The Heart Sutra Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita, perceived that all five skandhas in their own being are empty and was saved from all suffering.
O Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness, form. The same is true of
feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.
O Shariputra, all Dharmas are marked with emptiness.
They are without birth or death, are not
tainted, nor pure; do not increase, nor decrease. Therefore, in
emptiness no form, no feelings, no perceptions, no impulses, no
consciousness, no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no
mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of
mind, no world of eyes, through to no world of mind consciousness.
No ignorance and also no extinction of it, through to no old
age and death and also no extinction of it. No suffering, no
origination, no stopping, no path, no cognition, also no attainment,
with nothing to attain.
The Bodhisattvas depend on Prajna Paramita and their minds
are no hindrance. Without any hindrance, no fears exist. Far apart
from every deluded view they dwell in Nirvana.
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!
Hi everybody out there in Zen blog land. I thought I might start a series of blogs on the Heart Sutra. We Zen students read it all the time. Here in the Moonwater Dojo we read it three times a month which doesn't seem much but during sesshins here in Port Townsend and on Whidbey we read it several times a day. Yet if you ask most Zen students to explain it's meaning they would have a difficult time. I guess some how it is suppose to filter into our consciousness and transform us. Anyway I am going to expound on it. I am going to use the translation used by the One Drop Sangha for the most part. Here goes
Avalokiteshvara Boddhisattva while practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita, perceived that all five skandhas in their own being are empty and was saved from all suffering.
This is the first line of the Sutra as used by the Zen schools. There is a slightly longer version used by the Tibetan schools which sets up the event which becomes the Heart Sutra. In this longer version the setting for the Sutra is a gathering of monks and Bodhisattvas each practicing their individual meditation practice. The Buddha is practicing a Buddha's samadhi called "Profound Perception". We don't know exactly how the Buddha practiced meditation though a deeply experienced practitioner might have a good idea of what is the samadhi of Profound Perception. More importantly we should understand that Avalokiteshvara's practice is different from the Buddha's, maybe not as deep and he is using a mantra in meditation which will be given at the end of the Sutra. He is practicing the Prajna Paramita which we gather from the Sutra is the repetition of a special mantra. And what we read here is that something happened to Avalokiteshvara while meditating, this perception that all five Skandas are empty and that this was his/ her's enlightenment.
Who is Avalokiteshvara? Normally we should not think of Avalokiteshvara as being a real person who existed during Shakyamuni's time. Avalokiteshvara is one of those class of Bodhisattvas which in the Mahayana school of Buddhism represents certain important universal qualities. Normally Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. As the Bodhisattva of Compassion he/she manifests in various different forms. The Tibetan's believe that the Dali Lama is a incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. The Chinese have transformed Avalo into the female deity of mercy and compassion Kwan Yin. My friend and local Buddhist scholar Bill Porter tells me that Avalo was probably a pre-Buddhist Western Asian deity incorporated into Buddhism. But, here in the Heart Sutra, Avalo represents something other then compassion. And though we should realize that though the Sutra does not tell the story of a literal event we should think of it as though it is a literal event. And as such it tells the story of an Enlightenment which tells us about the essence of Enlightenment.
Avalo while representing compassion is the star of this Sutra because he/she also represents the wisdom of non-discrimination. This is not a wisdom to be gained from intellectual discourse nor the normal experiences of life. This wisdom is to only be found in the experience of non-discrimination which can be experienced in meditation. It is also the foundation wisdom where all other of the Buddhist versions of wisdom begin.
Prajna Paramita translates as "perfection of wisdom", prajna meaning wisdom and paramita meaning perfection. Prajna Paramita as a practice has the sense of a process. Avalo is in the process of perfecting his wisdom unlike a Buddha who's wisdom is complete, though of course this is just an ideal.
The Heart Sutra is one of a group of sutras called the Prajna Paramita Sutras all of which focus on the concept of "emptiness." Right away we learn that Avalo perceives that the five skandhas are empty and that this perception is the essence of enlightenment. I like the use of the word perception in this translation because it points not to emptiness as a fully intellectual concept but as an actual quality of Avalo's experience of the world and in particular the five skandhas which are the components of his own being. The emphasis here is that this is a meditative experience. Avalo was not trying to figure anything out as he sat repeating a mantra over and over with his full concentration until his perception was transformed and he clearly saw everything including himself as empty.
Here we see the essence of the Mahayana as being different from Theravada Buddhism. In Theravada Buddhism the emphasis is on a gradual process of purification in which the individual rids him/her self of passions, desires, delusions and attachments and thereby attains enlightenment when the process is complete. Here in the Heart Sutra Avalo attains enlightenment with a single insight jumping over some of the process of purification or maybe we should say jumps beyond the process of purification.
We read that Avalokiteshvara was saved from all suffering. This is how we know that this is enlightenment but being saved from suffering is different from ending all suffering. There is a story that the Buddha after his experience of enlightenment was walking to Vasili to meet his friends when he ran across a fellow sannyasin and tried to explain his experience and insight to this sannyasin. The sannyasin was not properly impressed and the Buddha had to rethink his presentation. The teachings we know as the Buddha's focus on ending suffering through the process of purification which Theravada Buddhism teaches. The ending of suffering is a very attractive teaching. But Theravada Buddhism in Asia is a monk's discipline, and one of the first steps in the practice is to be a home leaver, to drop all cares, attachments and responsibilities of the normal individual, and then work on purifying the individual mind. But then how is the normal individual with the responsibilities of life to practice and find release from suffering. This is a problem here in the West where Theravada Buddhism has become mostly a laymen's practice. Yes we can deal with individual cases of suffering through the practice of non-attachment and certainly mindfulness helps in identifying our patterns of attachment and delusive thinking. But, does this get to the root of our suffering? Is this not like trimming a tree of attachments with new branches constantly growing. Some how we need to identify and focus our cutting on the roots of our suffering.
There are other teachings in Buddhism besides meditation, mindfulness and non-attachment. One of these teachings is the Non-Atman doctrine.. This is the idea that we have no soul no self, nothing that is permanent indestructible and divine that is the core of our being as a human. I find this is the most difficult teaching in Buddhism to absorb. It deeply challenges us. If we have no-soul then what is this I which is filled with desires, passions, likes, and dislikes. And if there is no I then what is free will? Without free will what is karma? And then what happens when we die? How can we be reborn or go to heaven without a soul? I imagine that this might have been what the Buddha tried to explain to that sennyasin he met along the road.
In the Heart Sutra the concept of emptiness is the Mahayana version of non-atman, and it is insight into this which is the core of the enlightenment experience.