A teaching on the Heart Sutra
With the Mahayana there is this ideal that you begin to practice so that you can benefit others. And it's actually a very subtle, but profound, kind of shift. For instance, if you're in a profession where you do benefit others, it's so heartbreaking to realize that you get so irritated with people that you're trying to help, that they push all your buttons, that you actually get angry and don't like them, and all of these things. And so, you start to practice because you want to be able to stay, hang-in-there with them. And you know that only to the degree that you can hang-in-there with yourself are you going to be able to hang-in-there with anybody else.
The bodhisattva ideal is that you begin to practice not just for the cessation of your own suffering (which, of course, we all do practice for that reason), but realizing that to be there other people, we need to be there for ourselves. And to the degree that we can hang-in-there with our own suffering--and our lack of cessation of suffering, but the actual nitty-gritty of what it feels like to feel pain--the more we can hang-in-there with our own and not run away from ourselves, the more we can stay in the room with somebody who's provoking a lot of uncomfortable feelings in us.
Avalokitesvara is a super-bodhisattva. He's also known as Kanzeon and Chrenrezig-- and in female form, I think Kanzeon is female and Kuan-Yin. Avalokitesvara, in different countries comes sometimes in female, sometimes in male form, but always is the bodhisattva of compassion.
Shariputra starts asking him questions. And he says, "How should we (students,
men and women) sons and daughters of the noble family of the Buddha train, who
wish to practice the profound prajnaparamita?"
You notice that even in the very first stanza, or first paragraph, it says that "Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, while practicing the profound prajnaparamita, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature."
And then, Shariputra asks him, "How should we practice?" This is actually a really important point. This sutra is instruction on how to practice. It's not like intellectual speculation. It's really instruction on how to practice.
And later, much further down in the sutra, it's says, "All the buddhas of the three times," abide by means of prajnaparamita. They practice the prajnaparamita, they abide by it. It's not like something they study. It's the difference between scholarly accumulation, the first of the Three Prajnas, studying and reading, this is more in the area of contemplation and meditation--like practicing the prajnaparamita, or abiding by prajnaparamita. That's what this Foundation-yana-Shariputra wants to know. He says, "How? How should I practice?"
occurs in all versions of the Heart Sutra is Avalokitesvara's answer, which is:
"Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Emptiness is no other than form, form
is no other than emptiness." That little paradoxical, enigmatic, difficult
to understand answer.
This answer to how to practice the prajnaparamita is really probably the main thing that distinguishes the Hinayana from the Mahayana.
I'm going to go into it with some detail, but the overview of it is: Avalokitesvara says anything that you're clinging to, anything that you now currently believe to be so-- such as egolessness, or the Four Noble Truths, or the skandhas, as a description of no-self-- anything that you currently believe in, it's not that.
In other words, the Buddhist teachings are progressive stages in groundlessness.
Having taught groundlessness, now the Buddha teaches-- through Avalokitesvara-- the prajnaparamita, which says: even all of that, if you believe in it as a belief system, will block you from understanding the truth-- if you cling to anything, it will block your understanding the truth-- even clinging to the words of the Buddha, the teachings of the Buddha, will be a major obstacle if you hold on to them and make them something solid and use them as ground under your feet.
This is really what distinguishes the Mahayana, or why it's said to be like a next step, because basically it doesn't say that the first turning wasn't true. It just says, it is true, but you can't believe in it. All of that is very, very helpful, but actually the instruction on being and curious and inquisitive, that's more what we really have to stick with.
We don't throw out the teachings on the Three Marks of Existence-- egolessness and impermanence and suffering. But, we can't hold on to it, or it will block the true wisdom. That's the pith of it.
And what was said was that a lot of the arhats, which were the enlightened first turning students that actually had full realization (which is more than I can say for myself, or probably we can say, we don't know who's here tonight [laughter], but generally speaking, most of us don't have a full-blown experience of non-duality of egolessness or of impermanence for that matter. We very much solidify and concretize and think in terms of subject and object. Don't we?). But the arhats were the ones who had actually realized that.
Sometimes they say, when this teaching was given at Vulture Peak Mountain (this was a new teaching), that the arhats had heart attacks. [laughter] But, I love this, I heard a Tibetan teacher teaching once, he said, "Probably, really more the truth was, they got up and walked out." [laughter] Because they didn't want to hear this. And I think that's true.
