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June 29, 2017

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clyde: The HS is a late bloomer and can be a very confusing flower at that, especially, for those who don't know the terminology as well as they should. Take for example the pericope "Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form...". Form is always regarded to be like a lump of foam. As Asanga puts it, form or rupa has arisen from the element of water, appearing as the atman (buddha-nature) but is actually not the atman (aggregates are conditioned and never the atman; moreover, they are Mara the killer). Next, "Emptiness verily is form." According to Vimalamitra this means the emptiness of the city of gandharvas, hence, also the emptiness of a dream, of the moon in the water, etc. Keeping this in mind, beginners seize upon this particular section as meaning, the aggregates are made of emptiness which is the absolute of Buddhism! So not only has our beginner reified form (including the rest of the aggregates) but he is reifying emptiness. Our poor beginner is embodied in the psychophysical skandhas so that nothing he beholds or thinks about is other than a deceptive illusion and a rebirth trap. So the teacher now has to awaken him from this illusion that he was born into (thanks mom and dad). This is no easy task. The teacher has to destroy the personhood (the aggregates) of the student, suddenly, so that only the atman/buddha-nature remains. Not easy.

Regarding the significance of the Heart Sutra, according to Lopez, “Perhaps no other Buddhist text, in either speech or writing, has been more popular than the Heart Sutra.” And “It is recited daily in Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean temples and monasteries”. While other sutras (e.g. – the Diamond Sutra) certainly were influential on Chan and I can’t/won’t argue the ordering of significance, I don’t think one can easily dismiss the Heart Sutra.

That beginners misunderstand “emptiness” is no surprise (I did.) and not a problem unique to the Heart Sutra.

I raised the teaching of the Heart Sutra, not to debate its form or historicity, but in refutation of the notion that “Buddhism is monism”. My understanding is that monism (or Mind) is a dharma – and empty.

clyde: I am not aware that the HS played any significant part in the formation of Chan. The two most important discourses are the Lankavatara and the Diamond. But there are others such as the Avatamsaka. In Sotoshu it is chanted but that is not to suggest that it was important to Chan masters. I don't care for it because beginners come away from it believing "emptiness" is the absolute; that the five skandhas are made of this mysterious emptiness, for example, "form is emptiness"! That is wrong. In Buddhism the five skandhas are never other than conditioned which belong to Mara the killer. They are regarded this way: Form is like a lump of foam, feeling like a water bubble; perception is like a mirage; volitions like a plantain trunk, and consciousness is like an illusion.

I was not familiar with Donald Lopez’s Elaborations On Emptiness (“EOE”) , so I did some research. Based on my reading of book reviews and of his Introduction in the book (Thank you Amazon for the Kindle “preview”.), his book seems to be a scholarly review of the Heart Sutra and Indian and Tibetan commentaries, with commentary by the author. While scholarly analysis has value, I was interested in your opinion, not his.

Regarding the Heart Sutra itself, the translation that Lopez choose in the beginning of EOE is the long version of the Heart Sutra which does include the phrase, “Thus did I hear.” And while I haven’t read EOE, in the Introduction Lopez notes that the Heart Sutra may or may not be a (formal) sutra, Red Pine makes a similar note as do other commentators.

Be that as it may, the Heart Sutra is an important Prajnaparamita text and I wondered about your views on its teaching and mantra.

Sorry to get involved if this is a private fight but I for one think quibbling over the veracities of the Heart Sutra (or any other) quite forgets the point.

Maybe a truly enlightened sage could elucidate all its meaning but I doubt it. Even if they did, they wouldn’t carry around phrases from this or any other sutra.

To me this is part of the problem with today’s Zen in that people study sutras (if they bother at all) like they might a history book or perhaps some of the wonderful writings of Karl Marx, leading to all kinds of didactic arguments and logical conundrums, all various entanglements. How can any expression of the dharma be an expression of the dharma? Indeed it cannot.

The Heart Sutra cannot be “explained” nor is it really something to be understood per se, but it, like any expression of the Buddhadharma, in resting the mind on these imagined discourses it becomes possible to discern the true nature of mind. At that point it no longer matters what is written.

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