Homage to stainless Manjushri
Precious roar of the Dharma.
One of the less obvious teachings within the Heart Sutra is the insistence of transcending any and all constructs of thought or conceptualizations. This includes ideas of emptiness, the Buddha, the Path of the Victors and Noble Ones, as well as the truth of suffering. The Heart Sutra plainly states,
“There is no suffering, no cause, no cessation, and no Path;
No Wisdom, no attainment, no non-attainment.”
The Heart Sutra offers an ultimate teaching in every regard, but it also offers an instruction applicable at any moment in every day: cling to no ideas, no concepts, not even the teachings on emptiness, the Noble Truths, or veneration to the buddhas. Hold nothing as substantial, preferential, or inviolate because of the non-substantiality, the voidness, of all ideas, concepts, and devotions.
This teaching untethers the Mahayana practitioner from his or her moorings of the Perfections and their practice, of bodhichitta, its necessity and virtue, of altruism and service, even of the striving to understand and experience emptiness. The practitioner struggles to undo the sense of self, to be better at generosity, discipline, patience and such, as well as creating a life that is a demonstration of bodhichitta. Yet, these are void of the importance that the practitioner holds about them in his or her mind, and void of the value that the sutras of the second turning put upon them. The sutras, like the practices and recollections themselves, are designed to induce care for others and right understanding of the ego-ized mind. But, with these germinated and swelling to ripeness of realization, the second turning’s emphasis dissolves into the nature of reality which is self-same and inseparable from buddha nature: awakeness.
The Heart Sutra continues:
“Because the bodhisattvas have no attainments, they rely and abide in the Perfection of Wisdom; and because their minds have no obscurations, they have no fear. Having well transcended all wrong views, they have reached the sorrowless state.”
The teaching of the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle is designed to bring forward the greater aspects of human nature. In this way, it is designed to produce bodhisattvas. To be fully human is to be bodhisattva: a being that expresses the light of awareness, compassion, and wisdom flawlessly, ceaselessly, and effortlessly. This is human destiny and human purpose. Along this Great Way, a practitioner will practice the virtues, remember the four gateways*, realize there is no self that is serving others, and that there are no others suffering or being served. Yet, along this Mahayana Path, each step is an investment in Path, in others (through service and altruism), as well as in understanding emptiness and the limitless and void nature of self.
The Heart Sutra dissolves all these clingings and investments, like water dissolves sugar. The bodhisattvas have no attainments because buddha nature is innate. It cannot be attained any more than fire has to attain heat or water attain wetness. Buddha nature is to be recognized as already the only nature that is or can be. Attainments would require a doer – a sense of self, but this also is non-substantial. The bodhisattva abides in the constancy of voidness, in the ever present cognition of existence as concept-fee and self-same as Awareness.
The bodhisattvas rely upon limitlessness; as such, the wisdom of emptiness is reliable, real. Constructs, concepts, preferences, and such are obscurations: refractions or precipitates of the real. They are chinks in the smooth boundary-less potentiality of omnipresence. The wrong views that are transcended are any views or any concepts, including those already mentioned:
– suffering and the Four Noble Truths
– the Path.
The Heart Sutra offers this teaching one more time in the mantra itself. It reiterates that, yes, in addition to the aggregates being empty by nature along with all phenomena, one must transcend and go beyond one’s ideas of Dharma in order to awaken to the already present perfectly pure enlightened state.
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodh svaha OM
Gone gone, gone beyond, gone far beyond into awareness.
Transcend, transcend, keep transcending beyond transcendence into enlightenment.
Break through, break through divisions of mind
Let all come undone.
Court the edge of enlightenment, then disappear.
*: non-substantiality of phenomena, identity-less-ness of self, freedom from aspiration, and the interdependence of cause-result