You see, none of us are so invested in the Four Noble Truths that it's a big shock to find out that "no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path"-- we're not going to get any heart attacks-- but, if you really believed in this. . . So, more, I think, you have to find something that you actually really believe in.
Well, in answer to some of the people's questions, "no cessation of suffering." You're saying, "I've been practicing three or four years, and there's no cessation of suffering." And this is saying, "That's right, no cessation of suffering." You've got to stop believing that there's a goal. Or believing in anything.
You have to come up with things, begin to find out where your real prejudices are. Where you say, "I believe in this," and actually you get hot under the collar and you dig in, "This is RIGHT!" [hits gong bluntly] [laughter] Which makes somebody else "WRONG!" who doesn't believe that.
That's probably true, they got up and walked out because they just didn't want to hear it. Basically, everything they believed in, it was saying, "NO."
He emphasized, at first, just the five skandhas. He just took that. He saw that these five skandhas were empty. And it starts with "form" and says there is no form, and then also it would be, no feeling, no perception, no concepts, and then no thoughts or emotions (consciousness). We certainly believe in thoughts and emotions.
It's pulling out the rug. Trungpa Rinpoche introduced this already by giving all these teachings on "disappointment" (you read two chapters on the subject of disappointment), which he said was "when you think something is going to be a certain way, and then you become disappointed." That's where the wisdom comes from, the disappointment-- things not being the way you think they are. And then "boredom," that was another one, he gave a lot of teachings on boredom.
In some sense, teachings on disappointment and boredom are a way of teaching on groundlessness, on shunyata. You think it's going to be a certain way, or you wouldn't be disappointed. You're waiting for something exciting to happen, or you wouldn't be bored. It's sort of like leveling everything out.
Suzuki-Roshi says (to sort of paraphrase) in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, "I have found that it is absolutely necessary to believe in nothing," and then he says, "by which I don't mean voidness." And then he explains, beautifully, he says what he means is "a mind that is flexible, a mind that is ready and open." And he uses the word, that everything is "tentative," rather than things being solid and fixed-- everything is "tentative," just about to become something. He says, "it's not like it's nothing there, but it's tentative." It isn't like THIS. His definition of believing in nothing is: a mind that is flexible and ready to see what's there, and open. Rather than believing in nothing being a nihilistic statement, it's an affirmation.
Avalokitesvara says, "Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness." So now I'm going to give a little teaching on this.
First, I'll teach it the way Trungpa Rinpoche does. He starts out with "form is emptiness". . .
For instance, when Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this in a wonderful little book on the Heart Sutra called The Heart of Understanding, he says, "But if Avalokitesvara says that's it's empty, we have to help him to be more clear and ask him, 'Empty of what, Mr. Avalokita?'" [laughter]
Trungpa Rinpoche says: empty of our preconceptions, empty of our fixed ideas. Empty of, we say, "It's like this." And so he talks about, if we say, "right/wrong," "good/bad," any of these pairs of opposites, we have to just erase all of those concepts and just look at everything free of our biases. Empty of bias. So he describes that in the chapter ["Shunyata"] that you'll be reading for this week.
There's a famous sutra [poem] by one of the early Zen patriarchs [the third] which begins with the line: "The great way is only difficult for those who pick and choose." This saying that "form is emptiness" is like saying: form is free of our picking and choosing. Form is just what it is without our picking and choosing, without our "for" and "against," without our "yes" and "know."
So then Rinpoche says that that leaves you feeling free, it's like a liberation-- liberated from all this caught-upness. And he says, therefore the Buddha didn't want anybody to get any ground under their feet with this statement, so he said, however, "emptiness also is form."
And the meaning here is, we erase all the preconceptions of right and wrong, the prejudices, but at the same time, things really are happening: people really are hurting, people really need our care; we really are hurting, we really need our own care, our own loving-kindness. Things are happening.
I'm sitting in the traffic jam, and I can be free of biases about the traffic jam, but still there are two thousand people who have all kinds of life stories about all the appointments they're missing, and the child's birthday party they're not getting home for, and who knows what's going on in those two thousand lives-- at least two thousand lives.
It's saying, you can't just say "form is emptiness" and let it go at that. It's called the "poison of shunyata." You can't just use the absolute truth as a way to dangle above the messiness of life.
