Thursday, April 21, 2011

The definitive verse of the Heart Sutra

Heart Sutra 心經 is about Emptiness or Void, and its definitive verse is as follows (my translation):


Body means Emptiness
Emptiness means Body

Students of the Heart Sutra oftentimes put too much emphasis on the former, i.e. Body means Emptiness. It is understandable, Buddhism (or Zen Buddhism) is very often the resting ground of injured souls, either from physical injury (that incidentally means financial injury most of the time) or psychological injury (like losing a beloved one). The spiritual objective is to put down one’s burdened soul with the help of the Buddha’s wisdom. And I know some people who would make it a practice of reciting the Heart Sutra many times before going to bed. Which is good for them.

The second part, Emptiness means Body, is, however, not so intuitive in understanding. If one can put down one’s burden, there is the state of Emptiness, so how does Body come into the picture? The gist of the issue is one’s consciousness cannot truly be emptied; one’s heart (or mind) will always be at work. So another way of looking at the issue is: Where should one put one’s (restless) mind? This is exactly the fundamental question raised by Subhuti in the Diamond Sutra!

In Chapter two of the Diamond Sutra, when Subhuti raised this question, the Buddha said, “This is where you should put your heart (mind)”, to a puzzling Subhuti. And the latter’s failure to get it’s meaning leads the Buddha to explore further the issue and the Diamond Sutra is born. In relation to the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra essentially says: why should you be afraid of putting your heart into any place?

From the perspective of psychological healing, the ability to accept new experience and not “conditioned” by it is true cure (or maturity), rather than simple avoidance of new experience. Having said that “avoidance” may be a necessary step in the order of things for most people. But just don’t’ stop there…

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