Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Heart Sutra - Compassion and the Cessation of Suffering (Part 5 of 5)


Last week’s post left just two questions outstanding: One, what does the realization of emptiness have to do with the cessation of suffering; and, two, how is it that the realization of emptiness gives rise to compassionate action? In order to focus more completely on these questions, I’ll change the format of this final post in the Heart Sutra series just a little bit by concentrating on Rosan Yoshida roshi’s translation at the beginning and then presenting the three translations in full at the close of this post.



Recall that we left off last week with the realization that, with respect to ultimate reality, even the Four Noble Truths are empty; and there is nothing, not even knowledge, to be gained. After all, our conception of knowledge presupposes a knower and a known, and our conception of gain requires that something with a determinable identity enjoy some enhancement of some kind. Clearly this is all solidly in the mundane realm where qualitative and quantitative judgments still have meaning. The mundane realm, however, is precisely what we seek to transcend. Let’s begin again by examining the remainder of the Heart Sutra as translated by Yoshida (1979). Passage breakouts are those utilized by Conze (1959, p. 163) and are noted by the ‘+’ symbol:



“The concrete embodiment and practical basis of emptiness” +



Therefore, in no grasping one lives in no mind-hindrance,

relying on the Prajnaparamita of Bodhisattvas.

Because there is no mind hindrance, and no fear,

one settles in Nirvana,

transcending the perverted views.



“Full emptiness is the basis also of Buddhahood” +



All the Buddhas residing in the three times

are awakened to the unsurpassed right Awakening,

relying on the Prajnaparamita.



“The teaching brought within reach of the comparatively unenlightened” +



Therefore, know the Prajnaparamita,

the Great Mantra, the Great Wisdom Mantra,

the Unsurpassed Mantra, the Peerless Mantra,

which brings cessation of all sufferings;

which is true, as it is not false.

The Mantra in the Prajnaparamita is uttered thus:

Gate * Gate Para-Gate * Para-Sam-Gate Bodhi Svaha.

Thus ends the heart of Prajnaparamita.



Translated by Yoshida (1979)





The Realization of Emptiness Gives Rise to Compassion



Therefore, in no grasping one lives in no mind-hindrance,

relying on the Prajnaparamita of Bodhisattvas.



In other words, in relying on the perfection of insight – the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena – one lives in a state of wholeness and completeness, not desiring anything; and in this state without desire one is able to enjoy complete freedom of mind. Perhaps we can relate just a little bit to this state. There are times, aren’t there, when our appetites are perfectly sated, when we’re warm and dry and clothed and fed, when we’re neither bored nor over-stimulated, when we’re neither worried about the future nor ruminating over the past, when we’re neither longing to be with ‘someone else’ nor wishing to enjoy ‘our’ solitude, when thoughts of what we should be doing or could be doing have all fallen by the wayside and we’re simply attending wholeheartedly to that which we are doing? And isn’t it the case that when we’re enjoying such a state our minds have a seemingly limitless capacity for concentration, deep reflection, and penetrating insight? Usually, we’re expending such an incredible amount of psychic energy dealing with (or merely worrying about) all the myriad issues related to making sure this small self is safe and comfortable that we can’t help but remain mired in our own karmic mud.



So what happens, anyway, as we lift our heads up out of our karmic mud (even if only briefly) and experience the emptiness conveyed by the Heart Sutra? Those who are still thinking of emptiness in a nihilistic way might think of this experience as one characterized by complete freedom from rules, constraints, and social mores – freedom that would lead to the embrace of anarchy or chaos as the individual, finally unloosed from all restraining influences (gosh, even the most profound, guiding teachings of the wisest amongst us are empty!), begins to act as they and they alone see fit. Recall, however, that the experience of emptiness is one of wholeness and completeness, without desire for anything. This state of wholeness and completeness is one in which the small self has been transcended and reality is seen in all of its integrated, interconnected, and unified glory. Thich Nhat Hanh (1988) refers to this integration and interconnectedness as interbeing.



