Dear Friends in Dharma,
Ten years ago, when I first wrote the Message from the Heart Sutra, I did so with all sincerity. While writing, I told myself that, despite the risk in the writing, it is too interesting to discard. However, I have never felt truly satisfied with that message—I really don’t know why! Now, ten years later, having read that old message again, I felt the need to return to the same task once more. The result of these efforts is the present message from the Heart Sutra that you hold in your hands at this moment.
While writing this message, I did not have the consciousness that I was defining or explaining the meanings of the Prajñāpāramitā philosophy, but I did so from a deep inspiration of spirituality—one that was so deep it sometimes caused me to burst into tears. In particular, when I deeply penetrated into the words of the Buddha; I perceived them to be so “beautiful” that they did, in fact, rescue me, giving me an inner peace to which I cannot compare anything in this world.
I hope that, through this message, serving as a spiritual motivation, we may be able to help one another overcome all vicissitudes of our mundane complexity and attachments and return to the life of true happiness without self. Please read this message, in pleasure as well as in sadness, in order to warm up your heart in this profane world. Hopefully, your smile will drive away the sufferings of sentient beings in the three thousand worlds.
Namo Avalokitésvara Bodhisattva
Los Angeles, August, 2007
1. The Planet of Light
The message you are holding in hand is “part of the quintessence” extracted from the Prajñāpāramitā Hrdaya Sutra (the Heart of the Perfect Wisdom). With this phrase—“part of the quintessence”—I would like to stress that we are observing the transcendent and flawless beauty of the Prajñāpāramitā not with the highest wisdom, but with a limited dimension of the mind that continues to be stirred by gain, loss, win, failure, etc. With such a mind, how can we appreciate the perfect beauty of the Prajñāpāramitā? However, just as with the moonlight, those who have eyes are able to see it. The beauty of the moonlight depends on the eyes viewing it—or, more exactly, the mind of each individual. We are here together sharing the sublime message from the Prajñāpāramitā not in a theoretical framework, but from the reality of spiritual life. Certainly, those who are able to perceive the meanings of the message from the Prajñāpāramitā—even just a part of it—will have a truly peaceful and happy life—a life, as the Heart Sutra says, “going far beyond all perverted views, all confusions and imaginations,” a life of being free from the succession of sufferings.
In order to penetrate deeply into the mystical life of the Prajñāpāramitā, we first need to step into the planet of light at least once in our lives, even right at this moment for the living life of the Prajñāpāramitā is the very light of wisdom. This is the special light that goes beyond all limits of any mundane spirit; it is the wisdom’s light (prajñā) that shines on the other shore (pāramitā) of any ordinary perception. It is because of this wisdom’s light that a suffered “soul” can be rescued, a real life of happiness can be established; most of all, an enlightenment may be able to blaze up in the current of our mind—not at the end of life or in the other side of human existence, but right in this body and this world.
We have different kinds of light: sunlight, moonlight, biological light, light from nature, light of science, light of knowledge…but here the light of “the wisdom on the other shore” (prajñāpāramitā) is an extraordinary light of spirituality that cannot be perceived through reasoning or intellectualism. The only way through which we can obtain this pāramitā wisdom is the personal practice and experience of our own being. The most essential knowledge of the here and now is the realization that nothing in our worldly happiness—not love, money, fame, position, or power—is secure or certain. Indeed, everything is ever-changing in accordance with the law of impermanence. Every outburst of anger or envy that arises in our mental currents has the power to change everything in just a moment; what we call happiness, love, fame, etc., may transform into suffering. The life of our worldly happiness would be extremely unstable were it not illuminated by the light of wisdom (prajñā).
What then is the characteristic of the prajñā and where does it come from?
