Posted in ch'an, zen

Our Empty Nature

Form is Emptiness,
Emptiness is Form.

That’s what the Heart Sutra said. Emptiness is all, from the very beginning.

We have to dig through and penetrate all of our delusions to really get at the truth of things. We have to put down our baggage and habitual thought patterns. We have to let go of who we thought we were. Because that’s not who we are.

Only then can we dwell in our true nature, which is emptiness.

Our true nature isn’t our history; we aren’t what happened to us.

Our true nature isn’t our weaknesses; we aren’t defined by our flaws.

Our true nature isn’t the circumstances of our birth; we aren’t defined by our heritage, status, or nationality.

Our true nature is emptiness, the source of all things, a vast field of boundless possibility that transcends all of the dualistic filters through which we see the world.

When we sit and develop awareness: settling our thoughts, stilling the mind, we can dwell in wonder and wakefulness. We can engage our true nature right now.

 

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

The Heart Sutra: A Meditation Guide

 

The Prajnaparamita Hridyam Sutra is a short text; it is about the length of a page.

But it’s a very deep text. It’s title means The Great Heart of Transcendent Wisdom Sutra, but we usually just shorten it to Heart Sutra.

It’s part of the Prajnaparamita school of texts, along with the Diamond Sutra and a few others. These are called the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ texts and they are considered by many to be the greatest works of the Mahayana.

Prajnaparamita means Transcendent Wisdom of the Other Shore. The Prajnaparamita School presented a new goal for Buddhist practice: achieving Buddhahood, rather than simply attaining Nirvana and escaping the wheel of birth and death. This is the ideal of the Bodhisattva instead of that of the Arhat. This is enlightenment in the midst of the world, rather than escaping it. Prajna is considered the highest virtue.

Prajna teachings are based on wisdom and emptiness.

This Sutra challenges us, in our meditation practice, to face duality, profound and relative truths, impermanence and emptiness.

It’s a beloved text and can be used as a guide of advanced meditation practices. It’s considered such an important sutra that it’s chanted in Zen temples every day all over the world.

It’s a dialogue, as a lot of sutras are. In this Sutra Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion is giving teachings to a monk named Shariputra.

Here is the text (1):

The noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,
while practicing the deep practice of Prajnaparamita, looked upon the five skandhas
and seeing they were empty of self-existence,
said, “Here, Shariputra,
form is emptiness, emptiness is form;
emptiness is not separate from form,
form is not separate from emptiness; whatever is form is emptiness,
whatever is emptiness is form.
The same holds for sensation and perception,
memory and consciousness.
Here, Shariputra, all dharmas are defined by emptiness not birth or destruction, purity or defilement,
completeness or deficiency.
Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no memory and no
consciousness;
no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind; no shape, no sound, no smell, no taste, no feeling
and no thought;
no element of perception, from eye to conceptual
consciousness;
no causal link, from ignorance to old age and death,
and no end of causal link, from ignorance to old age and death; no suffering, no source, no relief, no path;
no knowledge, no attainment and no non-attainment. Therefore, Shariputra, without attainment,
bodhisattvas take refuge in Prajnaparamita
and live without walls of the mind.
Without walls of the mind and thus without fears,
they see through delusions and finally nirvana.
All buddhas past, present and future
also take refuge in Prajnaparamita
and realize unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.
You should therefore know the great mantra of Prajnaparamita, the mantra of great magic,
the unexcelled mantra,
the mantra equal to the unequalled,
which heals all suffering and is true, not false,
the mantra in Prajnaparamita spoken thus:
“Gate, gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha.”

 

Just meditation on this text can blow our minds wide open.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

This challenges our notion of duality. Our minds like to put things into nice neat little categories that don’t often match reality. This Sutra challenges the idea that even existence and non-existence are two separate and distinct things.

No attainment and nothing to attain

Buddhist sutras remind us over and over that we’re walking the path in order to penetrate our delusion, not to attain something. Enlightenment isn’t something we gain. It’s our true nature, we just have to uncover it.

But the text also tells us that these teachings can take us to enlightenment. It tells us to “take refuge in Prajnaparamita and live without walls of the mind.” Cultivating this transcendent wisdom is a path to enlightenment.

A lot is made of that last line, which is usually left untranslated because it’s a mantra and we usually chant mantras in the original language.

“Gate, gate, paragate, parasangate, Bodhi svaha.”

“Gone, gone, gone beyond, fully gone beyond, enlightened so be it.”

Footnote

  1. Porter, Bill. The Heart Sutra: Translation and Commentary. (Berkeley, California: Counterpoint Books, 2004)

 

Posted in altar sutra

Altar Sutra: On Prajna: Part 1

On Prajna (Wisdom)

One day, after reciting the Heart Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng gave the following teaching:
The great seed of Awakening is within all of us. It is because our minds are under delusion that we fail to realize this. This is why we seek advice and guidance from Masters and Teachers
The truth is there is no difference between an Enlightened being and an ignorant one. The only difference is that an Enlightened being sees their own true nature.