When we experience reality in this way – having relinquished the small-self separation of reality into subject and object – we become moved to act on behalf of the integrated whole which has now become more real to us than that tiny piece of the whole that we used to identify with (the small self). We see how harming another is merely harming the whole of which ‘we’ are but a part. Thus, harming another is merely harming ‘our’ self. We see the fleeting nature of ‘our’ lives; we see that ‘each of us’ is merely seeking to be happy; we see how ‘each of us’ is merely striving to actualize ‘our’ true nature – in whatever muddled fashion that karma nudges ‘us’ to adopt. Given this reality regarding the experience of emptiness, there is no longer any need for any rules or laws or mandates in order to ensure that we act in the greater good. There does not need to be a judging God at the end of ‘our’ road in order to keep us from doing harm; there does not need to be the threat of a lower birth in some reincarnated form in order to nudge us toward goodness. It’s not that we have risen above the mundane world (recall that nothing has been attained); it’s not that we can act with impunity (recall Hyakujo’s admonition that the enlightened individual “does not ignore causation” – Sekida, 1977, p. 31); rather, it is the case that our desire (now more accurately viewed as aspiration) has become perfectly in accord with the needs of the whole of reality. This is how the realization of emptiness gives rise to compassion.



The Realization of Emptiness Gives Rise to the Cessation of Suffering



Because there is no mind hindrance, and no fear,

one settles in Nirvana,  transcending the perverted views.



I think we’ve all enjoyed at least a little glimpse of the freedom of mind that arises when we’re in such a state of contentment or acceptance – without grasping for anything; it’s just that for most of us these states are, oh, so very brief! Imagine what it must be like to live in such a state of wholeness and completeness rather than merely briefly enjoying it. In such a state, this freedom of mind would remain even as circumstances change. After all, whatever new circumstances might present themselves would be accepted just as wholeheartedly and completely as the previous circumstances had been accepted – without any longing for what had been, nor yearning for something new.



What is fear, after all, but a concern that things will turn out in some ‘unacceptable’ way? But there is no longer any ‘unacceptable’ way; everything is accepted wholeheartedly and completely. Thus, with perfect freedom of mind, and fearlessness, one settles in Nirvana. Rosan Yoshida roshi refers to Nirvana as the “no wind” or “windless state”. In his teachings he often describes Nirvana as being like when a candle flame is burning straight and tall, without flickering – illuminating the entire world without shadow. Nivana can also be thought of as “unconditioned peace” – peace that does not depend on any particular conditions for its existence. (Please also see the blog post titled Unconditioned Peace.) So it is that the realization of emptiness gives rise to the cessation of suffering.



Oh, and just what are these perverted views, anyway? Conze (1967) notes that translators sometimes prefer to think of these views as being “inverted” or “upside-down” rather than perverted; perhaps “wrong notions” is more descriptive (p. 40). In Conze’s translation he refers to “transcending perverted views” as “overcoming what can upset” (1959, p. 163). Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as being “[liberated] forever from illusion” (1988, p. 1). However we refer to these views, the first three of them are rooted in our failure to recognize the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering, and the emptiness of self. The fourth, essentially related to seeking pleasure in worldly things, might encompass sexual relations, the eating of flesh, or any other practices that stir up the senses, cause harm, and keep one from settling into that aforementioned peace beyond causes and conditions. This practitioner sees the inclusion of this fourth view as an attempt to provide specific behavioral guidance. I contend that complete comprehension of the three marks of existence would in and of itself provide guidance regarding the seeking of pleasure in worldly things. (Note: lay practitioners who have not chosen a celibate path are just going to have to come to grips with this one on their own!) Conze (1967) summarizes these perverted views as misguided attempts to find “(1) permanence in what is essentially nonpermanent, (2) ease in what is inseparable from suffering, (3) selfhood in what is not linked to any self, and (4) delight in what is essentially repulsive and disgusting” (p.40).



