Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | September 17, 2012

Buddha and the Heart Sutra


  Buddha did never philosophize the truth; he believed that truth can not be said. One of the reasons behind his silence about ten questions is said to be  that he did not want to categorize truth in yes and no. One of the great philosopher and preacher Nagarjuna explained Buddha’s silence and created his great Madhyamika philosophy of nothingness. What Buddha avoided to answer later became the basis for the development of Buddha dharma. The philosophy of Sunyata answers the silence of Buddha. The whole Prajnaparamita literature which became the foundation for the development of Mahayana religion and Tantrik esotericism appeared from the Sunyavada and the theory of cause and effect taught by Buddha. Heart Sutra one of the primary sutra of Prajnaparamita literature is the seed sutra which explains the above said two theories. Heart sutra is said to be the heart of Prajnaparamita philosophy. According to Mahayana Buddhism Tathagata preached it on the vulture peak at Rajgrih of Magadh to some of his very close disciples. There is a mystical narrative found in Mahayana Buddhism about how heart sutra descended from Buddha’s wisdom and compassion to us although not directly from Buddha’s mouth rather from the meditation of Arya Avalokitesvara.

Story goes as follows: thus I did hear. At one time the Bhagavan was abiding at vulture peak in Rajagrah with great assembly of monks and a great assembly of bodhisattvas. At that time Bhagavan entered into Samadhi on the categories of phenomenon called ‘perception of the profound’. Also at that time, the bodhisattva, the mahasattva, the noble Avalokitesvara beheld the practice of profound perfection of wisdom and saw that those five aggregates also are empty of intrinsic nature. Then, by the power of the Buddha, the venerable Sariputra said this to the bodhisattva mahasattva, noble Avalokitesvara, “how should a son of good lineage who wishes to practice the profound perfection of wisdom train?”

Heart sutra is answer to this critical question asked by Sariputra. Buddha did not preach it, though, it was his power that created the whole environment for heart sutra to descend to us. Above narrative clearly tells us that when Buddha entered in the great Samadhi ‘perception of the profound’ only then Avalokitesvara received power of seeing the true nature of phenomena and Sariputra was able to ask question. But who heard it? It was a sacred discourse, very mystical and profound and can not be understood by unqualified persons. Therefore only a qualified person would have been able to hear since sutra says ‘thus I did hear’. Who is narrator ‘I’, Buddhist commentators still could not find any name since sutra was secretly proclaimed. Tibetan Buddhist monks believe that it was Ananda who had first heard this profound sutra,; he was the first samgitikartr. As it is usually believed that Ananda was very close to Tathagata and was almost witness of every event that took place in the lifetime of Buddha. Many Buddhist tenets believe that “ when the Buddha, the dharmaraja, the proclaimer of all doctrines, the muni appears, the refrain that phenomena do not exist arises from the grass, bushes, trees, plants, stones, and mountains.” The Heart of the Heart sutra is the heart of all the Buddhas since in this very heart they do abide, from this very heart they do appear and in this very heart they do return. The heart is the heart of lady Prajnaparamita, the great goddess of Mahayana and sutra is her vagbhava sarira. Sutra of entering in this mystical heart is ‘emptiness’ as taught in the heart sutra. This that, ‘form is empty, empty is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is not other than emptiness’. To understand that all phenomena are empty, without characteristics, unproduced, unceased, stainless, not stainless, undiminished, and unfilled is the only way to realize the profound. This is the great awakening of perception. In Heart sutra Avalokitesvara says, “All the Buddhas who abide in the three times have fully awakened into unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment in dependence on the perfection of wisdom”.

In the Mahayana Buddhism heart sutra is regarded as a gem and it is believed that by mere recitation and memorization of the sutra realization can take place. Heart sutra can also be used as a mantra since it has in its end a very powerful mantra, ‘gate gate pargate parasamgate bodhi swaha’. In Tibetan Buddhism heart sutra is used as tantra since it has all the three elements of tantra i.e. outer, inner and the secret. According to Tantrik interpretation sutra is proclaimed as tantra because in the sutra Sariputra asked Avalokitesvara that, ‘how should a son of good lineage who wishes to practice the profound perfection of wisdom train’. Obviously this is not sutra rather tantra since it can not be imparted publicly and to every one; it was proclaimed in secret and for those who are of good lineage. Here good lineage means the lineage of Buddhas, according to Buddhist tantras there are five Buddha lineages namely Tathagata (Varochana), Amoghsiddhi, Amitabh, Ratna Sambhava, Akshobya. However, families are not same in all the respective Buddhist traditions.  Good lineage means of belonging to the sampradayas. The concept of linage was borrowed from Hindusim where Gotta has the same meaning but later on it became a gotta in Buddhism.  In Hinduism gotta belongs to great sages who had established great sampradayas by rolling on chakra pavattan.

you can also view it at Scribed 

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