In the Three Worlds all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and
attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect Enlightenment.
Therefore know: the Prajna Paramita is the great transcendent
mantra, is the great bright mantra, is the utmost mantra, is the
supreme mantra, which is able to relieve all suffering and is true, not
false. So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra, proclaim the
mantra that says:
Gyate, gyate, paragyate, parasamgyate, bodhi svaha!
Now we come to the mantra, but before I discuss the mantra I have a few things to say about the first line of this section. The Three Worlds are the World of Form, the World of the formless, and the World of desire. These three worlds represent the three ways that most of us humans relate to the world around us. The World of Forms is the world of things. Being enamored with things is to live in the World of Forms. This can manifest in various ways from the person who likes to travel who likes to see things to the wealthy person who accumulates lots of things. I like tools and to build things, in this way I live in the world of Form. There are many ways to live in the world of Form as there are many ways to live in all three worlds. The World of the Formless is the world of the intellect, the world of ideas. The philosopher and the scientist live in the world of the formless. Of course writing this I live in the world of the formless. Lastly is the World of Desire. This is the world of sensual pleasures and our visceral desires for sensual pleasures. This is also the world of the hedonist. None of us live in just one or two of these worlds. We live in all three aspects of the triple world though individual personality and experience draws the individual into one of these worlds more then the others.
These three broad categories are different aspects of what we Buddhists call Samsara the world of delusion, attachments, and suffering, the world that most of us live in. It is interesting that the author of the Heart Sutra placed the Buddha in Samsara and the Bodhisattva in Nirvana. Bodhisattvas are supposedly not as advanced as Buddhas. One becomes a Buddha upon attaining "complete perfect enlightenment." The Bodhisattva though enlightened is still on the path and can still fall temporarily from the the grace of enlightenment and may even choose to do so in their path of compassion.
I think the author of the Heart Sutra is trying to emphasize that Buddhas live in the same world that we all do. That they are just humans but also in their complete dependence on Prajna Paramita have transformed the Three Worlds into something different, Nirvana. The third vow of the four Bodhisattva vows states; "Dharmas are inexhaustible, I vow to master them." We might think that the Dharmas are teachings of Buddhism but in this case Dharmas also refer to our moment to moment situations in life. Each moment is a challenge, will our minds cloud over with delusions and attachments or will they remain clear with the wisdom of Prajna? Even for the enlightened this is a work in progress. If there is truly something called "complete perfect enlightenment", this is when through years of practice Prajna manifests for the individual in every situation.
The Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Hui Neng, was noted for teaching "sudden enlightenment" and what he called the Buddha Path. This is nothing more then an emphasis on the enlightenment experience that Shakyamuni experienced and each of us has the potential to also experience, the experience of Avalokiteshvara presented in the Heart Sutra. Yes, this enlightenment experience is sudden but it is just a single step in a path that will take a life time. Even Shakyamuni continued to practice his whole life. Maybe it was wise that Sakyamuni did not emphasize his experience but rather the day to day work of the Eight Fold Path. The idea that there is something special to achieve becomes a barrier, on the other hand thinking there is nothing to achieve can also be a barrier, a difficult problem. The ideal of "complete perfect enlightenment" is just that, an ideal to spend a lifetime working towards.
Lastly, if we view what I have just written from the wisdom of non-duality there is only complete perfect enlightenment functioning moment to moment. It is the Universe's own complete perfect enlightenment. We humans in our ignorant striving and suffering are just the functioning of Universal wisdom, Prajna.
Now we really come to the mantra; Gyate gyate paragyate parasamgyate bodhi svaha.
This is a very special mantra as the sutra lets you know. Mantras have a special power, not a magical power but special. They work in two ways. I wrote about one of the ways mantras work in an earlier blog. The conscious and mindful repetition of a mantra will cut and de-energize the normal habits of our thoughts and emotions, and eventually the practitioner will enter a state of non-discrimination.