All things are an expression of emptiness, everything manifests out of emptiness, but it does manifest. And we have to relate to it. Actually, this is the first inkling in the sutra of compassion, the need for compassion. (The other inkling of compassion in the sutra is that it's Avalokitesvara who's doing all the talking. The bodhisattva of compassion. Whose name in some languages means: he or she who hears the cries of the world.)
That's the point: form is emptiness, but nevertheless, there are the cries of the world, emptiness is form.And then, should you get any sort of ground out of that, then: "emptiness is no other than form" and "form is no other than emptiness." Which often is also translated as "form is just form" and "emptiness is just emptiness."
It's sort of like saying, Things are just what they are, and there are no escapes. Either being stuck in our prejudices about them and our concepts, or using the absolute truth to dangle above it. Somehow you have to be in the middle of it and not caught up in "right" and "wrong" thinking, at the same time.
of the ways I often like to teach these four, though, is: You see the Buddha sitting
under the Bodhi Tree, and here's your big chance, you're going to ask him about
the meaning of life with the hope of getting some ground under your feet. Poor
choice. [laughter] So you go up and he asks you, "What do you think about
all of this that you perceive?" And you are being very honest and you say,
"It is my experience that it all exists." And he says, "No."
He could say that in the format of, "form is emptiness"-- this is all
emptiness. But you say, "all of this exists," and he says, "No."
So, you go away and you think about it and you contemplate it -- you study, you contemplate, and you meditate-- and you come back. Actually, you haven't really had this understanding, but you think you know what the right answer is. So you say to him, "All of this does not exist," and you're very proud of yourself. And he says, "No." But he says it in the form, "emptiness is also form."
So you go home for another week or month, trying to get up your courage to go back. And you think, Well, I think there's only one other answer to this. So you back and you say, "I got it. All of this exists and doesn't exist at the same time." And he says, "No." That's sort of like saying that things exist and they don't exit, it's like two things. In your mind you're conceptualizing it, it does exist and it doesn't exist at the same time. And he answers that as, "emptiness is no other than form." In other words, they aren't two things, they're inseparable. Emptiness manifests as form.
So then you go home, and actually it's about a year before you come back. And you've thought of every possible answer, and you say, Ok, I've got it: "Things neither exist nor don't exist." That's a pretty emptiness, groundless answer. And he says, "No."
Where does that leave you? And that's kind of the point of the Heart Sutra, Where does that leave you? Whatever answer you can come up with, the answer is No. That's kind of the point of this. Pulling out the rug, more and more and more.
The Buddhist teachings-- really starting with the first turning-- but it gets very explicit with this teaching on emptiness, or shunyata, at Vulture Peak Mountain, with the beginning of the Mahayana. It really gets explicit. There is nothing to hold on to. There's the expression, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha." The idea being, if you think it's some thing, you've got to completely kill those notions--those conceptualized notions. Kind of brutal language.
A teaching on the Heart Sutra
before going on, I'd like to say a little bit about this word "prajnaparamita."
....five skandhas are empty. Form is empty-- he just described it. You could also say: feeling is emptiness, emptiness is feeling; emptiness is no other than feeling, feeling is no other than emptiness. You can go through the skandhas that way. Do you see what I'm saying there?
But, he's practicing prajnaparamita. So what does it actually mean? In the title it's translated as "transcendent knowledge."
"Transcendent" is the translation of the word "paramita," and "prajna" is translated as "knowledge" here.
When Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this, he explicitly says that the word "knowledge" is not a good one to use, and he also doesn't like the word "wisdom." He uses the word "understanding."
His reason for using the word "understanding" is very much the same kind of logic that I've been presenting. It's semantics, of course. He says "knowledge" can block. If you have knowledge about something, your mind can become closed, and you hold on to it. So, he likes the word "understanding" because it's more fluid-- it's like a continual journey, a process, a more process kind of word.
Prajnaparamita could be translated as "transcendent knowledge" or "transcendent understanding."
This word "paramita" means to go to the other shore. The idea is to go to the other shore beyond any dualistic thinking, that's what it means. Going beyond any kind of this/that, right/wrong, yes/no kind of thinking.
