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“Simple and powerful—Rev. Yoo's commentary opens the gateway to a deeper understanding of Buddhadharma and enriching both our practice and daily lives. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”-His Holiness, Venerable Chwasan, former Head Dharma Master of Won Buddhism
“An accessible commentary on a seminal concept in Mahayana Buddhism. Rev. Dosung Yoo’s practical guide uses concrete examples drawn from everyday life to deepen the reader's understanding and practice.”—Robert E. Buswell, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies, UCLA
“Wonderful and welcome. Dosung Yoo brings a keenly-felt contemplative understanding of the core text and strong, clear voice. He is as well-grounded in classical Mahayana teachings as in the folk narratives of Korean Buddhism. A valuable contribution.”—Mu Soeng, author of The Diamond Sutra and The Heart of the Universe
One day a rabbit happened to discover a precious gem in the forest and brought it to a lion, who was king of the jungle. All the animals gathered together in order to see this gem. They marveled at its beauty and began to fear that the humans might steal it from them.
The lion said, “Why don’t we hide it deep in the jungle so that no humans can find it?” The rabbit, who had found the gem, said, “No, that is not a good idea. Humans are so clever that they will eventually find it. We are rapidly losing our forests to them.” All of the animals agreed with the rabbit.
The eagle, king of the sky, said, “I can hide that gem so high in the sky that no one will be able to see it.” A hawk said, “No, humans are very smart and they have made an iron bird called an airplane. They will eventually find the gem.”
The whale, king of the sea, said, “Why don’t we hide it deep in the sea where humans cannot go?” All the fish said, “No, humans have a machine called a submarine that can go deep into the ocean. The sea is not a safe place.”
The animals became very worried and pondered for a long time where to hide this gem. Finally, they all agreed to hide it “deep, deep, in the human heart, where humans never think to look too deeply.”
Studying the Heart Sutra means embarking on the journey to discover this gem, which is hidden very deeply within our hearts. It is the treasure of our authentic self, our buddha nature, our original nature, which has been lost for a long, long time.
The Heart Sutra is the treasure map to locate that gem.
When I first read the Diamond Sutra in my twenties, for some unknown reason my eyes flooded with tears. I felt as though I had found my true home, my source. The Heart Sutra is the picture of our true self, or the ultimate reality. It is the pathless path to reach our true home. It leads us toward the precious treasure called buddhahood.
The original title of the Heart Sutra is Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra. Let’s look in detail at each of the words in that title.
There are three kinds of knowledge.
The first is borrowed knowledge. It is like the knowledge you attain from reading books or from listening to others speaking. It is not original. Like a plastic flower, it does not have a fragrance.
The second is wisdom. This is the knowledge that you acquire from your own experiences. It is not borrowed: it is yours.
The third is knowledge that comes from another level. It is called prajna. It is innate wisdom, which is inherent within all sentient beings. The Sanskrit word prajna has two components: pra- means “before,” and -jna, means “to know.” Prajna is neither borrowed nor acquired by experience. It is neither knowledge nor wisdom. It is inherent, innate awareness or consciousness that does not need to be honed or cultivated. It is something that is already there.
One day, Daesan, the Third Head Dharma Master of Won Buddhism, dispatched several Won Buddhist ministers and laypersons to search for a proper site for a retreat center on Jeju Island, Korea. They came back after several months and reported on what they thought was the best site. After listening to their opinions and seeing the pictures of the possible sites, Master Daesan asked them to buy the site that most people thought was the least desirable. The site was located a long distance from the main road, and the path to that site was very muddy. They obeyed him and bought the site, and then built several buildings for the retreat center. A few years later, an expressway was constructed by the local government, and the road from the expressway to the retreat center was paved. The retreat center became such an accessible and convenient place that its value soared, and many more people were able to use it.
Maha in Sanskrit means “great,” “big,” or “infinite.” Maha Prajna means “ultimate wisdom” or “supreme enlightenment.” It is the wisdom that a buddha, or one who is fully awakened, possesses.
Just before the tsunami swept the coastal area of Thailand in 2008, an elephant that an American tourist was riding broke the chains that bound its legs and began to run, heading up the nearest hill. Since the elephant was usually docile and obedient, its owner could not understand this behavior. The tourist, riding on the back of this huge running elephant, was shocked and frightened. After a while the elephant stopped. At that moment, the tidal wave swept the area, but the water rose only to the level of the elephant’s ankles.
