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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
32 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 2 Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also, so we can say that everything is in here in this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here—time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sun� shine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything coexists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter�be should be in the diction� ary. To be is to inter�be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter�be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because every� thing else is. Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper would be possible? No, without sunshine noth� ing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non�paper elements.” And if we return these non�paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non�paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine, and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it. But the Heart Sutra seems to say the opposite. Avalokiteshvara tells us that things are empty. Let us look more closely. Empty of What? The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the five skandhas and found them equally empty. Bodhi means being awake, and sattva means a living being, so bodhisattva means an awakened being. All of us are sometimes bodhisattvas, and sometimes not. Avalokita is the shorter name of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Avalokita is neither male nor female and sometimes appears as a man and sometimes as a woman. In Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese, this bodhisat� tva’s name is sometimes translated as Guanyin, Quan Am, Gwaneum, and Kannon, which means “the one who listens and hears the cries of the world in order to come and help.” Avalokitesh� vara also embodies the spirit of non�fear, as he himself has transcended fear. The Prajnaparam- ita Heart Sutra is his wonderful gift to us. According to Avalokiteshvara, this sheet of paper is empty; but according to our analysis, it is full of everything. There seems to be a contra� diction between our observation and his. Avalok� ita found the five skandhas empty. But empty of what? The key word is empty. To be empty is to be empty of something. If I am holding a cup of water and I ask you, “Is this cup empty?” you will say, “No, it is full of water.” But if I pour out the water and ask you again, you may say, “Yes, it is empty.” But empty of what? Empty means empty of something. The cup cannot be empty of nothing. “Empty” doesn’t mean anything unless you know “empty of what?” My cup is empty of water, but it is not empty of air. To be empty is to be empty of some- thing. This is quite a discovery. When Avalokita says that the five skandhas are equally empty, to help him be precise we must ask, “Mr. Avalokita, empty of what?” The five skandhas, which may be translated into English as five heaps, or five aggregates, are the five elements that comprise a human being. These five elements flow like a river in every one of us. In fact, these are really five rivers flowing together in us: the river of form, which means our bodies; the river of feelings; the river of per� ceptions; the river of mental formations; and the river of consciousness. They are always flow� ing in us. So according to Avalokita, when he A wave on the ocean has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. But Avalokiteshvara tells us that the wave is empty. The wave is full of water, but it is empty of a separate self. BONNIEWIESNER