And "prajna" is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls "understanding," or Rinpoche calls "knowledge," or in other places it's called "wisdom." It's a kind of wisdom that sees things as they are, not bound up by concepts.
But still, that doesn't really tell us what it means to practice prajnaparamita.
Another thing that doesn't tell us how to practice it. I think it is interesting that prajnaparamita is personified as a woman in iconography: the mother of all the buddhas. And her epithets are that she is indescribable, inexpressible, and inconceivable. [laughs]
The Practice of Prajnaparamita
I'd like to tell you how to practice the prajnaparamita because this all sutra is about it, and the "form is emptiness, emptiness is form," and so on, give you a hint about pulling out the rug, pulling out the rug.
First of all, we should know, Where is prajnaparamita found? And the answer is, It is found in each of us. This is as close as Buddhism comes to talking about channeling. We channel the prajnaparamita. If we can open our minds and hearts enough to not block it, it just automatically comes through.
Prajnaparamita doesn't exist anywhere but in the hearts of minds of people like ourselves.
The way to practice the prajnaparamita is not easy. Because the way to practice it is to not concretize, not fixate, not grasp, not intellectualize, not solidify-- that's how to practice the profound prajnaparamita. It gives you some idea of how difficult it is.
The Buddha had already really given this kind of advice indirectly--to not fixate, to not grasp. Things are not permanent, there is no abiding self. He'd already given this advice, but our tendency--the tendency of all human beings--is to concretize, to solidify, to grasp, and to fixate. It is deep, deep DNA, genetic, in us. And so, we need a lot of encouragement to not do it.
One of the ways, interestingly enough, is that you are inquisitive and curious and you probe, and you begin to have something that satisfies you. And, actually, you do begin to believe in something. Maybe you begin to believe in groundlessness or believe in not concretizing. You sort of believe in it, and it's helpful, it's like a. . . they say, like a raft, that helps you to move beyond conceptualization. Because, the more you believe in it, the more effective it is when somebody takes that raft away--or pulls the rug out.
The way all of us learn about groundlessness-- or not conceptualizing or not concretizing-- is when actually, unknown to us, we actually are holding very tight to something. And [snaps fingers] it's taken away. That's why the arhats walked out on his talk. They didn't want to hear about it. And that's usually our reaction, too.
In our lives, when there is disappointment, when things fall apart, when there's a crisis, when we have a sudden loss, all of these things are an experience of the prajnaparamita coming through. Because, basically, the rug gets pulled out. Very frequently, people have a very profound understanding at these times of great loss. Suddenly everything is very, very clear.
We need to encourage each other-- when we have these understandings-- that we could have the courage to not just try to get ground under our feet immediately again, but that there is a lot to be learned from the falling apart that inevitably happens. Things fall apart, things come back together. But at the moment of the rug being pulled out, or the sudden shock, these are very profound moments.
Now they happen in terms of major life events. They can be extremely transformative to people, but as we know, they can also be very crippling to people. So, it's training in beginning to relax with groundlessness in minor things. Like the backfire of a car, suddenly the mind opens and you're not holding on.
Rinpoche tells a story about somebody who had visualized a certain deity as like the color of ash, grayish color, all his life, and at the moment of his death, he just checked it out with somebody and found out that he had been visualizing it wrong his whole life, it was actually red. Fortunately for him, he must have been training in groundlessness, because it could have been a moment of great disappointment and anger, but instead he burst out laughing and died laughing. In other words, the shock of realizing that it wasn't the way he thought it was actually woke him up.
And Rinpoche also tells the story of Tilopa's enlightenment where Naropa, after many, many years of training him in groundlessness, picks up his shoe and slaps him on the face, and that shock is when he realizes the full prajnaparamita.
Somehow, you just can't strive for it. You come about it by actually sincerely asking and questioning. And then you're bound, because of the way our minds work, to come up with conclusions. If you're brave enough to know that, sooner or later, things really are impermanent. Iif you train in the kind of courage that it takes, when the rug is pulled out, it's actually a further step of relaxing into groundlessness instead of some kind of punishment. That's very important.
Really what's being said here is: whatever we cling to, it's not that.
Then he says, "Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness," which the Zen Center of New York translates as: all things are an expression of emptiness.
