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Prajnaparamita

The Heart of Wisdom Sutra

Buddha image taken at Borabador, Java

Buddha image taken at Borabador, Java

Introduction: The heart of wisdom Sutra is a short text defining the nature of existence as being non-existent. In other words it is describing the nature of existence that we perceive as an illusion.

What we think of as reality is perceived only within our own minds and consciousness, if you think for a moment that when you see something, the light is refracted from the object and that lighters reflected onto the retina in the back of the eye and from there an electrical signal passes to the brain which then interprets the signal and deciding what one is seeing. This is true for all our five senses as the only place we can experience the world is in our own minds.

That is one level of illusion but the primary illusion that this text defines is that what we perceive as reality has no inherent existence. There are many ways of viewing this from the fact that nothing in existence exists independently of anything else because all the stuff of existence is in a state of flux or energy in motion.

Yet what we think of as tangible and solid is empty of inherent existence. Thanks to science we know that what we perceive as physical matter can be broken down to the molecular and then the atomic. If we were able to see an individual atom, the amount of perceptible and apparently solid matter is minuscule in relation to the whole.

If we think about our physical body, but somehow we were able to remove all the empty space from within it, the physical matter would be reduced to a small spoonful and yet even that as no inherent existence.

In the process of meditation it is possible to perceive or experience what is referred to as emptiness or nonexistence and yet ironically that nonexistence is experienced as a fullness or completeness referred to as enlightenment. Therefore by contemplating the text of the heart of wisdom Sutra and repeating the mantra, one may shed delusions and come to know the ultimate nature of existence.

The Blessed Mother, the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom (or Bhagavati Prajna Paramita Hridaya in Sanskrit):

The Blessed One [Buddha Shakyamuni] was staying in Rajgriha at Vulture Peak along with a great community of monks and a great community of bodhisattvas, and at that time, the Blessed One entered the meditative absorption on the varieties of phenomena called the appearance of the profound. At that time as well, the noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being, clearly beheld the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom itself and saw that even the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence.

Thereupon, through the Buddha's inspiration, the venerable Shariputra spoke to the noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being, and said, "How should any noble son or noble daughter who wishes to engage in the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom train?"

When this had been said, the holy Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being, spoke to the venerable Shariputra and said, "Shariputra, any noble son or noble daughter who so wishes to engage in the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom should clearly see this way: they should see perfectly that even the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form; emptiness is not other than form, form too is not other than emptiness. Likewise, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are all empty. Therefore, Shariputra, all phenomena are emptiness; they are without defining characteristics; they are not born, they do not cease; they are not defiled, they are not undefiled; they are not deficient, and they are not complete.

"Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no feelings, no perceptions, no mental formations, and no consciousness. There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, and no mind. There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no texture, and no mental objects. There is no eye-element and so on up to no mind-element including up to no element of mental consciousness. There is no ignorance, there is no extinction of ignorance, and so on up to no aging and death and no extinction of aging and death. Likewise, there is no suffering, origin, cessation, or path; there is no wisdom, no attainment, and even no non-attainment.

"Therefore, Shariputra, since bodhisattvas have no attainments, they rely on this perfection of wisdom and abide in it. Having no obscuration in their minds, they have no fear, and by going utterly beyond error, they will reach the end of nirvana. All the buddhas too who abide in the three times attained the full awakening of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment by relying on this profound perfection of wisdom.

"Therefore, one should know that the mantra of the perfection of wisdom - the mantra of great knowledge, the unexcelled mantra, the mantra equal to the unequalled, the mantra that quells all suffering - is true because it is not deceptive. The mantra of the perfection of wisdom is proclaimed:

tadyatha gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhí svaha!

In Sanskrit, tadyatha literally means "it is thus" and prepares the way for what follows;
gaté gaté means "go, go";
paragaté means "go beyond";
parasamgaté means "go totally beyond"; and
bodhí svaha can be read as "be rooted in the ground of enlightenment."
Thus, the entire mantra itself can be translated as "Go, go, go beyond, go totally beyond, be rooted in the ground of enlightenment."

Shariputra, the bodhisattvas, the great beings, should train in the perfection of wisdom in this way."

Thereupon, the Blessed One arose from that meditative absorption and commended the holy Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being, saying this is excellent. "Excellent! Excellent! O noble child, it is just so; it should be just so. One must practice the profound perfection of wisdom just as you have revealed. For then even the tathagatas will rejoice.”

As the Blessed One uttered these words, the venerable Shariputra, the holy Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being, along with the entire assembly, including the worlds of gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas, all rejoiced and hailed what the Blessed One had said.

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