Friday, February 5, 2010

The Heart Sutra


In sangha, as part of the ceremony of the recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings (and of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings), we chant the Prajna-Paramita, or the "Heart Sutra." Thay has a short book about the sutra, but I am now reading the book that Red Pine (aka Bill Porter) wrote, with his own translation and commentary.


It is interesting -- and useful -- to read the sutra rather than chant it. I find I can reflect on the phrases more deeply. Here is Red Pine's translation:

The noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,
while practicing the deep practice of Prajnaparamita,
looked upon the Five Skandhas
and seeing they were empty of self-existence,
said,

"Here, Shariputra,
form is emptiness, emptiness is form;
emptiness is not separate from form,
form is not separate from emptiness;
whatever is form is emptiness,
whatever is emptiness is form.

The same holds for sensation and perception,
memory and consciousness.

Here, Shariputra, all dharmas are defined by emptiness
not birth or destruction, purity or defilement,
completeness or deficiency.
Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form,
no sensation, no perception, no memory and no consciousness;
no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind;
no shape, no sound, no smell, no taste, no feeling, and no thought;
no element of perception, from eye to conceptual consciousness;
no causal link, from ignorance to old age and death,
and no end of causal link, from ignorance to old age and death;
no suffering, no source, no relief, no path;
no knowledge, no attainment and no non-attainment.

Therefore, Shariputra, without attainment,
bodhisttavas take refuge in Prajnaparamita
and live without walls of the mind.
Without walls of the mind and thus without fears,
they see through delusions and finally nirvana.

All buddhas past, present and future
also take refuge in Prajnaparmita
and realize unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.
You should therefore know the great mantra of Prajnaparamita,
the mantra of great magic,
the unexcelled mantra,
the mantra equal to the unequalled,
which heals all suffering and is true, not false,
the mantra in Prajnaparmita spoken thus:

'Gate gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha'."


[Stanza breaks are mine, for ease of reading.]

I haven't gotten far into the commentary yet. But two things caught my notice.

First, the artwork on the book cover. The painting is titled, "Zhao Mengfu Writing the Heart Sutra in Exchange for Tea." There's tea again! There is a legend here that I will need to look into.

Also, the acknowledgments note at the end of the introduction. "Thanks and an always ready pot of oolong tea to .... and to my wife for supplying me with the Chinese texts and tea." Well, he is a student of Zen, so it shouldn't be surprising, perhaps, that tea plays such a role in his practice and work.

He goes on, "Thanks, too, to all who have continued to support me and my family while I worked on this book, including the Department of Agriculture's Food Stamp program, the Port Townsend Food Bank, the Earned Income Tax credit program administered by the Internal Revenue Service, and the Olympic Community Action's Energy Assistance program."

Wow. I have never seen anyone admit to needing food stamps while working on a book, never mind thanking the government for them. Or a food bank, or the IRS, or an energy assistance program.

Would I be willing to persist with a project that was leaving me in such need for assistance -- public assistance? I don't think so.

Would I be supportive of my spouse persisting in such a project with such results? I don't think so.

More to reflect on.


Credit: The Heart Sutra: The Womb of the Buddhas, translation and commentary by Red Pine. Copyright (c) 2004 by Red Pine. Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA.

Jacket art from scroll by Qui Ying, Chinese, Ming Dynasty, 1492/5 - 1522. (c) Cleveland Museum of Art.

Red Pine photo (c) Damon Sauer 2004

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