Prajñā is itself a special light of wisdom that transcends all individual prejudice and attachment to the concept of “existence,” “non-existence,” “birth,” “death,” “permanence,” “annihilation,” “identity,” “difference,” “coming,” and “going.” Since its nature is beyond all such attachments, the Prajñā is defined as the wisdom on the other shore (prajñāpāramitā) or the wisdom of non-self (anātman). It is through this nature of transcendence of all attachments that the Prajñā is able to carry within itself an unlimited ability of true freedom. Take, as an example, when you hold something firmly in hand; that is to say, the hand itself no longer has the ability to hold any other thing because it is occupied with the thing you are holding. Contrastingly, when you hold nothing in hand—namely, the hand is now absolutely free from all attachments—it holds in itself an unlimited ability; that is, it can take anything it wants. In the same way, when the mind is not governed or controlled by greed, hatred, defilement, or attachment to self, then the reality of the mind can flow like the source of radiant light from the sun, limitless and unobscured. This is the special kind of “supernatural power” of the non-attached mind. Thus, the transcendent light of Prajñā is formed by the mind, which is free from any individual prejudice and attachment; it is the mind of purity and equanimity (upeksā)[ix].
In fact, reality of the mind always carries within itself two fluxes of energy: the light (kusala) and the dark (akusala). The light energy is loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, while the dark is craving, hatred, grasping, attachment, and/or any defilement. For this reason, Prajñā is called the planet of light, a planet without any shape of discrimination and attachment, or a planet of the renounced life (upeksā). In addition, you are invited, from the beginning, to step onto the planet of light in order to perceive the sublime message from the Prajñāpāramitā because only in this plane may we listen to the voice of the wisdom’s light.
In brief, in practicing and experiencing the life of prajñāpāramitā, you don’t need to pay too much attention to the world of linguistic concepts; the only thing you need to practice is living the life of self-control, free from delusion and attachment—particularly attachments to the immortal desire, because such attachment is nothing more than the embodiment of the self-love or egocentric view. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we lose nothing in practicing such a life. Indeed, it is the non-attachment and equanimity that make our lives much happier and more peaceful; the more we practice non-attachment, the happier we will be. The truth is, whenever all the burdens of attachment—attachment to gain, loss, win, failure, fame, power, etc.—are released in our minds, we are then truly free and able to enjoy true happiness right here and now.
2. From the Crystal Eyes
How it is possible, in the world of anxiety, discontentment, dissatisfaction, and even suffering, to live a happy life by practicing equanimity and non-attachment? Such a sincerely touching question has arisen from the practical as well as the greatest challenge on the search for true happiness. Don’t worry! The message from the Heart Sutra provides you with the basic steps (principles) for practicing the renounced life and appreciating the true happiness of the non-self immediately, in the here and now, despite your unsatisfactory and unfavorable conditions. These basic steps originally emerged from “the crystal eyes” with which the Bodhisattva Avalokitésvara practiced successfully and overcame all troubles and sufferings.
However, in order to practice these basic steps, you must first cleanse your eyes and make them pure and shining. Let your eyes return to their original state—that is, no longer limit your eyes by “what you are”!
What is “what you are”? What you are is your present person, identified through five elements: body, feeling, perception, volitional actions, and consciousness. Here, the direct causes that make you unhappy, distressful, and uneasy as well as prevent you from enjoying living happiness are the “dirtiness” in your eyes. In other words, it is the attachment from the wrong view of self. You are living with these truths:
· “I worry about my body because it changes constantly.”
· “These feelings are either what I long for or what I don’t like; I like to feel this way or that way.”
· “I am passively immersed in the world of obsessions, confusions, thoughts, images, or feelings (such as pleasure, sadness, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, etc.)”
· “I was forced to wander with old experiences of the past or illusive desires for the future.”
· “I am conscious of existence, but my consciousness is always out of control; like a fish out of water, it acts in an uncontrolled manner.”
Such states of your mental life are, indeed, a manifestation of your own inner attachments, pushing you into a reality of both fear and hope. Actually, fear and hope are the two permanent factors in our minds; they exist in every moment, even in our dreams. Clearly sufferings are nothing other than living in such a state. Therefore, your eyes will be able to return to their crystal state only when those attachments from self-view are released. Only the pure eyes are able to observe existence as it is without any distortion from personal prejudice.
How can you let your eyes return to their crystal state?