Now, lest we be tempted to narrowly interpret this fourth perverted view as speaking only to monastics, those who might need specific encouragement regarding how to deal with their naturally arising sexual urges, for instance, let’s consider it in a much broader way. Have you not been disgusted to learn that the running shoes and clothing that you wear were manufactured in some sweatshop with abysmal working conditions – perhaps utilizing child labor? Have you not been repulsed to learn of the harm caused to indigenous people in the course of the extraction of natural resources (so-called blood diamonds, crude oil extraction in Nigeria, mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, the so-called fracking method of natural gas extraction)? Have you not gotten queasy after reading what happens to our coveted computers and other personal electronics when they get recycled by individuals with little recourse working in wretched industrial encampments thick with the toxic stench of burned off plastics and insulation and the toxic soup of the extraction chemicals utilized? It would seem then that, notwithstanding how we might consider this fourth perverted view’s relevance to lay practitioners seeking guidance in our sexually liberated modern world, there are plenty of opportunities for us to examine how we take delight in that which is “essentially repulsive and disgusting.”





Emptiness is the Basis of Buddhahood



All the Buddhas residing in the three times

are awakened to the unsurpassed right Awakening,

relying on the Prajnaparamita.



This passage ensures us of the universality of the Awakening resulting from our understanding of this teaching. All the Buddhas that have ever been or will ever be have awakened to this truth of shunyata – emptiness.



The Mantra in the Prajnaparamita



Therefore, know the Prajnaparamita,

the Great Mantra, the Great Wisdom Mantra,

the Unsurpassed Mantra, the Peerless Mantra,

which brings cessation of all sufferings;

which is true, as it is not false.



A mantra serves as a centering device – a word or phrase that is intended to facilitate entrance into a meditative state. According to Schuhmacher & Woerner (1994), a mantra is “a power-laden syllable or series of syllables that manifests certain cosmic forces and aspects of the buddhas… Continuous repetition of mantras is practiced as a form of meditation in many Buddhist schools” (p. 220). This is why Conze (1959) refers to this passage as “the teaching brought within reach of the comparatively unenlightened” (p. 163). One need not be particularly well-versed in the teachings of Buddhism, or learned in any worldly way, or even literate, in order to become immersed in this most profound of teachings. It is almost certainly the case that many practitioners chanting the Heart Sutra have not yet grasped its full meaning, and yet the meditative aspects of reciting it are an important aspect of practice. Indeed, the rhythmic chanting, accompanied by the tock, tock, tocking of the wooden fish drum does tend to facilitate entrance into a deep meditative state.



The Mantra in the Prajnaparamita is uttered thus:

Gate * Gate Para-Gate * Para-Sam-Gate Bodhi Svaha.



Gate is Sanskrit for gone. Para is a Sanskrit word encompassing the concepts of: far, distant, remote, beyond, on the other or farther side of, final, last, exceeding (in number or degree), superior, highest, supreme, chief, remotest distance, and highest point or degree. Thus, it is clear that this mantra is intended to reference or serve as the path to Complete Awakening, or Buddhahood. “Gone, gone, gone beyond” as Conze translates.



Sam is a Sanskrit word that is as delightfully ambiguous in Sanskrit as it is in English, we shall see. On one hand we could read sam as referring to the thoroughness, intensity, or completeness of this awakening. On another level, however, we can read in sam the allusion to this awakening being together with or along with all beings. I asked Rosan Yoshida roshi about this ambiguity and he confirmed what I had suspected – that this awakening, in keeping with the bodhisattva vow and our understanding of emptiness, is together with all beings. “Gone, gone, gone beyond. Gone altogether beyond” as Conze (1959) translates (my added emphasis). How can we not close such a mantra with an exclamation as to its profundity? Bodhi (awakening) and svaha (an exclamation) thus complete the mantra with the inclusion of, in Conze’s translation, “O what an awakening. All Hail!”



Thus ends the heart of Prajnaparmita.