Now, let’s talk about the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra so each of us can engage with wisdom.

Several things going on here. The Master is talking about the concept of Buddha nature. This is a traditional Mahayana Buddhist teaching that we are all awakened already, that Enlightenment isn’t something we are seeking, it’s just that we are trying to see through our delusion to see our Enlightened nature underneath. The Mahaprajnaparaimta Sutra is the Sutra of Great Transcendental Wisdom. We’ll talk more about that a little later.

Those who talk about wisdom all the time don’t know that wisdom is inherent in our nature. Talking about food won’t make you full when you’re hungry. Just so, talking about wisdom will not make you wise. We can sit and talk about Emptiness forever, but talking will not make us realize our fundamental nature. It’s pointless.

This is similar to a line from another famous Chinese spiritual text, the Tao Te Ching. “The way that can be spoken of is not the true way.” That is, once we start speaking, we have probably missed the point. The truth is beyond the language we can use to talk about it. Bodhidharma, the first Chinese Patriarch called it, “Beyond words and letters. Emptiness here means we are without inherent self nature. That is, there is no part of us that is really separate from the world around us. Our nature is oneness.

‘Mahaprajnaparamita’ is a Sanskrit word. It means Great Transcendental Wisdom.
We have to put Transcendental Wisdom into practice.Just reciting the teachings of Mahaprajnaparamita without putting them into practice is like a phantom, a delusion, a flash of lightning.

This reminds me of this quote from Ikkyu: ‘Like vanishing dew, a passing apparition or the sudden flash of lightning– already gone — thus should one regard one’s self,’

When we simply recite the teachings, we aren’t doing much good. We have to embody the teachings. Don’t study the Buddha. Be the Buddha.

The Buddha outside isn’t the true Buddha. The true Buddha is within.

Maha means ‘great’. The abilities of the mind are great. What lies within us is infinite, neither long nor short, neither happy nor sad, neither good nor evil.

Our true nature is Emptiness and there is really nothing to be attained. The Essence of our minds is the absolute void.

When I talk about Emptiness, don’t think in terms of nothingness or annihilation. We shouldn’t fall into this idea because then we could begin to think that nothing matters.

A very common mistake people make when they start learning about Buddhism. Buddhism is not nihilism. I think of Emptiness as being vast and open, like the sky.

The void we are talking about is capable of containing many things of various shape and size. The void
contains the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth.

The void contains all of these. So do we.

This echoes a quote by Rumi, the famous Muslim mystic:
‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop’

We call our true nature great because it contains all things. All things are within our nature. When we see the behavior of others, we must not be attached to it, so that our minds can be as void as the sky. In this way, we can say our minds are great. So, we use the word Maha.
The ignorant talk about it and the wise put it into practice.
The mind is great in capacity because it is one with everything.

When our minds work without being clouded by hindrance, to ‘come’ or to ‘go’ then we are dwelling in a state of ‘Prajna’, wisdom.

All wisdom comes from within ourselves.

Once we understand the essence of our minds, we can be free from delusion.

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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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The Heart Sutra: my translation

The Heart Sutra

as translated by Daniel ‘Dharmavirya’ Scharpenburg

  

The Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom.

 

When the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
was meditating deeply in great wisdom,
he discovered the emptiness of all things,
thereby transcending all suffering.

He said to his student,


Sariputra, everything is the same as nothing

and nothing is the same as everything.
Everything is precisely nothing and nothing precisely everything.
So also are sensation, perception, will, and consciousness.
Sariputra, this voidness of all dharmas
it has no beginning nor does it have an ending,
not impure, not pure, does not increase or decrease.
In voidness there is no form,
and no sensation, perception, will or consciousness;
no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
no sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought;
there is no realm of the vision
all the way up to no realm of awareness.
There is no ignorance and there is no knowledge
through to no aging and death and no ending of birth and life.
There is no suffering, no cause of suffering,
no end of suffering, and no path.
There is no wisdom nor any attainment.
With nothing to attain, Bodhisattvas relying on great wisdom
have no delusions in their minds.
Having no delusions, there is no fear
and departing far from confusion and delusion,
they unleash their Buddha nature.
All past, present and future Buddhas,
relying on transcendent wisdom, attain Enlightenment.
Therefore, know that transcendent wisdom
is the great mantra of power,
the great mantra of wisdom, the supreme mantra,
the mantra with no equal,
which is able to remove all sufferings from delusion.
It is real and not false.
Therefore recite the mantra of Transcendent Wisdom:
Going, going, going on beyond, always going. Always becoming a Buddha!”