As mentioned from the beginning, you need to enter the planet of light at least once in your life to see the truth because there no dark energy such as craving, hatred, pride, etc., exists. To step onto the planet of light is not, in principle, a difficult or serious task; to get there, you need not to do any extra work, but cut short (or lessen) your attachment. That is all. Even in this very moment, “deleting” all your attachments and letting your light-source of mind flow in tranquility, your eyes will immediately reach the crystal state. In order to practice this task, however, you need to consider the essential ideas:
-The nature of life is impermanent; it is impossible to make it permanent. Therefore, you should, in the stream of life-transformation, welcome together both the good and the bad as they come into existence without any self-resistance. Release yourself and listen to the breath of life!
-The purpose of human life is happiness and, further, truth. Thus, practicing renunciation of the attachment to “self” or “ego” in one way or another may give rise to your true happiness. So why not practice that renunciation to live a happy life?
-Human life is, by nature, an aggregate without any independent entity. Thus, it always consists of both the negative and the positive. Therefore, if you just follow what you like and run away from what you don’t like, you become a passive person. Conversely, if you are able to welcome both the good and the bad together, you become a great person. The truth is, whenever you are able to control yourself, you are able to control the world.
These thoughts, among others, will help you first cleanse your eyes and then establish for yourself an inner peace. The Bodhisattva Avalokitésvara, with his crystal and pure eyes, truly perceived the nature of this body, this feeling, this perception, this thinking, and this consciousness to be conditional aggregates, arising and ceasing from moment to moment. The concept of “self” or “ego” is but an illusion. In seeing such a truth, the Bodhisattva overcame all troubles and sufferings.
3. Ocean and Waves
In order to have the ability to welcome freely both the good and bad together, you need to hold in hand a special principle of Prajñāpāramitā: the “non-discrimination” or “non-distinction.” The concept of “non-discrimination” here of course does not mean “not knowing what is good or what is bad,” but in stead it is a “challenge” to the attachment to the independent self of each individual—or simply, the egocentric view.
The question that arises here is whether you know that life is impermanent. You may have no difficulty in accepting this truth. However, from the bottom of your mind, you may ask how it is possible for you to agree to such a concept of the Prajñāpāramitā’s “non-discrimination,” which says that “happiness does not differ from suffering” or that “happiness and suffering are the same.” Or, as the Heart Sutra says, “Form is not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form; form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.” As an ordinary person, you definitely find it difficult to combine such two quite separate ideas into one because our habit of thinking allows us to consider the two ideas, happiness and suffering, as something totally different and contrary to each other, like heaven and hell. So how can we perceive the meaning of “non-differential” and “identical” as mentioned in the Heart Sutra?
We here take an example of water and waves from the ocean. In reality, waves are manifestation from water, and water is the very nature of waves; the only point that makes waves different from water is the manifestation of waves, going up and down according to each movement of the wind. Therefore, although water and waves seem to be different phenomena, both share the same nature: water. That is all about the “similarity” and “difference” between water and waves. This example may help us understand the meaning of “non-differential” and “identical” as mentioned in the Heart Sutra. The truth is, if we look at these phenomena, suffering and happiness are quite different from one another, like pleasure and sadness. However, if we look deeply into their nature, we can see that both suffering and happiness arise from the same foundation: the mind. Indeed, pleasure arises from the mind, as does sadness. Suffering, happiness and even other categories, such as feeling and perception, are all manifestations from the mind.
Why should you think about the metaphor of water and waves? The more you observe the water and waves, the more you understand the effectiveness of the dualistic discrimination, particularly when this discrimination arises in the thirst of your crazy attachment to the “I,” “mine,” and “my self” as well as to the world of desires. Discrimination emerging from the self-view—i.e., the “I,” “mine,” and “my self”—is the very way leading to stubborn attachment, which eventually ruins your ability of living peacefully and free of all delusions.
In reality, the more you base your way of life on this dualistic discrimination, the more stressful and uncomfortable you will to be. You may, for example, see that people living around you are not as good as you; they are either less important than you or from a lower class when compared with yours. Correspondingly, you may find it hard to open your heart and your mind to them. Such points of view, clearly, are embodiments of egocentrism arising from the notion of dualistic discrimination. The truth is, the more you immerse yourself in discrimination, the more selfish your life will be. Moreover, from this discrimination, doubt, judgment, and imagination constantly spurt out in your mind, covering all sources of light energy in the reality-stream of the mind. You then become a person whose mental life is immersed in the unceasing thinking of indefinite subjects, like a crazy man who speaks nonsense all day long without knowing what he is saying. Consequently, living in such a status, you lose the life of yourself and simultaneously ruin the ability of being free and peaceful in the stream of life. On the contrary, you have the capacity to live freely and calmly in the rise and fall of life—the lifestyle of the noble practitioner—whenever all notions of dualistic discrimination are given up.
