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LESSON ABOUT THE HEART SUTRA

by P.Taigō Spongia

January 2012

Sutra Cuore

Maka Hannya Haramita Shingyo is the 'Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom' or 'Transcendent Wisdom' or 'Wisdom that goes Beyond'.

On one single page, it condenses the 600 volumes of Praj˝a Paramita.
The Praj˝a Paramita literature developed between 200 and 400 b.C.

The Wisdom to which the title of the Sutra alludes is not the ordinary knowledge but our innate, original, intuitive connection with the Fundamental Principle which in Sanskrit is called Praj˝a.
A Wisdom that does not derive from our little mind but flows intuitively from the Great Mind, from the Cosmic Order, as Deshimaru Roshi loved to call it.
We must 'use' the Sutra, live it, do not read it as if it was an archaeological document...
The Sutras are not to be 'vivisected' with the analytical mind, but we must somehow 'breathe' their meaning.

In the prologue of the Sutra, Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha asks his Master how to obtain Perfect Wisdom and the Buddha, as an answer, asks Avalokitesvara (Kannon in Japanese) the Bodhisattva of Compassion and True Liberty to explain it for him. Buddha asks Avalokitesvara because he lives the Prajna Paramita deeply, it embodies it and is not limited to make it an object of thought - he is in unity with it.
Shariputra
listens to the Teaching, does not say a word - with a thirsty soul listens to the Master's words because the Master knows what he needs.

When we sit in Zazen (and possibly even later) we are practicing, perfecting, the Perfect Wisdom. Zazen is the great Master, he teaches us that if we discriminate on the basis of our ego we are destined to suffer.

So the Sutra opens like this:

Kan ji zai Bosa-tsu.
Gyo jin Han nya Ha ra mi ta ji.
Sho ken go on kai ku.
Do is-sai ku yaku.

'The Bodhisattva of Compassion and True Liberty practicing profoundly the Perfection of Wisdom clearly sees that the body and the Five Aggregates are nothing but emptiness, and, thanks to this realization, he overcomes suffering (he helps all beings who suffer)'

'Practicing profoundly' means being able to look beyond the surface of things. Being able to penetrate their essence by recognizing it as Empty.

The 5 Skandhas, the Sanskrit term for 'aggregates', are: Form, Sensation, Perception, Mental Formations, Consciousness (or awareness), also defined as the 5 streams or sources of existence.
Usually when we say 'me' or 'my' or 'myself' we express some idea we have about the concept of 'being'. But in the Buddha Dharma we say that there is no permanent self - no reality that can be said to be separated from the whole.
What we find and define 'ourselves' or 'someone else' is the composite result of form, sensation, perception, mental factors and consciousness. And within this composition, as well as within the individual aggregates, no separated self can be found.

'The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita clearly sees that the Five Aggregates in their essence are Empty, and, thanks to this realization, he was saved from suffering (he helps all the suffering beings).

No existence has a permanent self - it is fundamentally empty, empty precisely of a separate reality.
Emptiness, Śūnyatā, Kū 空 o Kara (a term that should be familiar to karatekas) also means interdependent.
When we prepare a cake we must combine the ingredients: flour, water, sugar, eggs, yeast ... we mix them, cook them and get the cake. That is: we say we have the cake. We eat the cake and the cake is real and the mouth with which it comes in contact, the mouth that tastes it, is real. But the cake is empty and even the mouth is empty, both are empty of an independent and separate self. What makes a cake is a mouth that tastes it, and what makes the mouth is that which is tasted.
The cake is made of its ingredients and we see it in its shape but if we think of it as an independent entity, this is an illusion.
Like anything else, the cake has a momentary existence in the form of a cake. What makes the cake in its transient manifestation are not only the ingredients but also the heat of the oven that cooked it, the table on which it was kneaded, the spoon, the hands of those who kneaded it, the sky and the earth... The cake - to manifest itself in this form -depends on everything else in the Universe. The cake is therefore a manifestation of the universal life as much as a human being is, the form is only a manifestation of the Void and the Void is nothing but form. The analogy of water and wave could also be used.
The wave is an expression of water, the wave is nothing but water and the water can only be the wave at that precise moment.
So the wave does not have its own separate entity, its 'being' is water. This is therefore what is meant when we say 'being empty': 'being full' of everything else and empty of a separate self.
When the Buddha affirms something, his opposite is also included in his statement.
Non-duality of duality.