Then he goes into this long thing of saying: no characteristics...no increase, no decrease...no form, no feeling, no, no, no, no, no, no, no all these things. I'm sure this is the part where they got up and walked out. It's like, Enough, already! [laughter] And when he finally got to No Four Noble Truths, they said, "I'm finished, I'm out of here."
You see, this is really what happens when you work with a teacher. The Buddha was sitting there, nodding and smiling. So what are you going to do, there's your teacher obviously affirming what this "stupid" Avalokitesvara is saying is true. It's so shocking, and you don't want to hear it, but somehow you're caught.
I experienced that so often with Rinpoche. You couldn't make him "right," and you couldn't make him "wrong." It's just like UGH! I got a lot of training in prajnaparamita from Rinpoche, because so often that situation: you wanted to make it wrong, but somehow you couldn't quite make it wrong; so then you'd say, all right, I'll make it right, but you couldn't quite make it right. So there you were.
Well, Rinpoche says when form is emptiness, and emptiness is form-- when it's both ways-- then you get at the "isness" of things. He talks about the "isness" of a maple leaf, or the "isness" of a pile of garbage. It's like, just garbageness or maple leafness, and so forth.
I wanted to say something here about this "no, no, no, no, no, no. . ." I'm not going to go into what these all stand for, because what he's talking about here is a whole teaching in itself . When this was being translated, apparently there was a lot of discussion on Rinpoche's part about difference between saying "no" and saying "not," which I think is interesting.
Rinpoche said that if you say in terms of form-- let's just use a cow as an example of form-- if you say, "This is not a cow." He said that implies that is something. . . else. (I think he calls that a "positive-negative" or something like that.) You say "not," so it's implying that there is something, but it's not that. But "no," he said, it's like you say, "Cow?" "No." "Cat?" "No." It's more like. . . pull out the rug, pull out the rug.
So the word "no" is used very purposefully here, as having more of like a groundless quality. It's like you're not replacing "cow" with "cat." Just, "Cow?" "No." Like, no cow. Just saying, "No." Do you see the difference there between "no" and "not"? Again, trying with the language here to get at this progressive stages of groundlessness.
Then we get down to the part where it says, "Therefore, Sariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajnaparamita." And then this interesting line, "Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear."
First of all, you abide by prajnaparamita. Do you see what I'm saying? It's actually how you work with your mind. Prajnaparamita is a description of how you work with your mind.
You can block self-existing openness, you can block flexibility of mind, or you can allow it to be there. Do you see? That's the idea.
So, spending the rest of your life. . . each of us spending the rest of our lives so that our minds become more flexible, more ready, more open, rather than more solid, more concretized, more fundamentalist, more fearful.
A teaching on the Heart Sutra
Then it says, "Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear." I always ponder that line because of the longing to be free of fear. When it says "no obscuration of mind," it actually specifically referring to something that's called "The Two Obscurations." The first obscuration is the obscuration of conflicting emotions. So, free of all strong conflicting emotions. The second is what Herbert Guenther calls"primitive beliefs about reality"-- which is a great translation, because what it's referring to is believing in subject/object, dualism. He calls that "primitive beliefs about reality."
When it says, "Since there is no obscuration of mind. . .," it means free of things triggering off your emotions-strong conflicting emotions-- and free of being caught in subject/object dualism. That's saying a lot.
To bring this down to something very non-scholarly, or intellectual, what's really being said here, "Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear," is: as long as we need security, there will be fear; as long as we need certainty, there will be fear; as long as we need ground, there will be fear.
Abiding in the prajnaparamita means actually reaching the fearless state, which is called "enlightenment." It's a synonym for enlightenment, the fearless state-- where you actually don't need security anymore, you don't need confirmation, you don't need predictability.
Needless to say, the whole path is about making a relationship with fear.
The whole path is a slow weaning process of having to grasp, having to hold on to things, having to have it be certain and sure. In tiny, tiny ways. It doesn't work to try to leap into the void. Just begin to notice your prejudice.
If we begin to notice our prejudice, begin to notice where we get hot under the collar and dig in our heels and say, "It has to be like this!" Where we get stubborn and stuck. And notice, Does that sow seeds of happiness or suffering for us? And begin to wonder, Does it really make sense to spend the rest of our lives training, very gradually, in this weaning process, of weaning ourselves from needing to have ground under our feet? A very, very slow, gradual process. A very compassionate, loving process. An enormously patient process of beginning to relax with groundlessness. That means, relaxing with disappointment, relaxing with the heat of boredom, relaxing with groundlessness in it's multitude of forms.
