Since hearing my first podcast on the Heart Sutra a person has contacted me to tell me that at some time in the past they went to a lecture about the Heart Sutra and that the lecturer took the view that the basic message of the Heart Sutra was that nothing really exists. And they found this extremely confusing to be told this by the lecturer. And they then saw, or heard, when they heard my podcast that I had a rather different view. So I'd like to explain that a little here.
The phrase that the lecturer was relying upon was near the beginning of the Heart Sutra where it says in old Japanese:
Ji shôken go un kai kû
do issai ku yaku
This passage is commonly translated something like: Quan Shi Yin sees that the 5 skandhas are empty and passes beyond suffering.
I'd like to offer something slightly different.
It seems to me that the passage should be construed actually as: Quan Shi Yin clearly sees the emptiness within each of the 5 skandhas and thus passes beyond all bitter pain and suffering.
So what is the emptiness that Quan Yin sees in each of the 5 skandhas? Well first we must briefly say what are the 5 skandhas and the 5 skandhas - without going into individual detail which would take too long - are the process, the psychological process, spiritual process of our everyday life.
They begin with rupa, which is the appearances, the things that hold our attention, the things that we respond to. And the other skandhas, vedana, samjna, and so on, are the way that - the stages that - we respond to those engagements with the world. So this is the psychological process.
Now emptiness, the emptiness that Quan Yin sees in the heart of the skandhas, this emptiness is the essence of love. Actually it's the essence of all the great virtues. It's the essence of generosity, it’s the essence of kindness, its essence of compassion. The essence of these things is not visible except through some concrete process, except through something tangible, some rupa, except through the skandhas.
The essence is emptiness in the sense: that one of the things that one has to grasp when following these texts is that ku, emptiness is the sky, is heaven, all we are talking about here is heaven. At the heart of the process that is going on in each of us at any particular time is some reflection of or some manifestation of the way of heaven. And what is the way of heaven? Love, compassion, joy, kindness, generous spirit, and so on, this is heaven.
So Quan Yin sees this heavenly essence in the core of everything that we do. This is like a good friend. When your friend is suffering some bitter pain, some trouble, some big issue in their life, if you are a good friend you see the goodness in the heart of your friend. You see that fundamentally whatever sort of mess they have got themselves into, fundamentally, it is empty of malicious intent, because your friend, at heart, is good and true and pure and so on. As a good friend you see this and that’s how you’re able to be a good friend to your friend. And when you are able to be a good friend in this way then you are Quan Yin.
And this is the meaning of this passage in the sutra that we can each be Quan Yin and we can see this essence of love at the core of everything that is going on. I think that’s it.
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu
What a lovely interpretation of the Heart Sutra! But so difficult to realize!
We so easily swift to our ego-constructions, to our own pains and worries and have so much difficulties so face what is happening in the other.
I see that I always need time to overcome this, before I am able to go to the 'heaven' in the others heart especially when I feel pain in my heart coming up from my own inner karmic life.
So difficult to immediately be there for the other, knowing what to do to be Quan Yin for them.
Namo Quan Shi Yin Bosat
Thank you very much.