Seeing things as they really are - impermanent and empty - is Satori, Awakening, the end of suffering.
This does not mean that you will be free from pain, life in its essence is painful, but you will learn to accept the pain, sorrow, joy, as ingredients of the cake that is our life. If we understand this - and it is an intimate, experiential understanding toward which Zazen leads us - we will know how to accept and appreciate our life whatever it takes us to meet.
This maturity is what we experience in Zazen.
In Zazen, in every moment we welcome what comes to us: there is joy and we are only joy, pain and we are only pain, with deep appreciation, bowing in Gassho.
This ability to see is the enlightenment, so we say that Zazen is the practice of enlightenment. The practice is in not discriminating, not choosing, not grasping nor rejecting.
In Hinayana Buddhism (Small Vehicle) there is an attempt to cultivate Nirvana by avoiding the Samsara (the Form). Mahayana Buddhism states that Samsara and Nirvana are unity, and liberation cannot be found outside of life and death.
The Form (Samsara) is an expression of the Void. If you want to know the Void you cannot put the Form aside. If you want to touch the Void, take care of the Form, of the Void in its manifestation.

O Shariputra, what you see is empty, empty is what you see. The phenomena are not different from Emptiness.
Emptiness is not different from phenomena (Form is nothing but Void, Void is but Form).
The phenomena become emptiness,
Emptiness becomes the phenomena;
and for the perception, the thought, the will and the conscience it is the same thing.

O Shariputra (accept !!)
every existence has the character of Emptiness.
(everything is a sign of the Void. It is empty/sign):
there is no birth nor death, there is no impurity nor purity,
there is no growth nor decline.

All dharmas have the character of Emptiness, I am empty/sign recites the Sutra. The Void is the possibility of the form. As water assumes the shape of the container so the form of the Zazen 'informs' the sensations, perceptions, thoughts that arise during Zazen. Our body and our consciousness take the form of Zazen. The form springs from the absence of form and the absence of form is the source of what is manifest, and they are unity.
Life and death are unity (Shushogi) Samsara and Nirvana cannot be separated.

O Shariputra recites the Sutra, accept all of this, accept that the nature of things is to appear and disappear and you will be free from suffering.
In this understanding and acceptance, all fears disappear.
Zazen teaches us that if we discriminate on the basis of our ego, we are destined to suffer.
Birth and death are only concepts created by the mind, and so are pure and impure. We build the idea of purity and the consequence is impurity.
The Buddha states that nothing is contaminated and nothing is immaculate. To the Emperor who asked him about the essence of the Buddha's Teaching, Bodhidharma replied: 'Kakunen Musho' 'An unfathomable emptiness and nothing sacred! "
There is nothing to improve. This life does not have a goal to achieve, it is a pure journey, a game.
To believe oneself as uprooted from the Whole (Avidya, ignorance) is at the origin of suffering. One perceives oneself as an isolated fragment in a foreign Universe because of the distorted mediation of thought. That thought which measures and divides (mind from mensura = to measure).
Although things seem to appear and disappear, nothing has actually appeared or disappeared, as the waves of the sea do not appear and disappear but move. So pure and impure: we look at the garbage and say it is impure then we look at food and say it is pure ... but in reality everything is rubbish as well as everything is pure food.
Everything is decomposing from moment to moment and from moment to moment it is coming to life. It is composed and decomposed at the same time.
Although in reality things are not pure or impure since we live in the world of the senses we must pay attention to the pure and impure so we are forced to discriminate and say: 'This is good' and 'This is bad', 'This is right and this wrong'.
In our daily life we cannot but make use of a dualistic thought, it is a necessary tool for moving in the world of form, but we must be able to see the other side. Our discrimination should not be based on our ego-centered being: I like this, I do not like that. We must learn to shift our discrimination from 'me' to 'everything' by deciding, from moment to moment, depending on what the situation requires for the good of all, not just for our benefit.
In general, when we are called to express ourselves in most situations we start from the point of view of our gain, but we have to change that perspective.

there is no growth nor decline (it does not grow/decrease)

Everything changes and transforms but, in changing, everything 'is' itself from moment to moment. Dogen Zenji says: "Wood does not become ash as ash cannot return to wood." Ash - again because of our discrimination - seems to derive from wood but in reality, wood lives the life of wood and ash the life of ash. If you could ask the ashes: 'Do you know that you were once firewood?' it would answer: 'What are you talking about? I do not know anything about firewood.' So if someone told us: 'Do you know that in the past you were a rock in a forest?' we would reply in the same way. Both points of view are necessary: things are what they are and at the same time they are in constant transformation.

