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 forn, no feeling, no perception, no impulse, no consciousness, no eyes no ears, no nose, no tong, 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, and also no attainment with nothing to attain.
This section of the Sutra is demarcated as the third section in our translation, and again there is a perspective shift. In the first two sections Avalokiteshvara is describing an insight coming out of deep meditation in the present moment. But now he/she steps back from direct experience in meditation and delivers a polemic based in the perspective gained from the meditative insight into emptiness. In Red Pine's book on the Hear Sutra we read that this exhaustive list of categories represents the many categories that earlier Buddhist philosophers argued over, whether this category or that category is real. But lets step back and make sure we understand what the word "Dharmas" mean. In this sutra dharma is not defined as a teaching nor as one's role in life as a modern Hindu might use the word. Dharma simply means sense object Whatever it is that we can discriminate is a dharma. Each of the categories listed in this paragraph represents a category of Dharmas. And again the list focuses on qualities of being a living being.
At first we read that all Dharmas are marked by emptiness. The qualitieless quality of emptiness means that the Dharmas are without birth or death, are not tainted nor pure nor do they increase or decrease in other words in meditation without discrimination we don't add any ideas to sensation. Sensations are just what they are and we don't turn them into any concept of a thing., we don't divide sensations into categories of this and that, and without dividing sensation into categories then the categories cease to exist.
One might think that this state of non-discrimination is just a psychological trick, propagated by skill in meditation. We all know that eyes ears noses and tongs exist, as do our bodies and minds. How else could I write this and how else could you read this? Are we to become like amoeba without any understanding and just function? No not at all. A truly deep experience of non-discrimination can show us a completely different view of the world.
I am not a scholar but I know the Sanskrit word, "sunyata" which we translate as "emptiness" has other possible translations. The Buddhist community in recent years has settled upon "emptiness" as the word to be used in translation. It acceptably describes one aspect of the experience of non-discrimination which is what the Heat Sutra is about. It describes that quality-less quality of non-discrimination but that is an incomplete description of the experience. It is incomplete because as the word non-discrimination implies there is no differentiation between this and that and so in the experience of emptiness there is also no separation, and in this no separation all is experienced as a single whole. The experience of emptiness is also an experience of non-duality.
Early morning, setting water on the stove
Not a thought of self
Does the Universe properly brew tea?
For a billion or more years life has been evolving on this planet This whole amazing show we call life is based on the motivation of individual life forms to survive and reproduce, thereby fueling the process of evolution. In the simplest life forms this "motivation" is just an energetic activity rooted in the structure of the form. It has no consciousness. Scientists have speculated that this whole process we call life only needed a single self replicating molecule to randomly form in the soup of the early oceans or atmosphere to start the whole process. In time life became much more complex and something like a sense of self, desire to live, and a fear of death became an important advantage in the competition to reproduce. Now with more then a billion years of evolution humans, with a strong idea of an individual self, desire to live, and a fear of death have evolved. But with this evolution of a strong sense of self has also evolved a consciousness, and a strong intelligence both emotional and conceptual. For untold generations the development of intelligence has server the causes of survival and reproduction but now with the evolution of humans, intelligence has grown both powerful and flexible enough that it is possible, though very difficult, for humans to see beyond our evolutionary programming for survival and reproduction.
In Buddhism we say that humans suffer because they are caught in delusion. We also say that humans suffer because of karma which is a simple way of saying that there are causes in our past that make us suffer in the present. Yes there are causes in our past that make us suffer, a billion years of evolution. And those billion years of evolution have developed a delusive way of thinking based on the illusion of an individual self. Yet through effort in meditation culminating in this experience described in the Heart Sutra we can set aside our delusive thinking and karma, experience and understand the non-dual nature of what is. Some times I think that humans are close but not quite to the cusp of an evolutionary turning point where consciousness and intelligence have become so powerful that it will be natural in some future being to experience and understand non-duality.
In non-duality we don't separate things from the larger Universe. In this not separating there is no birth and death nor good and bad, nor change and motion. In this not separating not a thing exists. And in particular as the Heart Sutra points out in this not separating not a single characteristic by which we define ourselves as individual human beings exists. This is emphasized in the sutra because the root of our delusion is the attachment to the concept of our selves as individuals. Once we deeply experience our own personal emptiness then we are open to an ever deepening experience and understanding of non-duality, and delusive thinking and attachments fall away.
Other schools of Buddhism approach insight into selflessness and non-duality in different ways. There are philosophic schools which talk a lot about causation and interdependent origination. There are schools which specifically examine the individual body, sensations, thought, emotions, and consciousness while in meditation in order to understand the emptiness of each of the five skandas. In Zen through meditation and mindfulness we clear our minds of delusive thoughts until we awaken to the absolutely clear mind of non-discrimination. In this clear mind non-duality becomes apparent and we recognize the delusion of the individual self as delusion. This experience has a depth that goes beyond just an intellectual understanding and truly has the power to transform.