Furthermore, as we have mentioned, the end goal of Prajñāpāramitā in speaking of the principle of “non-discrimination” is to awake you from the trap of the individual self, which is always the greatest obstruction causing all kinds of anxiety and suffering in your mental life. Actually, the individual self is that which variously separates you into different modes: gain, loss, success, failure, love, hatred, fame, shame, etc. This individual self is also an inner obsession with which you always carry in mind from the first day when you understand crying and laughing. Surrounding this individual self is nothing other than the chain of conditions that constantly rise and fall in every moment, although you think that they are all about you. For this reason, the Prajñāpāramitā-light of non-discrimination is the precious sword able to cut off all bonds of self-love and self-pride and let the mind return to its original state of purity—the reality-stream of non-self, which is endlessly flowing. This reality-stream of non-self (also called the Buddha-nature) is indeed the essential nature or fountainhead of the mind. For this reason, an expression of the Prajñāpāramitā stresses that “the shore is here as you turn your head.”
The discovery that our real lives do not actually need a “self” to exist is enchanting—just as in the case of a rose, you may call it by any other name, but its sweet essence remains the same. Your real life does not need a name; your real happiness does not need a name either. Be nameless once to enjoy your real life!
Where are you from
When you weren’t born
Where will you go
When this life doesn’t go on?
Yes, this question sounds naïve and quite alien to your practical life in the here and now; however, it is a golden hand that wakes you up and helps you overcome the rocky world of illusive imagination so that you can return to your own inner peace that is, by nature, infinite and endless. The Heart Sutra would like to share an idea with you: “what you are” is just a dream! Not everything has an independent entity (the characteristics of all things are empty); in other words, you and your world exist as an existence of inter-being made up by countless conditions.
Indeed, what you have and what you are in your dreams are definitely ephemeral and provisional, but they are absolutely not real. For instance, when your eyes are sick, you see multiple flowers flying throughout in the sky, but when your eyes stop being sick, those flowers instantly disappear. Similarly, in the reality of a dream you feel that everything is true, but it is true in the dream only; once you wake up, all that has happened in your dream no longer exists. The same can be said of nature of life.
Some questions may help you understand the nature of why we say that “what you are” is just a dream! Did you have a name before being born? Once you were born, was your name all about you or just simply a label that represents you in identifying you from others? Furthermore, is your body (of bone, flesh, and blood) a perpetual substance or is it ever-changing and must be extinguished at a certain time? Truly such questions show that your real person is not perpetual, let alone your physical, verbal, and mental actions. Thus, should it be that “what you are” or what you called the “I,” “mine,” and “my self” is just a dream? If this be true, it is really foolish to trade your happiness for suffering by trying too hard just to embrace the notions of the unreal things: “I,” “mine,” and “my self”!
Thinking in this way helps understand that “all existences are just a dream,” even the notions of birth, death, defiled, pure, increased, decreased, etc. They are all hypotheses of our imaginations, simply the embodiments of attachment and discrimination from the mind. Only by transcending all these dualistic discriminations can we step into a new horizon, the reality of true happiness in which all our linguistic functions become ineffective.
How then can you wake up from the world of dreams? Indeed, this is an extremely earnest question, particularly when you are facing yourself alone. To be awake, you don’t have to do anything extra at all, only practice looking deeply and durably into what is rising and falling around you as well as inside your body (your breath, for instance). In other words, try to look deeply into things as they really are. Practicing this over a long period will help you see that life is but a dream. To do the same thing, day in and day out, you will certainly create for yourself a great tolerance and generosity, giving you the ability to give up what is needless for your life—sadness, hatred, envy, craving, grasping, etc.—or simply destroying the dark energy, as we have already mentioned. Once these cravings and graspings are renounced, your heart of compassion will blossom right in the ocean of suffering. Like a swan leaving the lakes, you will live a peaceful life free from all delusions and worldly bondage right in this body and this world. You don’t have to wait until completing all desires in this human world and ascending to heaven because such a journey will never happen.