  

I sincerely hope that this exploration of the Heart Sutra is helpful at least in some small way toward your understanding of this important teaching. It certainly has furthered my understanding. Please recall that way back at the beginning of this series I had posed some possible interpretations of the meaning of the fish carved into the mokugyo (wooden fish drum) used in the chanting of the Heart Sutra. I had expressed my enjoyment of the interpretation that the fish symbolize ease of movement and an inability to drown in this ocean of suffering – samsara. I am even more convinced of the appropriateness of this symbolism as I contemplate the depths of fearlessness and compassion imparted by a true and complete understanding of the emptiness spoken of in this Heart Sutra. We truly can learn to navigate this samsaric existence as fish swimming freely in a great ocean. Thank you all for reading. Here are the complete translations of the texts that have been referenced only in part up until now. I am exceedingly grateful for the scholarship of these translators:



Rosan Yoshida’s translation via the Missouri Zen Center website:



The Sutra of the Heart of Great Perfection of Insight



The Venerable Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,

when carry’ng out the profound Prajnaparamita career,

penetrated through the five aggregates

and saw that they are Shunya in their nature.

Here, Shariputra, Form is Shunyata; Shunyata is Form.

Form does not differ from Shunyata;

Shunyata does not differ from Form.

That which is Form is Shunyata;

That which is Shunyata is Form.

The very same applies to feeling, idea,

formations and consciousness.

Here, Shariputra, all Dharmas are marked with Shunyata;

neither originated nor destroyed;

neither defiled nor undefiled;

neither decreased nor increased.

Therefore, Shariputra, in Shunyata,

no form, no feeling, no idea, no formation,

no consciousness;

no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind;

no form, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind-object;

no eye-realm and so forth

until no mind-consciousness-realm;

no nescience, no extinction of nescience,

and so forth until no old age and death;

no extinction of old age and death;

no suffering, origination, cessation, path;

no knowledge, no grasping.

Therefore, in no grasping one lives in no mind-hindrance,

relying on the Prajnaparamita of Bodhisattvas.

Because there is no mind hindrance, and no fear,

one settles in Nirvana,  transcending the perverted views.

All the Buddhas residing in the three times

are awakened to the unsurpassed right Awakening,

relying on the Prajnaparamita.

Therefore, know the Prajnaparamita,

the Great Mantra, the Great Wisdom Mantra,

the Unsurpassed Mantra, the Peerless Mantra,

which brings cessation of all sufferings;

which is true, as it is not false.

The Mantra in the Prajnaparamita is uttered thus:

Gate * Gate Para-Gate * Para-Sam-Gate Bodhi Svaha.

Thus ends the heart of Prajnaparamita.



Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation via The Heart of Understanding:



The Heart of the Prajnaparamita



The Bodhisattva Avalokita,

while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding,

shed light on the five skandhas

and found them equally empty.

After this penetration, he overcame all pain.

Listen, Shariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form,

form does not differ from emptiness,

emptiness does not differ from form.

The same is true with feelings, perceptions,

mental formations, and consciousness.

Hear, Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness;

they are neither produced nor destroyed,

neither defiled nor immaculate,

neither increasing nor decreasing.

Therefore, in emptiness

there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perception,

nor mental formations, nor consciousness;

no eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind,

no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,

no object of the mind;

no realms of elements (from eyes to mind-consciousness);

no interdependent origins and no extinction of them

(from ignorance to old age and death);

no suffering, no origination of suffering,

no extinction of suffering, no path;

no understanding, no attainment.

Because there is no attainment,

the bodhisattvas, supported by the Perfection of Understanding,

find no obstacles for their minds.

Having no obstacles, they overcome fear,

liberating themselves forever from illusion

and realizing perfect Nirvana.

All Buddhas in the past, present, and future,

thanks to this Perfect Understanding,

arrive at full, right, and universal Enlightenment.

Therefore, one should know that the Perfect Understanding

is a great mantra, is the highest mantra,

is the unequaled mantra, the destroyer of all suffering,

the incorruptible truth.

A mantra of Prajnaparamita should therefore be proclaimed.