Therefore in Emptiness there are neither phenomena, nor perception, nor thought, nor will, nor conscience, nor eyes, nor ears, nor nose, nor tongue, nor body, nor mind,
no colors,
no sounds,
no smells,
no tastes,
no tactile sensations,
no concepts,
nor knowable,
nor knowledge,
nor ignorance,
nor end of ignorance,
neither degeneration nor death,
nor end of degeneration and death,
neither Suffering, nor Cause, nor Cessation, nor Way,
neither wisdom,
nor profit,

nor non-profit.

The Heart Sutra is the negation Sutra: it sweeps away everything to show the essence.

In the Void there is no eye, ear-nose-language-body-mind, nor color-sound-smell-taste-tact-thought...

Without the object of vision, the eye is not an eye. In order to have the conscience there is the need of an organ and of an object, and all three, organ, object and consciousness, are interdependent. The eye, the object of sight and the conscience, together, make it possible for me to recognize this as a book. Even if we can consider it as an object, in reality there is no object that exists by itself in the common meaning of the term. The object is part of the consciousness because the consciousness "creates" the object. 'there is no nose-eye...' means that everything depends on any other. The nose is a nose because there is the smell and the olfactory conscience, so a nose is a nose but it is also the whole universe. It takes the whole Universe to have an ear. You can never really sing or dance if you do not understand this.

'No life nor death ...'
The Buddha says that there is no beginning or end to the river of life. It is circular therefore only arbitrarily can we establish a beginning and an end, but it will be an arbitrary convention. In reality we are conventionally choosing two points of a circumference.
Rebirth, which has nothing to do with the fear of dying that makes us hope to reincarnate, is the transformation of energy into other forms. Sometimes, it is likened to lighting a candle with another.
We can say that one flame is born from the other but we cannot say that it is the same flame. It is a continuous transformation in which nothing can really be held back. The cause of suffering lies in trying to hold back the flow of life.

For the Bodhisattva, thanks to the Perfection of Wisdom that leads beyond (without the veil of the mind), there are neither obstacles nor fear; illusion and attachment are removed, and thus it is possible to reach Nirvana.

All the Buddhas of the three Temples, thanks to the Perfection of Wisdom, obtain the complete Awakening. One could also say it this way: 'With nothing to obtain a Bodhisattva is based on the Praj˝a Paramita and the mind is no longer an obstacle'.
Practice and Realization coincide (Shu Sho Ichinyo) We do not go to school to learn enough in order to go to university and then find a good job to support a family and so on... And we do not eat to defecate, Sawaki Roshi said, speaking to university students. In practice, the 'purpose' is to go back to where you are. There is no place to go. Awakening is being where you are, fully, and allowing your enlightened mind to express itself.

So it is Full of Enchantment the Mantra,
Full of Wisdom the Mantra, Supreme Mantra,
Uncomparable Mantra, not false, it will save from any misery, the Perfect Wisdom.

The Mantra unfolds and says:

Gyate(i) Gyate (i)
Hara Gyate(i), Hara so Gyate(i)
Boji Sowaka

Going, going,
going together beyond,
going beyond the beyond,
up to the Satori.
Sutra of the Heart of Wisdom.

The Sutra therefore ends with a Mantra:

Gyate (i) Gyate (i)
Hara Gyate (i),
Hara so Gyate (i)
Boji Sowaka

or
Gate, Gate
Paragate,
Parasamgate
Bodhi Svaha

Which is defined: Supreme Mantra, Mantra of Wisdom. This Mantra favors absorption or concentration (a pure wind that drives away thoughts). But in reality, in the 600 volumes of Praj˝a Paramita there are no Mantras so we should ask ourselves why the Heart Sutra ends with a Mantra. Our life in the practice is a Mantra. Repetition, exercise, in the concentration of the practice, is not something 'repetitive', just like reciting a Mantra is not 'repetition'. An energetic dynamism is created from this return to Zero through the form and this return to Zero generates a spiritual power. The daily program of a dojo, of a Sesshin, is a Mantra. Through the powerful, dynamic Mantra of the form, the Prajna Paramita manifests itself and can be experienced. When we offer an incense stick, we invite Praj˝a to permeate our practice, we invite the Buddha to join us. Our life has a rhythm, however crude or evolved it may be, and this rhythm is a Mantra. It is up to us to choose which Mantra we want to recite in our life. 'Gone, gone ...' gone from matter, from the body, from the tangible, from life and death, beyond the mind and the thought, beyond the 'self', the ego, 'gone completely beyond': he returned at home, What an awakening! What a joy!
Going constantly 'beyond' must become the way to lead our lives, beyond any name and form. This could be the message, condensed in a few words, of the whole Teaching of the Buddha. You are a Buddha, and if you do not recognize yourself as such, you will suffer.

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