse range of tools to produce writing we know today?

Related collection items