Just ask yourself what, until this very moment, have you grasped firmly in your hand during a short and ever-changing life of humanity? Instead of someday leaving the world with your uncompleted desires full of gains, losses, successes, failures, etc., why don’t you here and now live a peaceful life with the present happiness—a happiness without self? The truth is, you may enjoy this non-self happiness only when you are alive as such. It is important to note that, when you are immersed in the world of dreams and imagination, you lose your real life.
5. On the Other Side of Imagination
What foundation enables you to see that existence is just a dream? This is a crucial question, a golden key that opens the door of the thousand-year illusion and allows you to step into the reality-stream of happiness, a state that exists on the other shore of imagination only.
The Heart Sutra, as you have seen, has used a series of consecutive negations also known as negation of negation in order to break down any notion of discriminations such as existence, non-existence, birth, death, annihilation, permanence, similarity, difference, coming, going, etc. More simply, it is the negation of any discrimination and attachment, even when that discrimination or attachment is identified as samsāra (sentient world of birth and death) or nirvāna (liberation from birth and death). Such a mode of negation is used to destroy our world of conceptual and individual distinctions and let us return to the blissful state of non-discrimination, purity, tranquility, and equanimity—the world without confusion and imagination, the fountainhead of living reality without self. The most important thing to note is that we may able to obtain that world of non-discrimination not at the end of our lives, but right in this moment, in the here and now, within this body and this mundane world.
For example, the auditory sense of you ten years ago, when you were a young adult or even a little kid, and now (i.e., ten years later)—is it different or the same? Yes, it is still as such. Your auditory ability may change over the course of time, but your auditory sense—like the original source of mind that goes beyond all notions of birth or death—never changes, although your use of it may vary according to different circumstances or you may be governed by it even in silence. The fact is, whenever the noise appears, the auditory sense also appears, simultaneously and naturally. The nature of your auditory sense is without distinction; it accepts both the good and the bad noises freely and naturally. Similarly, your body changes, getting old in the course of time according to the law of impermanence; however, your true mind, also known as the Buddha nature, remains the same. It is important to note that, although you age, your mind doesn’t. Therefore, as long as you are able to keep your childish mind, or take the childish mind as the foundation of your life, you remain the authentic merry child living in a beautiful and peaceful world. You should not become attached to the concept of age too much because the nature of age is nothing more than the accumulation of pleasure and sadness in life, although one often considers age or agedness as an important factor. In the reality of mind-stream, age or agedness has no special meaning; it has nothing to do with the reality of mind-stream. In the world of confusion and imagination, however, agedness is quite impressive because of the connection linking all rising and falling events in one’s life.
Yet how can you return to your childhood when your hair’s color has changed to gray and your skin has transformed into wrinkled folds? Yes, here we thank the Heart Sutra for giving us the miracle that is the way of equanimity and non-attachment. Even our attachment is based on the desire to reach the perpetual world of nirvāna. You may be surprised at why nirvāna—the greatest nobility any practitioner wants to obtain and, in principle, the world of blissfulness transcending any state of birth and death—is not considered the object of even a sincere desire. This is because when we perceive nirvāna as something completed different from samsāra, as is recommended by our habit of thinking, such a perception sounds rational and correct according to our intellect; however, in reality such perception still carries within itself a dimension of dualistic discrimination whereas the stream of reality endlessly flows, free from any discrimination of either samsāra or nirvāna. Like the nature of wine, it doesn’t have the “drunk essence”; only man makes himself “drunk.” Likewise, the terms and definitions of both samsāra and nirvāna are used here as a conventional truth, not an absolute truth. For this reason, in the Heart Sutra, a series of consecutive negations is employed skillfully to finally end with the proclamation that “There is no knowledge and no attainment whatsoever” (na jñānaṃ na prāptir nābhisamayas). A true awaking appears in our minds on the way to enlightenment, like an old man suddenly transformed into a little kid when he himself places down all burdens of attachment in his mind to play with the children.
