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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
26 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 2 applies to all Prajnaparamita Sutras, including the Heart Sutra: ...if we insist that the requirements of the logi� cal mind be satisfied, we are missing the point. What the Diamond Sutra is actually delivering is not a systematic treatise, but a series of sledge� hammer blows, attacking from this side and that, to try and break through our fundamental delusion. It is not going to make things easy for the logical mind by putting things in a logical form. This sutra is going to be confusing, irritat� ing, annoying, and unsatisfying—and perhaps we cannot ask for it to be otherwise. If it were all set forth neatly and clearly, leaving no loose ends, we might be in danger of thinking we had grasped the Perfection of Wisdom. —Sangharakshita, Wisdom Beyond Words Another way to look at the Heart Sutra is that it represents a very condensed contempla� tion manual. It is not just something to be read or recited, but the intention is to contemplate its meaning in as detailed a way as possible. Since it is the Heart Sutra, it conveys the heart essence of what is called prajnaparamita, the “perfection of wisdom or insight.” In itself, it does not fuss around, or give us all the details. It is more like a brief memo for contemplating all the elements of our psychophysical existence from the point of view of what we are now, what we become as we progress on the Buddhist path, and what we attain (or do not attain) at the end of that path. If we want to read all the details, we have to go to the longer Prajnaparamita Sutras, which make up about twenty�one thousand pages in the Tibetan Buddhist canon—twenty�one thou� sand pages of “no.” The longest sutra alone, in one hundred thousand lines, consists of twelve large books. The Heart Sutra is on the lower end, so to speak, and the shortest sutra consists of just one letter, which is my personal favorite. It starts with the usual introduction, “Once the Bud� dha was dwelling in Rajagriha at Vulture Flock Mountain” and so on, and then he said, “A.” It ends with all the gods and so on rejoicing, and that’s it. It is said that there are people who actu� ally realize the meaning of the Prajnaparamita Sutras through just hearing or reading “A.” Besides being a meditation manual, we could also say that the Heart Sutra is like a big koan. But it is not just one koan, it is like those Rus� sian dolls: there is one big doll on the outside and then there is a smaller one inside that first one, and there are many more smaller ones in each following one. Likewise, all the “nos” in the big koan of the sutra are little koans. Every little phrase with a “no” is a different koan in terms of what the “no” relates to, such as “no eye,” “no ear,” and so on. It is an invitation to con� template what that means. “No eye,” “no ear” sounds very simple and very straightforward, but if we go into the details, it is not that straight� forward at all. In other words, all those different “no” phrases give us different angles or facets of the main theme of the sutra, which is emptiness. Emptiness means that things do not exist as they seem, but are like illusions and like dreams. They do not have a nature or a findable core of their own. Each one of those phrases makes us look at that very same message. The message or the looking are not really different, but we look at it in relation to different things. What does it mean that the eye is empty? What does it mean that vis� ible form is empty? What does it mean that even wisdom, buddhahood, and nirvana are empty? From an ordinary Buddhist point of view we could even say that the Heart Sutra is not only crazy, but it is iconoclastic or even hereti� cal. Many people have complained about the Prajnaparamita Sutras because they also trash all the hallmarks of Buddhism itself, such as the four noble truths, the Buddhist path, and nir� vana. These sutras not only say that our ordinary thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are invalid and that they do not really exist as they seem to, but that the same goes for all the concepts and frameworks of philosophical schools—non� Buddhist schools, Buddhist schools, and even the Mahayana, the tradition to which the Pra- jnaparamita Sutras belong. Is there any other spiritual tradition that says, “Everything that we teach, just forget about it”? It is somewhat simi� lar to the boss of Microsoft recently having pub� licly recommended that PC users should not buy Windows Vista any more, but instead go straight from Windows XP to Windows 7. Basically, he was advertising against his own product. KARL BRUNNHÖLZL is a senior teacher in the Nalandabodhi community of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and was recently bestowed the title of khenpo. He is the author and translator of numerous texts, including Luminous Heart, Gone Beyond, and Groundless Paths. This teaching is from his new book, The Heart Attack Sutra, published by Snow Lion, 2012. The Heart Sutra is not about reciting some stereotypical formula without ever getting to the core of our own clinging to real existence. RYSZARDFRACKIEWICZ