This is the mantra:

“Gate gate paragate parsamgate bodhi svaha.”



Edward Conze’s translation via Buddhist Scriptures:



Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the lovely, the holy!



Avalokita, the holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving

in the deep course of the wisdom which has gone beyond.

He looked down from on high, he beheld but five heaps,

and he saw that in their own-being they were empty.

Here, O Sariputra, form is emptiness,

and the very emptiness is form;

emptiness does not differ from form,

form does not differ from emptiness;

whatever is form, that is emptiness,

whatever is emptiness, that is form.

The same is true of feelings, perceptions,

impulses, and consciousness.

Here, O Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness;

they are not produced nor stopped,

not defiled or immaculate,

not deficient or complete.

Therefore, O Sariputra, in emptiness

there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse

nor consciousness;

no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;

no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables,

or objects of the mind;

no sight-organ-element, and so forth,

until we come to: no mind-consciousness-element;

there is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance,

and so forth until we come to: 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.

Therefore, O Sariputra, it is because of his indifference

to any kind of personal attainment that a Bodhisattva,

through having relied on the perfection of wisdom,

dwells without thought-coverings.

In the absence of thought-coverings he has not been made to tremble,

he has overcome what can upset,

and in the end he attains to Nirvana.

All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time

fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment

because they have relied on the perfection of wisdom.

Therefore one should know the Prajnaparamita as the great spell,

the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell,

the unequalled spell, allayer of all suffering,

in truth – for what could go wrong?

By the Prajnaparamita has this spell been delivered.

It runs like this:

Gone, Gone, Gone beyond, Gone altogether beyond.

O what an awakening. All Hail!

This completes the Heart of Perfect Wisdom.



_/|\_





References



Anguttara Nikaya 10.92. Vera sutta: animosity (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Tr.). Access to Insight, 4 July 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.092.than.html

Blum, M. (2001). Buddhism: The illustrated guide (ed. Trainor, K.). Oxford University Press, Inc.

Conze, E. (1954). Buddhist texts through the ages (ed. Conze, E.). Harper Torchbooks, The Cloister Library.

Conze, E. (1959). Buddhist scriptures. Penguin Books.

Conze, E. (1967). Buddhist thought in India. Ann Arbor Paperbacks. University of Michigan Press.

Nhat Hanh, T. (1988). The heart of understanding: Commentaries on the prajnaparamita heart sutra. Parallax Press.

Peacock (2001). Buddhism: The illustrated guide (ed. Trainor, K.). Oxford University Press, Inc.

Rahula, W. (1959). What the Buddha taught. Grove Press, New York.

Sangharakshita, Bikshu (1980). A survey of Buddhism, 5th edition. Shambhala Publications, Inc. in association with Windhorse Publications.

Schuhmacher, S., Woerner, G. (1994). The encyclopedia of Eastern philosophy and religion. Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Sekida, K. (1977). Two Zen classics – Mumonkan and Hekiganroku (ed. Grimstone, A. V.) Weatherhill, Inc.

Skilton, A. (1994). A concise history of Buddhism. Barnes and Noble, Inc. by arrangement with Windhorse Publications.

Snelling, J. (1991). The Buddhist handbook: A complete guide to Buddhist schools, teaching, practice, and history. Barnes and Noble, Inc. by arrangement with Inner Traditions International.

Trainor, K. (2001). Buddhism: The illustrated guide (ed. Trainor, K.). Oxford University Press, Inc.

Watson, B. (1993). The Lotus Sutra (tr. Watson, B.). Columbia University Press, New York.

Yoshida, R. (1979). Sutra of the heart of great perfection of insight (tr. Yoshida, R.). Missouri Zen Center website.

Yoshida, R. (1994). No self: A new systematic interpretation of Buddhism. The World Sacred Text Publishing Society – Tokyo.



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Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank

1 comment:

  1. Insightful and thought-provoking. Great end to a series! Looking forward to whatever topic you decide to write about next!

    Kristen

    ReplyDelete