Monday, June 22, 2015

The Heart Sutra EXPLAINED (new translation)

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson (eds.), Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; Edward Conze
"Light arose, knowledge arose..." the Buddha said about enlightenment (
The rapture (piti) possible through serenity meditation is bliss saturating the body like water saturating bath powder until every particle is suffused and a rich lather. Then the bliss of the first, second, and third absorptions (jhanas) comes in waves (

Reborn over and again, never knowing
The Heart Sutra is one of the best known and most chanted of all Mahāyāna Buddhist sutras. One open house when visiting the Berkeley Zen Center we played dumb and mentioned it, asking: Is anybody actually supposed to make sense of that, or is it just all "Zen" and paradoxical? It was clear the orientation leaders had no sense what it meant and confessed it probably didn't really have a meaning or at least not one that anyone knew, maybe some old masters in Japan. That was years ago, but this is the usual response. So to remedy the situation, here is what it is really talking about, what it means, what all of the odd and seemingly paradoxical statements refer to. There is a long form for people who care to read it, but this is the more popular condensed version. There are a number of standard commentaries, which look at the discourse from a variety of traditional viewpoints.

The Heart of Wisdom Sutra
Based on Edward Conze translation, edited and explained by Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, and Ven. Karunananda, Wisdom Quarterly; Buddhist terms explained by Ven. Nyanatiloka

I want to know-and-see directly, see for myself, depending on no one for what is true.

Directly seeing universal truths is liberating.
Om. All hail the perfection of wisdom, the beautiful, the enlightening!

Avalokita -- the bodhisattva ("enlightenment being" or "being bent on full enlightenment") on awakening to the liberating truth (what has gone unseen and unpenetrated throughout our endless cycling through this Round of Rebirth, the painful Wheel of Life and Death) -- was moving in the deep course of the wisdom that has gone beyond.
He looked down from on high, beheld but FIVE HEAPS, and saw that in and of themselves they were empty (impersonal, devoid of self).

Here, O Sariputra,
  • Ven. Sariputra is the historical Buddha's chief male disciple, who like the enlightened Buddhist nun Ven. Khema, was reckoned "foremost in wisdom." Here he is being held up by the Mahayana tradition as a a straw man figure in polemical debate.
form (corporeal materiality) is emptiness (impersonal, devoid of self), and the very emptiness is form (the impersonal phenomena about to be elucidated is all that form is): Emptiness (not self) does not differ from form.
Four Great Elements are properties, qualities
  • All matter, particularly this body or this present form, is composed of the Great Elements, which are impersonal. That is to say, "matter" or fundamental materiality is energy, for lack of a better word, expressed as various qualities and characteristics. These qualities are the "elements." See Four Elements Meditation by Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw for a direct experience of this ultimate truth.
Form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is emptiness, that is form.

The same is true of feelings, perceptions, mental formations (an entire category of 50 aggregates represented by "volitions," intentions, or impulses), and consciousness.

Here, O Sariputra, all things (phenomena, dharmas) are marked with emptiness (bear the characteristic mark of being impersonal); they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete (not dual).

The Brahmin's "god" Avalokita ("Lord Who Looks Down") was reinterpreted as Buddhist Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, who looks down from and hears the cries of the world. Here she is seen in Hindu form in Theravada Buddhist Thailand (Joachimleppl/flickr).
Therefore, O Sariputra, in emptiness there is:
  1. no form,
  2. nor feeling,
  3. nor perception,
  4. nor mental formation,
  5. nor consciousness.
There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind [six sense bases]; no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile things, nor objects of mind [six sense objects] (see Twelve Bases); no sight-organ mind-consciousness element.
  • These "elements" refer to the receptive material or physical base within each sense organ that actually receives sense impressions corresponding to various kinds of objects, with the base for the "mind" being in and/or around the literal heart].
There [in an ultimate sense] is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance...there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path.
There is no cognition, no attainment, and no non-attainment.
  • This is said because of the realization emphasized in earlier Vedic, Brahminical (contemporary with the Buddha), and later Hindu teaching -- which massively influence Mahayana Buddhism -- that we are perfect already. We only need to realize it. We are like diamonds covered in mud. So the goal is not to become diamonds but rather to cleanse ourselves of the mud and realize what we are. This unfortunately leads to the belief that we are already enlightened when it might be more accurate to say that the liberating Truth is true and ready to annihilate all greed, hatred, and delusion. We only need to purify the mind and realize that Truth.
How to be enlightened? By knowing-and-seeing
Therefore, O Sariputra,  it is because of one's non-attainmentness that an enlightenment-being (bodhisattva), through having relied on the perfection of wisdom, dwells without discursive thinking. In the absence of discursive thinking one is free of trembling [fourth Hindrance], one has overcome what can upset, and in the end attains to nirvana.

All those who appear as buddhas in the past, present, and future fully awake to the utmost [see conventional versus ultimate truth], right and perfect enlightenment because they have relied on the perfection of wisdom.
Avalokita is transformed into Kwan Yin.
Therefore one should know the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita) as the great mantra, the mantra of great wisdom, the utmost mantra, the unequalled mantra, allayer of all suffering, in truth -- for what could go wrong?

By the perfection of wisdom has this mantra been realized, and it runs like this:

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.
(Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, so it is!)

This completes the heart [essence, epitome] of perfect wisdom.

No comments: