Monday, July 9, 2012

The Heart Sutra -- A prescription for self-transformation

"Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" when translated in to English states "Going, Going, Gone forever, Gone forever fully, Enter Divine Buddha". The accented letter e' is pronounced as the letter  "ain the English alphabet. This is the Manthra to achieve a crystal clear state of Mind. It is so pure and so divine as that described in the Heart Sutra.
One must ask what is that which is going away, or that which is gone, or that which is gone forever. Gone are the five senses.  With vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch all gone, there can be no perception of any kind. This is a void, a state of emptiness in which nothing can be perceived. It is a state in which the concept of the Mind itself does not exist. The commonly understood notion of Form, which in Sanskrit is called Roopa, does not exist. There is nothing ugly or beautiful. There is no notion of shape or size, and no concept of color including black or white. There is nothing. It is a state of absolute emptiness within the conscious Mind. In fact, the conscious Mind itself is the void, and void is the conscious Mind. Such is the state of Mind described in the Heart Sutra. A state of Nothingness.

Anyone familiar with systems science knows about a unique phenomenon in nonlinear systems called limit cycles. All trajectories converge to a stable oscillatory state. Any change or perturbation may be easily observed. Visualizing the states which converge towards the state of emptiness is analogous to the convergence of trajectories from within, and from outside a limit cycle towards a state of dynamic equilibrium.

As I began to write about my experiences in Vietnam, there was one thought after another in succession, like hundreds of firecrackers bursting at random. It was difficult to concentrate on any one thought even for a moment. I could not seem to find the beginning to what I wished to write about. I felt my mind overcrowded with thoughts. Thoughts emerged at random, totally disorganized and chaotic. The feeling was just overwhelming. I wished I could perceive, think, understand the meaning and purpose from all the rich experiences, and write about everything I had learned during the past 6 months, all at the same time. It felt as though I was in the midst of a massive confluence of buses, taxis, motorcycles and pedestrians crossing in all directions and not knowing which way to turn. I could not help thinking that this feeling is somewhat similar to what we all experience in using our laptop computers. Whenever there is no space available on the hard disk, we delete old files or backup the disk to create space for new files. If the disk is full we install a new disk with larger capacity. We increase the capacity from megabytes to gigabytes, and from gigabytes to terabytes, and so on. But such deletion or upgrading capability does not exist in the human mind. We cannot forget anything. We cannot erase our memory. We cannot hide from memories of the past. We need the power to expand our mind at will, so there is space for new thoughts -- a space of absolute emptiness and space that can allow new visions to emerge. So, how can we make room in our mind that can emulate such an empty space? 

In the empty state there is no perception possible. There is no sense for vision, hearing, taste, smell or touchThere is no concept of noise. Like a bubble floating in the pitch dark vacuum of space where there is nothing to see, hear or feel, the state evolves, expands, and provides a crystal clear environment for new visions to emerge. All of this, of course, is easier said than done. It is not easy to cut-off all sensory perceptions. How anyone could do all these at the same instant, I have pondered.

I had seen the famous Zen art made with one stroke of a paint brush showing the circular region of empty space. What does it mean, I thought. 

As I thought about all the obstacles in reaching such a state, in one flashing moment I had experienced that state of mind. I felt  a sense of elation and excitement. Almost instantly, my thoughts about the Heart Sutra struck me. It was as though I had instantly understood what I had been searching for all along.  Suddenly there was an answer. I had spontaneously experienced that feeling and had the urge to write about this. I truly felt enlightened. I quickly realized that there are no words that can describe such an experienced understanding. Words merely convey the meaning and purpose, but not the experience. Yet, there was an urge to write. No matter how difficult it felt, it was a burning desire to express the feeling I had experienced.

I felt enlightened to discover that emptiness is a state of mind which enhances one's own abilities towards a better understanding of who we are. The phenomenon is unique. The phenomenon must be approached systematically by eliminating thoughts which are obvious, irrelevant and ambiguous, and by eliminating thoughts which have no consequence. It is a state where no thought can exist other than the thought of an empty state itself. It is a transforming experience that cannot be adequately described. The capacity to remain in this state for any length of time shows the energy to sustain a state of emptiness. I have yet to experience such a prolonged state of mind. It is a state of mind that can bring peace and tranquility within oneself.

Researching whenever time permits, I have learned the five principal aggregates of the human mind originate from the Heart Sutra, the shortest and most popular Sutra in Buddhism. When I first came across this Sutra, I was just awestruck. This was soon after the discovery of the Buddha form on the Moon. The key concepts of the Heart Sutra are from a teaching by Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara the Buddha of Compassion. It is said, when Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara practised the deep Prajnaparamita, he saw that the five skandhas occupy a space that was empty. He thus overcame all ills and suffering.

The Heart Sutra is a discourse between Lord Avalokiteshvara the Buddha of Compassion, and the monk Shariputra in which Avalokiteshwara states to Shariputra: 

O Sariputra! Form does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from the form. Form is void, and the void is form. The same is true for feelings, conceptions, impulses and consciousness.
O Sariputra, the characteristics of the void is not created, not annihilated, not impure, not pure, not increasing, not decreasing. 
Therefore, in the void there are no forms and no feelings, conceptions, impulses and no consciousness: there is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; there is no form, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea; no eye elements, until we come to no elements of consciousness; no ignorance and no ending of ignorance, until we come to no ending of old age and death.
Also, there is no truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the cessation of suffering or of the path to end suffering. There is no wisdom, and there is no attainment whatsoever. Because there is nothing to be attained, a Bodhisattva relying on Prajnaparamita has no obstruction in his heart. Because there is no obstruction he has no fear, and he passes far beyond all confused imagination and reaches Ultimate Nirvana.
All Buddhas in the past, present and future have attained Supreme Enlightenment by relying on the Prajnaparamita. Therefore, we know that the Prajnaparamita is the foremost magic Manthra, the great Manthra of illumination, it is the supreme Manthra, the unequaled Manthra which can truly wipe out all suffering without fail."
Therefore, he uttered the Prajnaparamita Manthra, by saying:
Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha 

The Manthra must be uttered incessantly for the Sutra to take effect. While a Sutra is a statement of facts, the associated Manthra makes facts realizable. The Manthra epitomizes the last few moments prior to the entry into the state of emptiness. Repetitious saying of "Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" reinforces the momentum of the Mind to jump into and stay in the empty state. It is only when the Mind is in the empty state that it becomes possible to introduce, either sequentially or simultaneously, the sense for vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch, Our awareness is heightened towards the meaning and purpose of any new event occurrence. This naturally leads one towards a heightened state of mental awareness. I had never used a Manthra before. So naturally I did not have any perceptive feelings of what manthras can do or what one could expect. I was familiar with their use in Hindu rituals but never experienced the power which manthras are claimed to have.

I now understand the Manthra as a giver of power. The power is built into our Mind through repetitious utterances. It is a self-reinforcing chant. It is similar to repeating in one's own Mind that "I can do it, I can do it, I can do it, ..." as many times as one wishes to repeat until what one can do is in fact achieved, and we say in our Mind "I did it!!" It is one's own abilities to overcome and block the obstacles which prevent the wanted outcome from happening. It is a test of self-endurance. It is a fight in one's own Mind. It is like a tug-of-war between the two-parts of the Mind. It is a fight between the evil minded Mara King and Gautama Buddha -- a mental battle.

Moon-faced Buddha with Mara enveloping the mental state of the Buddha

I am now beginning to understand, a bit more clearly, what the significance of the discovery on the Moon has, in relation to the Heart Sutra. The state of emptiness allows one to see each vision clearly and continuously. This is indeed  the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. 

Perception of Avalokiteshwara on the Moon by Thich Le Thien

In our life, nothing happens without trying.  One just needs to try, try, try again, indefinitely. It is only when the outcome is realized that there is a great sense of satisfaction. This satisfaction naturally builds the urge to do it again and again. It is this endurance, which gives the power to expand the Mind at will, whenever and wherever one is, and at any moment. With perfection, one can be in the state of emptiness anytime and anywhere one wishes.

Saying the Manthra repeatedly enhances the momentum towards reaching the state of emptiness. This is a self-induced force acting on our thought process. It is a force caused by the rapid increase in mental momentum. The concept of emptiness is realized when all perceptive thought is blocked.

The Diamond Sutra summarizes the 600 volumes of the Maha Prajna Sutra in about 5000 words. In turn, the Heart Sutra summarizes the Diamond Sutra in 250 words. It has the power of suggesting the manner of attaining the purest form of the human mind and is considered the summation of the wisdom of Gautama Buddha. Although The Heart Sutra is remarkably brief it contains key concepts of Buddhist Philosophy. These include the Skandhas, the four noble truths, the cycle of interdependence and the central concept of Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of Emptiness. Here is the original in Sanskrit script and a transliterated English scriptThis is one among many translations.

There are countless number of references that provide interpretations of the Sanskrit scripture Prajna-Paramita Hridaya Sutra, The Perfect-Wisdom Heart Sutra. Through this sutra one is able to achieve a state of Emptiness in which there is complete cessation of all desires. There is total detachment. There are no perceptions of any kind. Without cause there are no effects. In this state one is able to see with great clarity the depth of visions in the mind. 

