my notes on the Heart Sutra

My Notes on the Heart Sutra

——This is the Heart Sutra (also called the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra) with my own notes. I’ve taken it upon myself to teach children about this sutra as part of the Dharma School’s unit on Wisdom. Given that it’s a pretty deep philosophical text, this is an ambitious goal. Taking these notes is going to be immensely helpful to me in making sure I can explain the sutra in plain language that anyone can understand. There is certainly much deeper meaning to the text than I am presenting here. And I urge anyone reading this to study this sutra deeply. I read several commentaries on the Heart Sutra, looking for one that would not be excessively difficult to explain to children. I failed to find one, so I wrote my own.

I’m using the simplest translation of the text that I could find.——

Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, meditating deeply on Perfection of Wisdom, 

——Avalokiteshvara is sometimes called Chenrezig and sometimes called Kuan Yin. Bodhisattva means enlightenment being. Avalokiteshvara is essentially the personification of compassion. Bodhisattvas are archetypes. They aren’t considered to be objectively real.——-
 

saw clearly that the five aspects of human existence are empty, and so released himself from suffering.  Answering the monk Sariputra, he said this:

——the five aspects of human existence represent what’s called the five skandhas. Buddhism teaches that we are really only a collection of five or so things and don’t really have anything that could be considered our independent self, ie a soul. We are just a collection of things and can’t really be described as individuals in any meaningful way. If we have an intuitive understanding of this then it can free us from suffering. ——

Body is nothing more than emptiness, 
emptiness is nothing more than body. 
The body is exactly empty, 
and emptiness is exactly body.

The other four aspects of human existence — 
feeling, thought, will, and consciousness — 
are likewise nothing more than emptiness, 
and emptiness nothing more than they.

——This is a description of the Buddhist concept called emptiness. It is the philosophy that nothing really exists on it’s own. Everything is dependent on numerous other things, including us. We are all intimately connected and intertwined with the world around us.——

All things are empty: 
Nothing is born, nothing dies, 
nothing is pure, nothing is stained, 
nothing increases and nothing decreases.

——This is where things get a little deeper. How could it be said that nothing is born and nothing dies? This is a little hard to wrap our heads around. When he says that nothing is born, he isn’t denying reality. He is rather emphasizing the importance of moment to moment awareness. When we investigate deeply, we notice that nothing really has a beginning or ending. Everything is intimately connected and constantly changing. When does a flower begin? When it sprouts from the ground? When the seed enters the ground? Or perhaps when the sunshine travels to the earth and feeds the flower? It’s difficult to say because the flower is so connected to other things. It is the same with us and with everything else. We tend to think of things as having concrete endings and beginnings, but, of course, reality is a lot more fluid than that.——

So, in emptiness, there is no body, 
no feeling, no thought, 
no will, no consciousness. 
There are no eyes, no ears, 
no nose, no tongue, 
no body, no mind. 
There is no seeing, no hearing, 
no smelling, no tasting, 
no touching, no imagining. 
There is nothing seen, nor heard, 
nor smelled, nor tasted, 
nor touched, nor imagined.

There is no ignorance, 
and no end to ignorance. 
There is no old age and death, 
and no end to old age and death. 
There is no suffering, no cause of suffering, 
no end to suffering, no path to follow. 
There is no attainment of wisdom, 
and no wisdom to attain.

——This is a list of the numerous things that we often become attached to. It even includes Buddhist teachings, like suffering and the cause of suffering. Avalokiteshvara is being very clear in telling Sariputra (and by extension, us) that these things don’t have inherent existence, so becoming attached to them can only be counterproductive.——

The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, 
and so with no delusions, 
they feel no fear, 
and have Nirvana here and now.

All the Buddhas, 
past, present, and future, 
rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, 
and live in full enlightenment.

——Once we recognize that things are empty of an inherent nature, then we recognize that all things are interconnected. Enlightenment is an intuitive understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. When we act with this understanding in mind, we are said to dwell in Nirvana. Deep down we are all enlightened already, we just have to clear our delusion and unleash our Buddha nature.——

The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra. 
It is the clearest mantra, 
the highest mantra, 
the mantra that removes all suffering.

This is truth that cannot be doubted. 
Say it so:

Gone, 
gone, 
gone over, 
gone fully over. 
Awakened! 
So be it!

——In teaching us the philosophies of both emptiness and interconnectedness, this sutra is supposed to be a great asset in our path to enlightenment.——

 

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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