Samstag, 10. Mai 2014

The Heart Sûtra (Makahannya haramitsu, Part 1)

The great intuitive wisdom which transcends thinking

Master Dôgen describes in this chapter of the Shôbôgenzô the prajnya paramita of the great wisdom, which is also known as Heart Sutra. It is the second chapter in this great work. This most important Sûtra is associated with the words “form and emptiness”. Master Dôgen quotes these words at the beginning of his comprehensive teaching on Buddhism.

Prajnyâ is a wisdom that transcends conventional thinking, even when it is logical, clear and not unreasonable. But in conventional thinking there are processes of sequential thought which are not capable of providing comprehensive and clear solutions in complex situations. This fact is proved exactly by research in the field of the neurosciences.

For this reason conventional thinking maybe a good tool for scientific research and technical jobs, but it has little effect in the realm of the existential and the spiritual, and not even in the domain of psychology. It is said that the Heart Sûtra is the contents of about forty large Sûtras from Mahâyâna Buddhism. Even today Buddhist groups recite the Heart Sûtra both in East Asia and in the West.

Paramitâ means “to have arrived at the opposite shore”. That is, to have reached the truth. So paramitâ is the central teaching of Gautama Buddha, transcending conventional thinking and perception and free of suffering. Both of the latter are closely associated with emotions which are more or less strong and which change our information process. This means that it is different from reality.

Prajnyâ is very often combined with the word shûnyatâ, which was used by Master Nâgârjuna and extensively interpreted in his main work “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”. But the word emptiness is very often misunderstood and some people equate it with nihilism, which rejects logic and realism. But this understanding is completely wrong.

Prajnyâ is a kind of wisdom which constitutes a great ability of our mind, and it transcends the linear thinking in which we distinguish between subject and object. The Heart Sûtra cannot be understood easily because of its wording, and I myself have recited it very often but have in fact had considerable difficulty in understanding its true meaning. At the end of the Sûtra it says that it has the power to transcend all sufferings. But how can its words “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” transcend our suffering?

Before I studied Master Dôgen and Nagarjuna under Nishijima Roshi it was more or less impossible for me to understand the full  meaning of these words. Nishijima/Cross say,

“What is pajnyâ? Prajnyâ or real wisdom is a kind of intuitive ability that  occurs in our body and mind, when our body and mind are in the state of balance and harmony.”

And they continue,
“The right decision (in our life) comes from the right state of body and mind. And the right state of body and mind comes when our body and mind are balanced and harmonized.”

And this is the great wisdom of Prajnya.

For Nishijima Roshi the meaning of emptiness is the same as the balanced state of body and mind, especially in Zen meditation. This is a state of the whole human being and is not only a question of thinking and considerations. With this definition the meaning of emptiness becomes clearer und free of mysticism.