Similarly, until you have truly and sincerely lived in equanimity and non-attachment—i.e., beyond all barren discriminations—your capacity of enlightenment cannot become true. Only then will you become a Buddha and Buddha will become you. In the language of Prajñāpāramitā, we may say that samsāra and nirvāna are not differential (samsāram eva nirvānam). Yes, such is the destination of Prajñāpāramitā. There, on the other shore of imagination, the mind is free from birth and death! The journey there succeeds through non-attachment and non-discrimination.
The waves come and erase the empty trace,
Suddenly, the boat arrives on the other shore of Tathagata!
6. A Way for Those Who…
Once again, you should ask yourself what is the purpose of your life? Should it be happiness and truth? To a certain extent, happiness and truth are the same; when you discover truth, you simultaneously achieve happiness. In our habitual thinking and intellect, happiness and truth conventionally differ; in the ultimate truth, however, they are not at all different from one another.
Likewise, when the Bodhisattva Avalokitésvara directly perceived that existence is just a dream, he simultaneously overcame all troubles and sufferings in the sense of “living free” from all confusions and delusions in the world. The foundation of such a noble life of freedom has been summed up as the principle of spiritual experience expressed in the Heart Sutra: “By reason of non-attainment, the Bodhisattva dwelling in Prajñāpāramitā has no obstacles in his mind. Because there are no obstacles in his mind, he has no fear, and going far beyond all perverted views, all confusions and imaginations, reaches the ultimate Nirvāna.” This is the way for those who are hesitating at the crossroads separating life into two parts prejudicially: the mundane and the divine.
In reality, we live in the complexity of discriminations with a mind that is also covered by the complexity of discriminations. It is this complexity of discrimination that forces us into the world of choices; it is the choice that always carries within itself an inclination to distinguish and divide any thing you hold in hand, even though that is nirvāna. The truth is, on the path to happiness and truth, the more you want to choose, the more confused you will become. As a result, the way of choices is not a real exit leading to inner peace. Overcoming sufferings in the sense of “living free” from all confusions and delusions in the world is a practical way of Prajñāpāramitā, capable of leading to the present happiness, here and now.
However, you may wonder what will happen to your life if you give up all the complexity of discriminations? Won’t the world be empty? Ruined? No, it is not like that. When all the complexity of discriminations are set down, you will truly put yourself in the reality-stream of happiness while your heart of great compassion will simultaneously be awaked. The heart of great compassion is the very source of life; it nurtures your sainted mind and, like a guardian boat, saves the lives of others as well. The great compassion and perfect wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) are always the career of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Living with the great compassion, you never feel fatigued or bored in helping and benefiting others, even when your forehead is full of sweat. Streams of tears may sometimes flow down your cheeks in harmony with the sufferings of others or of those who are wandering the streets with hunger and sickness. The great compassion is an immortal flower. Indeed, you cannot live a life of true happiness without the heart of great compassion.
In brief, until you give up all complexity of discrimination, your mind will be as light and space will come together. No trace of self can exist in such a mind free from all attachments; therefore, you overcome all illusive obstacles. The Heart Sutra stresses that, “Because there are no obstacles in his mind, he has no fear, and going far beyond all perverted views, all confusions and imaginations, reaches the ultimate Nirvāna.” This is when nirvāna is unveiled in this mundane world—the time you truly live a nirvāna life. The inheritance you now accept and move forward in life is the heart of great compassion and perfect wisdom.
The Heart Sutra truly is a precious sword with which we can cut off all afflictions in our world. However, only once you apply the teachings from the sutra into your daily practice, you will truly appreciate the miracle flavor of it. The questions that may appear in your mind (if any) will be answered by your own practice of equanimity and non-attachment because our barren language is unable to describe that which is itself beyond language. Like love, nobody can describe it exactly, except the inner experience in silence. What we may, to a certain extent, study from the Heart Sutra is to make our life become significant, transcending all complexity of the profane mind to live a life free from all delusions and afflictions and to benefit all sentient beings. Before leaving this message, please keep in mind that, with the fearless spirit, you—as a peacefully awake person—enter the world to build nirvāna because the home-country of nirvāna is nowhere else but this mundane world!
Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā!
Namo Avalokitésvara Bodhisattva.