You could say that as long as we need this security (which would be a description of myself and all of us, we do need it), to the degree that we need it, we will be afraid. This is sort of the incentive to begin to train in relaxing with groundlessness, so that we could in our lives be less and less afraid.
And here's the kind of pith instruction: the way to relax with fear, or to work with fear-- the fear that we feel as soon as we're insecure or uncertain or groundless-- the way to work with that as a path to enlightenment is to come to know the nature of fear.
We don't say: Get rid of fear. The path is one of coming to know the nature of fear. They say: without knowing the nature of fear, one never knows fearlessness. So, that's a very different approach.
That would be to say: coming to know the nature of fear is a step toward channeling prajnaparamita. (heh-heh) If you see what I'm saying? Rather than, I've got to get rid of my fear, or I've got to tough it out and not be afraid of insecurity anymore. No, the thing is to notice how much insecurity we do have. We can't help ourselves, literally, we just have to grab on to something-- an idea, something to eat, whatever it might be.
I love that chapter that I had you read at the beginning, the introduction to Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, where Rinpoche talks about the "Three Lords of Materialism." We just try to get ground by using things, we try to get ground by all kinds of belief systems, and then finally, we try to get ground by high spiritual states. But it's all just trying to get rid of groundlessness, rather than relax with it.
Coming to know the nature of fear is actually what we can do. Coming to recognize that it's even there--that's like the first truth of groundlessness, or truth of suffering--and then, getting to know its nature, becoming intimate with fear. And I talk about that a lot. It's not easy to do. But, meditation: letting the thoughts about it go, and then there's the energy.
Someone asked, What's the difference between emotions and energy? Rinpoche talks about that. He says that emotions are-- say we call it "hatred"-- a combination of energy and thoughts mixed together. If we let the thoughts go, we have just the energy.
We practice that way. That is our practice. That is not what we have achieved. That is our practice.
Each little gesture in the direction of [being] willing to explore, become intimate with the queasiness in our stomachs. Even if it's only for two seconds and then we eat a whole box of chocolates [laughter]. That two seconds. We have to love ourselves for being two seconds braver than we were before. And not emphasize the chocolates-- the failure part.
It's in this process of muddling along-- it's in all the falling down-- that the courage and the kindness and the compassion and the strength really comes. And the flexible mind.
Then he goes on and he talks about the mantra. And the mantra is: OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA.
In other words, a way to practice the profound prajnaparamita is actually to say this mantra-- as well as the on-going practice of continually letting go, or letting be, training in a flexible, open, ready mind. But also, one can chant this mantra.
By the way, there's a lot of teaching on the prajnaparamita, and I'm not going to go into all of that. Some of them are very, very long-- twenty thousand lines and so forth. But the pith of it, the heart of it, is in this sutra. That's why it's called the Heart Sutra because it's like the pith of all these teachings on prajnaparamita.
Then it's said that the pith, or the heart, of the Heart Sutra is the mantra. That everything that is said in this whole sutra is actually reiterated and encapsulated in the mantra.
Rinpoche's translation is: OM, GONE (GATE is gone), GONE, (then PARAGATE) GONE BEYOND, (PARASAMGATE) GONE COMPLETELY BEYOND, (BODHI) AWAKE, (SVAHA) SO BE IT. So: OM, GONE, GONE, GONE BEYOND, GONE COMPLETELY BEYOND, AWAKE, SO BE IT.
There's lots of translations of this, and one is: OM, TRANSCENDING, EVER TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING OF TRANSCENDING, SUCHNESS, SO BE IT.
What is wonderful about this mantra is that it is not a description of some fruition. It's actually a description of a journey that we are all on. We are all on this journey of going, going, going beyond, going even beyond.
No matter where we are, we can move on to the next beyond. Do you see? It's not a description of: I made it! It's like this! It's a description of: OM, groundless, even more groundless, can it get more groundless than this, Oh my gosh, it's ultimately groundless, there's no ground!, and then BODHI could be translated as Aiiiiiiiii..... [or.... Ahhhhhhhhh...] So be it. [laughter]
Last week, one of the women had said that she had a sort of emptiness experience with the fly-- it was bothering her, and then she had the experience of "just sensation." I don't know if that is "form is emptiness" or "emptiness is form," but it's in there somewhere. But, it was "just sensation," and it freaked her out.