How do we find the way to the state of emptiness?

The Prajnaparamita mantra, the Manthra for the Heart Sutra:
"Ga-the', Ga-the', para-gathe', parasam-gathe' , bodhi svaaha" is understood to have extraordinary powers to transform the state of Mind. Ever since I first read about this in late August 2011, I had become intrigued by what it can do. I had read the English version of the Heart Sutra and wondered how the Mantra could empower the human mind with powerful transformational skills. What does one need to do? How does one practice the Manthra, I wondered. It naturally generates a desire to ask someone to show the way. 

A Koan from the Zen classic  Mumonkan, Case 19, is a dialog between Joshu (778-897AD) and Nansen (748-834 AD). It reads as follows: Joshu asked Nansen “Show me the Way”, to which Nansen replied “Ordinary mind is the Way”. “If so, can I seek the ordinary mind?” asked Joshu, for which Nansen replied “If you do, you will be separated from it”. “Then how will I know when I have reached the ordinary mind” asked Joshu. “Knowing how to reach the ordinary mind is a delusion and not knowing what is the ordinary mind is confusion” replied Nansen. With this, Joshu attained enlightenment.

There is nothing that can be attained without practice. There is an old phrase which simply states that "Practice makes one perfect". Therefore if one desires to feel the experience of what is stated in the Heart Sutra, one must practice in any way one thinks it is possible to attain it. There is no prescribed manner of reaching that state. It is a self-determination to experience what it is, and what it feels like. It is a deep sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness which motivates and inspires one to see the way. It is indeed the ordinary mind that will allow one to find one's own path towards the state of emptiness.

Regardless of which society we live in, there is no reason for anyone to suspect, predict, or even presume the intent of another individual's actions.  Our own actions must be mindful, respectful, considerate and compassionate to others.We watch our own business while appreciating and admiring the beauty in what we see. Everyone knows exactly what they are doing at any given moment, and why they are doing it. However, in the non-ideal World that we all live in, such a notion of synchronicity does not quite exist to the extent we all wish. We have to be aware of our own safety and well-being through an extraordinary sense of situational awareness. We have to watch our backs, so to say. The threat could be from adversaries, people who don't share the same mindset as ours, who threaten our physical and spiritual well-being.

It is natural to shield oneself from the evils in society. Not too long ago, I was pick pocketed on a crowded bus in Saigon. An awful feeling that overwhelmed me and consumed my thoughts for a week. I had just experienced an invasion of privacy combined with the effect of material detachment. Although it lasted for a week, I kept thinking that if only I had eyes all around me I could become more aware of my immediate environment. No one can disagree that such self-protection created by a state-of-mind can in fact bring peace of mind. 

Every morning around 6:00 am, I stood outside the hotel in Saigon watching what people did. I saw an old Vietnamese lady burning paper in front of her store. She waved the burning paper around in a ritualistic manner and let the flames reach out to every corner of her work space. It was as if the flames were meant to consume evil spirits all around and in front of the store and protect her from any bad happenings throughout the day. It could have meant many things. It could mean that she followed a tradition of her ancestors to bring good luck and well-being to her store and family. I would not be surprised if these were indeed the anticipated outcomes of that ritual. 

In many cultures, ritualistic beliefs prompt individuals to cast spells on others for fear of being harmed, or to ward-off evil spirits. These spells are called Manthras. It is said that a Manthra has magical powers -- powers to transform oneself from one form to another, or to instantly transport oneself from one place to another, and so on. Mythology has it that the demon Maareecha, in the Ramayana, transformed himself in to a beautiful Gold lustered spotted deer to lure Rama away from Seetha so that Ravana could abduct Seetha. People do things which only they know why, and what useful purpose it may serve them. An observer can only infer from their actions. From the observer's point-of-view, whether or not a person is performing a ritual  is immaterial. What matters is the other persons knowledge and beliefs about their ritualistic actions, which as an observer we know little or nothing about.

Our perceptions are of many different kind. We have visions that appear spontaneously like snapshots. They are discontinuous. They are intermittent and mixed with visions from the past. We seek an environment that can transport our minds to an extraordinary realm of peacefulness and calm, so that we can be relieved from anxiety, and be able to perceive beyond what we can normally perceive. Our depth of perception must be increased. As contradictory as it may appear, the Heart Sutra prescribes the means to eliminate all perceptions. The peacefulness and calm is said to be in a void where there are no perceptions of any kind. How do we find the path towards such a state of Mind? It is a Zen state of Mind, which is attained through a Manthra.

Buddha form on the Moon

Marble statue of Gautama Buddha in Da Nang

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