Heart Sutra Part II
Buddha gave three types of teachings, those spoken by his own mouth, those given by others at his command, and those given as a result of his blessing. All three types are in the Heart Sutra. A Tibetan text translated from Sanskrit always begins with the title in both Sanskrit and Tibetan.
That is done to familiarize ourselves with Sanskrit, to create a connection in future lives. All Buddhas teach in Sanskrit. It’s also done so we can remember the kindness of the translator. It’s also done so we know the teaching is trustworthy, because it came from India. In India there were strict rules on how commentaries could be composed. If it was not deemed trustworthy, it was burnt and the commentator was punished. It’s generally held by scholars that Tibetan translations are closest to the Sanskrit.
A text traditionally starts with an homage. You can discern the nature of a text from the homage. If it is Vinaya, it will pay homage to Shakyamuni Buddha. If it is abhidharma, it will pay homage to Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom. If it is sutra, it will pay homage to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. This text has a special homage to Prajnaparamita. Generally a text will have the five excellences: excellence of dharma, period, teacher, abode, and retinue. The word “once’ refers to the excellence of period, The word “Blessed One” is the excellence of teacher, “Vajra Park” is the excellence of abode, and “great gathering” is excellence of retinue. Both arhats, pratyekabuddhas on the path of training, and bodhisattvas were present when the Heart Sutra was taught.
The samadhi called profound illumination is a meditation on the emptiness of all phenomena. So Buddha was meditating on Prajnaparamita. The teaching was given by the Buddha’s blessing, which affected both Avalokiteshvara and Shariputra. When we talk about intrinsic emptiness or natural emptiness, that means phenomena don’t need to be made empty, that’s how they are. Anything that is made can be unmade, but emptiness is not made. The name Avalokiteshvara means lord who gazes on all sentient beings. A bodhisattva is a person dwelling on the first to seventh bhumis, and bodhisattva mahasattva is on the eight bhumi or above. The five aggregates are form, feeling, perception, compositional factors, and consciousness.
Form is emptiness because emptiness is not something added to form. Emptiness is form because emptiness is synonymous with cause and effect. By understanding cause and effect one understands emptiness. Without emptiness causality would be impossible. Whatever arises in dependence, like a chariot, is empty. When water becomes ice, the water does not go anywhere. A wave is inseparable from the water that makes it up.
All phenomena are unborn. Nagarjuna made this the key point for understanding emptiness. He argued all phenomena are not born from self, from other, from both, or neither. They are not born from self because it would already be present. It is not born from other, because then it would need to be born from its opposite, like light from darkness. Everything is interdependent. North depends on south, tall on short, and so on. If there were only one person you could not call them tall or short, beautiful or ugly. A car is made of parts that existed previously that are only brought together. The view of Mahamudra and Dzogchen is that of the unborn. They cannot be born from both, because both options have been refuted.
You cannot criticize phenomena as pure or impure. Suchness is not pure or impure and does not increase or decrease. The nature of mind is not decreased by afflictive emotions or increased through merit. It is like a light covered by a thick wrapping of cloth, which cannot be seen. When the cloth is unraveled the light appears. Maitreya gives nine examples of buddha nature in the Uttartantra. One is an emperor in the womb of a beggar woman. When the Dalai Lama was in his mother’s womb, she was not famous. The nature of phenomena is always the same, only our confusion obscures it.
When the sutra says “no eye, no ear…” it does not mean nothing. That would be nihilism. It means abandoning the extreme of existence. Once you understand causality, you will not fall into nihilism. That is why Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths before teaching emptiness, so his disciples would not fall into nihilism. For sight to arise, all three of eyes consciousness, the organ, and the object seen must arise together. So sight is dependent on these three. The same is true of the other senses. By eliminating ignorance, one breaks the cycle of samsara.
There is no attainment or non-attainment. Phagmodrupa sent Lingje Repa into retreat and told him to meditate on suchness. He came out of retreat and told Phagmodrupa that there was nothing needed to do to meditate on suchness. Phagmodrupa said, “it is so, it is so.”
It’s not enough to say all phenomena are empty or all things are mind. Because of force of habit, we cannot act on this understanding. We must train hard in meditation.
Padma Karpo said that the presence of mantra in the Heart Sutra is an element of tantra and shows both paths of sutra and tantra can be used to realize emptiness.
The main point is that all five aggregates and emptiness are inseparable. Emptiness is not something behind the skandhas. It is like a wave and water or ice and water. But it is not enough to understand this conceptually. The term emptiness is somewhat misleading. You don’t have to kick thoughts out of your mind when meditating. Just look at them and inquire about their nature.
The sutra ends with Buddhas words praising the teaching. The teaching itself arose from his blessing. It’s like when I talked to Chetsang Rinpoche. Before I finished my question, I understood the answer. It was so easy to understand. That was his blessing. The introduction and rejoicing are only in the Tibetan version of the Heart Sutra, not in the Chinese or Korean.
Q: Does this mean all phenomena are pure and not good or bad?
A: Yes, ultimately, but not relatively. From the relative we must distinguish between good and bad.
Q: In the Tantric precepts it is said one should not fail to subdue evil doers. How can we draw that line?
A: Sometimes from compassion we need to use forceful methods. Not do so is idiot compassion.