The second power of the mantra lies in it's meaning. Here in the West, with most mantras coming from Asia as well as our teachers of these arts, we often don't know the meaning on the individual words of the mantras and are told it doesn't really matter. It doesn't matter for that first way a mantra functions.
Sometimes our teachers tell us that it is better that we don't know a mantra's simple translated meaning but that is not correct. It is correct that the meaning of a mantra should not be allowed to disturb our practice but rather quietly sit in the back of our mind. The simple translated meaning of a mantra does not usually give a insight into the deep meaning of the mantra. That happens with practice.
When I was in my early 20's I decided to take my practice off the cushion and recite a mantra as I hiked around. I decided to use the Tibetan mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. The simple meaning of this mantra is: Om-the universal sound and beginning of most Tibetan mantras, Mani- jewel or diamond, Padme- in the lotus, Hum- the closing sound of most Tibetan mantras. I repeated this mantra as I hiked in the woods and I hiked in the city. The recitation of the mantra did not easily become a habit. My mind was always talking. The recitation of the mantra was a strain because I liked talking to myself. Eventually the recitation of the mantra became more natural. It would quickly quiet my mind and bring me into a meditative state, but I still didn't have any special insight into the meaning of this mantra I was repeating, even many years latter after I had some deep experiences meditating.
I was at a meditation retreat (sesshin) reciting the mantra when I was not in seated meditation and then the moment of insight came. A deeper meaning to the mantra became totally clear. I was experiencing the meaning of the mantra in the practice of meditation but also because I became conscious of this through the meaning of the mantra my meditation immeasurably deepened through the rest of the sesshin.
In Zen we talk about "turning words," words that bring about special insight. This insight only happens when the practitioner is ready and is activated by some words he/she hears. The words may be spoken by anybody or can even be some words that are sitting in the the back of an individual's consciousness . A mantra contains it's own turning words that is it's special power. Koans those paradoxical questions and stories asked by Zen teachers also work on the same principle as turning words. Koans can not be properly answered by "figuring them out" with our normal way of thinking, but that doesn't mean they don't make sense. They make sense when we see the world in a completely different way which the koan itself can prompt us to see. And of course turning words only work when our minds have properly ripened through practice.
Gyate, gyate, paragyate, parasamgyate, bodhi svaha!
What is the meaning of these turning words? We might translate them this way: Gone, gone, completely gone, more completely gone, wisdom awake. D T Suzuki translated them, "Gone . Gone, Gone to the other shore, landed at the other shore, gone for good." Eather translation works though Suzuki's using the Buddhist metaphor of the "other shore" though less exact hints at the deeper meaning of the mantra. The Buddhist path is likened to traveling across a river to an other shore, The river is called the "river of life." On one side we have our normal dualistic world view of a world broken up into individuals and things, We are born and we die and we suffer, Samsara. On the other side is the perspective of non-duality, with no individual things, no birth and no death, and no suffering, Nirvana. How do we get from one side to the other? What exactly is the Buddhist path?
The Prajna Paramita mantra is both a description of the Buddhist path and an instrument for its passage. "To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things." this is the Zen master Dogen's description of the Buddhist path and it differs little from the path as discribed by the mantra. To be "gone" is just to forget the self. In meditation we forget the self with each breath or each recitation of the mantra. Embracing the activities of everyday life we forget the self. We forget the self through the practices of mindfulness and concentration. We forget the self in compassion, love and generosity. Of course it is not that easy but this is what we work towards. And even if we have had a moment of completely forgetting the self and have an enlightenment experience we continue our practice of forgetting the self again and again and again.
Our whole dualistic way of thinking, our suffering, our attachments, Samsara hinges on our attachment to our idea of self. Nirvana, the other shore, is that place where all attachment to an idea of an individual self is dropped. And through that dropping of an idea of an individual self a whole new non-dualistic perspective opens. The vehicle that takes us from one shore to the other is forgetting the self.
So ends my blog on the Heart Sutra. Good Practice.