What frees one? The Truth, the Truth sets one free. Which truth? The whole truth and nothing but the truth? No, it's not that. The Enlightened One focused on Four Ennobling Truths (truths that lead to the noble state of enlightenment or awakening).
The Buddha said, pursue these for the welfare of everyone. We all know the four:
- Things are unfulfilling (they suck).
- There's a reason they are.
- There's an end to all suffering.
- There's a way to that ultimate bliss.
How did we get a "heart" sutra?
- Why did the historical Buddha and one school talk about not-self (anatta) while the other school talks so much about emptiness (suññatā)? Of course the whole world and universe are without self. In that sense they are empty. But the Buddha, rather than talking about all other things that are of this nature, focused on the most important thing: self. What is true of the universe is true of ourselves. Form (materiality) is empty, that is, devoid of "self." The very emptiness is form. Mind (mentality or the other four heaps/aggregates the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara mentions (feelings, perceptions, formations, consciousness) are also empty. What does it matter if anything is without essence or identity. I am not clinging to those things. It matters that this is without essence and identity because I am clinging to these "things" (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations like volitions, and consciousness). Better to focus on that and find release, freedom from all rebirth and suffering, moksha (liberation), enlightenment in this very life.
The Heart Sutra is about that, that one thing, that doorway, that gateless gate to freedom. What is it? What is it! First, consider what the Buddha taught. There are Three Marks or Characteristics of all states of existence. Wherever we are reborn, those worlds (including this human and deva one) are marred by these three verifiable facts:
- All states are radically impermanent (not lasting unchanged for two consecutive moments).
- All states are disappointing/unsatisfactory, incapable of finally satisfying our endless thirst).
- All states are impersonal, not-self, egoless, not me, not mine (the impossible possibility).
|The deva Avalokitesvara|
|Avalokita, Shakyamuni, Maitreya|
|Heart chakra = two interpenetrating arrows|
|There are three universal marks of existence|
|Setting: top of Vultures Peak, Rajgir, India|
One knows there is no self, but the very conventions of speech force us to speak of "us," "we," "me," "myself," and "I." Yet, now like the Buddha, we are not trapped or tripped up by these conventions. We can use them and not come under their spell.
(Note that the protagonist is a Brahmanical deity or deva, Avalokiteshvara, while putting down a "Hinayana" figure, one of the historical Buddha's most prized disciples).
- Common tradition says that he was the first cousin of the historical Buddha by their fathers. The Mahavastu states that Ananda's mother's name was Mrigi ("Little Deer"), who is named in the Kanjur and Sanghabedavastu as one of Siddhartha Gautama's harem wives (prior to his great renunciation), pointing to the possibility that Ananda is in fact the Buddha's son by a mother different than Rahula's mother [Rahulamata, Yasodhara, Bimba Devi, Ven. Bhaddakaccana. Rāhula was known to his friends as Rāhula-bhadda (Rāhula, the Lucky)]. (Wendy Garling, Stars at Dawn: Forgotten Stories of Women in the Buddha's Life, 2016, Shambhala Publications, pp. 94-106).