This is to say that we do have these little moments and people get greedy for this kind of thing: we want the cessation of suffering, we want to be a channel for prajnaparamita, we want to not block it at all.
S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. The reason it's gradual, the reason it teaches you compassion, the reason it's a loving, patient, gradual path is because we are in no way ready to just jump off the diving board into the swimming pool of groundlessness. Even a little moment of it, such as "just sensation," is such a rug-pulling-out experience that it can just terrify you, and then you don't want to go there again. (As she said, it was hard for her to practice after that.) Therefore, we can have those experiences, but then we realize, Well, somehow that is a genuine experience, but I go back, I ground myself in sitting, sitting with people-- whatever helps me to ground myself-- and I always think of others. (Next week I'm going to talk about compassion.)
But, somehow, whatever is painful and unpleasant in our lives, such as a nasty shock of groundlessness, that we aren't ready to relax into-- in other words, it feels like too much, too soon-- then there's some sense of thinking of other people who also very frightened, feeling completely groundless, whose whole lives are falling apart, who have no reference point. In other words, compassion balances the shunyata.
The instruction is to become intimate with your fear. Gradually, slowly making a relationship with fear. A compassionate, patient relationship with fear. And in that process, the letting go and the relaxing begins to happen by itself. And then, what a few weeks ago was too much to handle-- this experience of "just sensation"-- all of a sudden, a few months or few years later, or something, you have the same experience, and you realize it's a standard, everyday experience, and it's ordinary.
Trungpa Rinpoche used to really stress this word "ordinary" and I've come to appreciate this as I practice through the years. He said that if something is too ahead of you-- such as dropping acid, you have this big breakthrough experience-- there's no way to integrate it into your life. It has no bearing on the fact that you fight with your wife and children all the time, or whatever it is.
In the same way, he put very little value on these big breakthrough experiences. He said that, actually, if you go slowly, patiently, you will always be so ordinary that you'll never even know anything is happening, except when you look back, you'll realize there's been profound change. He really stressed ordinary.
I really encourage that for all of us who are wanting results, who are wanting things to happen fast, who are wanting some kind of BOOM and no more suffering, or no more pain, or some special experience. It doesn't happen like that. If it happens like that, it can be a freakout. So the ordinary is very precious.
In some traditions, you push through and have a kind of breakthrough experience so that you understand what it is you're working for, but even still, then you back to ordinary working everyday life.
Like the Gary Larson cartoon: The man is sitting beside his bed, the big sign on the wall, it says, "First pants, then shoes." [laughter] So we always have to come back down to the basics.
mantra is a mantra of how we are on a journey of going. If we say this mantra
to ourselves, it's to encourage ourselves to relax, to move closer to ourselves,
to see how we fixate and grasp, to see how opinionated and prejudiced we are,
without any harshness in that seeing. But with compassion, see this and understand
this. That itself is letting go of previously dogmatic, self-righteously held
views. Seeing oneself being prejudiced-- and still being prejudiced-- is a very
different experience than being prejudiced and having no understanding that that's
what you're doing.
Things don't change that fast. We don't go from holding a very strongly held prejudice to just letting it go. There's a kind of wearing out that comes because of prajnaparamita being inherent in us. This understanding of the true nature, a longing to come forth, begins to wear out all the techniques that we naturally have. We need a hand to hold on to for some time, so we let go of one finger at a time, over a period of a lot of years, until we don't need to hold on to the hand anymore. So, it's very slow and compassionate.
I think that's all I'm going to say about this. Except, it definitely makes the point that this is really not just something that has to do with what the Buddha said; it's something that we all need to understand: that if we hold on to our beliefs about our religion or our philosophy or political beliefs, or whatever, if we hold too hard, it's blocking us from flexible, open, ready mind.
Not being attached to some particular wisdom, such as that taught by the Buddha, is what was being taught in this sutra.
And at the end, everybody rejoiced, and the Buddha said that Avalokitesvara had taught it perfectly, and that's really how we should practice.
So that's the introduction to Mahayana and the teachings on shunyata, of stepping further into groundlessness from the first turning.