Animals also have wisdom, but it is different from that of humans. The average person’s wisdom is different from the Buddha’s in its depth and brightness. A burning match has light, but its brightness differs from that of the sun. When the sun rises, the darkness of the whole world is dispelled. The wisdom or power of a completely awakened person is like the bright light of the sun, which shines on the whole world. Maha Prajna is the complete or ultimate wisdom. It is supreme enlightenment, the wisdom that a perfectly enlightened person attains.
Paramita means “crossing over” or “going to the other shore.” This represents crossing from this world of suffering to the world of freedom, or nirvana, which is the ultimate goal of practice. This term originates from an ancient Indian tradition when nations were often divided by large rivers like the Ganges. When people felt unhappy or miserable in their country or in their situation—for example, women living in slavery—and they came to the shore of the river, the situation they saw on the other shore appeared far better. This shore is the land of suffering. That shore is the ideal world, nirvana, or the kingdom of God.
“Heart” is the translation of the Sanskrit hridaya, which means “center” or “essence.” The heart is the most vital of our internal organs. The Sanskrit word sutra means “scripture”—mostly referring to the canonical scriptures or the discourses of the Buddha. In ancient India, Hindu and Buddhist scriptures were made by binding leaves together. The word sutra is derived from the root verb siv-, meaning to sew (the English word suture has the same root). Sutra literally means “a thread that holds things together.” So “heart sutra” means the essential scripture, the essential path, or the summary of all dharmas, and “maha prajna paramita hridaya sutra” means the essential path (hridaya sutra) to go to the other shore (paramita) by means of complete enlightenment (maha prajna).
While many Chinese commentators interpret paramita to mean “the other shore,” another meaning of paramita is “perfection.” Using this interpretation, the Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra means “the essential path or teaching that perfects innate wisdom,” or “the essential Dharma that perfects realization or enlightenment.”
When I worked at the Seoul Meditation Center in Korea, I counseled many young men and women. Many single people there said that they would like to meet and marry a good person. In addition, many married people told me that they would have preferred to remain single. It is important to understand that nirvana, or the other shore, is not the place or time when everything goes our way and our situation is perfect. Nirvana is where our minds become empowered and pure, and prajna, our true self, is revealed.
The Greek root of the word utopia means “nonexistence” or “the place that does not exist.” Materially or technologically, we have already reached an ideal place or state, but people are still unhappy. Nirvana, or utopia, is attained when people regain prajna and attain freedom of mind, regardless of what the circumstances may be. If we restore our true self and have the power and wisdom of our original mind, then our minds will not be disturbed by external causes and we will enjoy our lives, whatever the situation. When we have prajna, we also have the wisdom and power to change our environment and to gain blessings from any situation.
As the original title of the Heart Sutra, Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, implies, we cannot go to the other shore by making a lot of money, meeting an ideal spouse, or having a good job—in other words by changing our external environment. Only when we are awakened to our true self, only when we attain prajna can we go from this shore of suffering to the other shore, nirvana—from a deluded mind to an enlightened mind, from a dreamy state of mind to an awakened state.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, “If your leaders tell you, ‘Look, the kingdom [of God] is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It’s in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. But the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father.”
Consider the following tale:
A legend from ancient India tells of a musk deer who, one fresh spring day, detected a mysterious and heavenly fragrance in the air. It hinted of peace, beauty, and love, and like a whisper beckoned him onward. Compelled to find its source, he set out, determined to search the whole world over. He climbed forbidding and icy mountain peaks, padded through steamy jungles, trekked across endless desert sands. Wherever he went, the scent was there, faint yet always detectable. At the end of his life, exhausted from his relentless search, the deer collapsed. As he fell his horn pierced his belly, and suddenly the air was filled with the heavenly scent. As he lay dying, the musk deer realized that the fragrance had all along been emanating from within himself.
People who try to change their environment without first changing their minds are like the person endlessly rowing a boat toward the horizon. In reality, the horizon is already under our boat. When we realize the reality of our selves, and prajna is fully revealed, then we understand that nirvana (the horizon) already exists here and now. As long as all people wish to become happy and free, which can only be possible when we attain prajna, what can be more imperative than awakening to our true selves?
There is a saying in the Zen tradition: “Cultivation of mind for three days will last as a treasure for a thousand years, but material things that were amassed for a hundred years will crumble into dust in one morning.” Discovering and restoring prajna is the path to liberation. It is the way to end suffering forever. That is why studying and contemplating prajna paramita literature is so beneficial. The Heart Sutra encompasses the wisdom of all prajna paramita literature.
Go to The Root!
I have no help for those who search for twigs.
—Zen master Yung Chia
Posted January 14, 2013
No text was provided for this review.
Posted March 12, 2013
No text was provided for this review.