display | more...
Avolokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, doing deep Prajna Paramita, clearly saw that the five skandhas are Sunyata, thus transcending misfortune and suffering.

O Sariputra, form is no other than Sunyata, Sunyata is no other than form. Form is exactly Sunyata, Sunyata is exactly form. Feeling, thought, volition, and consciousness are likewise like this. O Sariputra, remember, Dharma is fundamentally Sunyata. No birth, no death, nothing is defiled, nothing is pure. Nothing can increase, nothing can decrease. Hence in Sunyata, no form, no feeling, no thought, no volition, no consciousness, no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, no thinking; no world of sight, no world of consciousness, no ignorance and no end to ignorance, no old age and death and no end to old age and death. No suffering, no craving, no extinction, no path, no wisdom, no attainment. Indeed, there is nothing to be attained; the bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita with no hindrance in the mind. No hindrance, therefore no fear. Far beyond upside down views, at last Nirvana. Past, present, and future, all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, rely on prajna paramita and therefore reach the most supreme enlightenment. Therefore know: prajna paramita is the greatest dharani, the brightest dharani, the highest dharani, the incomparable dharani. It completely clears all suffering. This is the truth, not a lie. So set forth the prajna paramita dharani. Set forth this dharani and say: ga te ga te pa ra ga te para sam ga te, Bo dhi sva ha Heart Sutra...

The Heart Sutra is the touchstone text of Zen Buddhism, and is chanted at nearly every gathering of the sangha. (Serving a function somewhat similar/somewhat altogether different from the Apostles' Creed for Roman Catholics.) The above translation is the one we use at my temple in Seattle, Dai Bai Zan - Cho Bo Zen Ji; but more often we chant the kanji transliteration, which looks like this.

MA KA HAN NYA HA RA MI TA SHIN GYO

KAN JI ZAI BO SA GYO HAN NYA HA RA MI TA JI SHO KEN GO UN KAI KU DO IS SAI KU YAKU SHA RI SHI SHIKI FU I KU KU FU I SHIKI SHIKI SOKU ZE KU KU SOKU ZE SHIKI JU SO GYO SHIKI YAKU BU NYO ZE SHA RE SHI ZE SHO HO KU SO FU SHO FU METSU FU KU FU JO FU ZO FU GEN ZE KO KU CHU MU SHIKI MU JU SO GYO SHIKI MU GEN NI BI ZES SHIN NI MU SHIKI SHO KO MI SOKU HO MU GEN KAI NAI SHI MU I SHIKI KAI MU MU MYO YAKU MU MU MYO JIN NAI SHI MU RO SHI YAKU MU RO SHI JIN MU KU SHU METSU DO MU CHI YAKU MU TOKU I MU SHO TOK KO BO DAI SAT TA E HAN NYA HA RA MI TA KO SHIN MU KE GE MU KE GE KO MU U KU FU ON RI IS SAI TEN DO MU SO KU GYO NE HAN SAN ZE SHO BUTSU E HAN NYA HA RA MI TA KO TOKU A NOKU TA RA SAN MYAKU SAN DO DAI KO CHI HAN NYA HA RA MI TA ZE DAI SHIN SHU ZE DAI MYO SHU ZE MU JO SHU ZE MU TO DO SHU NO JO IS SAI KU SHIN JITSU FU KO KO SETSU HAN NYA HA RA MITA SHU SOKU SETSU SHU WATSU GYA TE GYA TE HA RA GYA TE HARA SO GYA TE BO JI SOWA KA - - HAN YA SHIN GYO...

These syllables are supposed to have been repeated over and over, in an unbroken verbal legacy from when the Sanskrit original was first spoken, but of course, like the children’s game of Telephone, they have been skewed and altered so that they are essentially nonsense sounds now. All the better, since that seems to be the heart of the matter that the Heart Sutra’s getting at.

When I first heard the passage, “no ignorance and no end to ignorance, no old age and death and no end to old age and death” I knew instantly that I’d caught a whiff of something deeply true at the core of things and deeply, deeply affirming. I’ve been stalking this ever since in my Zen Practice.

My entirely non-scholarly reading of the Heart Sutra is aporetic.

Because form is the same as emptiness and emptiness is the same as form, there can be no subjectivity, no consciousness or intelligence and no true aprehension of reality into a mental content. Therefore, there can be no enlightenment. There's nothing to be attained! The Herman Hesse-mediated Western orientalistic idea that the law of cause and effect links suffering with desire and desire with attachment and letting go of attachment lets you transcend? There is nothing to be transcended.

Which is precisely why (and here is the aporia) the wise monks sing "gate gate paragate...". Because that is practice, not transcendence.

Our culture's whole idea of "enlightenment" (as in Aufklärung) is about theoretical development and conceptuali insight leading into a secular kind of transcendence. And sure, to some heroic-narrative extent this is how we've arrived at our civilization's greatest achievements. But we haven't done it by sheer force of intellect alone -- rather, the belief in the sheer force of intellect might have done much to keep us back.

The conception of progress through practice described in the Heart Sutra, in contrast, correlates to Heidegger's counterenlightenment idea of Sorge (which inevitably connects back to Dasein, which I claim to be remarkably resonant with buddhist non-self). Heidegger wants to downplay intellect and explicit knowledge which can be wrote down and defended in a concept-level contest of ideas. Instead, focus is given to knowledge that is tacit, arises from messing about with the real world and that can't be really taught short of an extensive hands-on apprenticeship. The classical example is woodworking and carpentry, but I claim this applies in high-concept professions such as mathematics. Sure, in engineering school they're able to teach you a few rote procedures (take derivatives and equal to zero) that give you some basic result, but in higher maths there is no royal road to proving theorems or solving problems: you just spend years and years doing pencil-and-paper exercises and learn the metaphorical grain of the wood in your heart, in your fingers.

This isn't Aufklärung at all, it's a community of practices. Why? Because abstractions are leaky and concepts attach only to other concepts, it's futile for you to read the definition of a Hilbert space on Wikipedia -- nothing is a Hilbert space. Because acquiring concepts is futile, the sheer force of intellect is powerless. And (in a parallel aporia with the Heart Sutra) this is why everyone (and not just intellectuals -- this is the point of public schooling) is encouraged to develop their intellect and learn stuff they'll never use.

Because the knowledge you can read in a book is precisely that, useless. Apprenticeship and carpentry is all there is.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.