Heart Sutra -- why study it?

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Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 20, 2014 3:31 pm

All:

I've been wondering about this for some time. The Heart Sutra is a beautiful, profound text, conveying the highest wisdom. But that wisdom is far beyond the attainment of most ordinary practitioners, and indeed, there may be a danger in believing that one actually has this kind of prajna and can engage the sutra on its own level. The same could be said of the Diamond Sutra.

The issue sometimes comes up in discussions when someone wants to argue that this or that aspect of the (provisional0 dharma teachings are inessential - and for support, they point to the prajnaparamita texts.

But this leaves me wondering: why study them then? What chant or contemplate them? If we do so, isn't it with the aim of taking them to heart and using them as a guide?

What is the most beneficial way to approach these texts?
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Jesse » Wed Aug 20, 2014 4:32 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:All:

I've been wondering about this for some time. The Heart Sutra is a beautiful, profound text, conveying the highest wisdom. But that wisdom is far beyond the attainment of most ordinary practitioners, and indeed, there may be a danger in believing that one actually has this kind of prajna and can engage the sutra on its own level. The same could be said of the Diamond Sutra.

The issue sometimes comes up in discussions when someone wants to argue that this or that aspect of the (provisional0 dharma teachings are inessential - and for support, they point to the prajnaparamita texts.

But this leaves me wondering: why study them then? What chant or contemplate them? If we do so, isn't it with the aim of taking them to heart and using them as a guide?

What is the most beneficial way to approach these texts?


Chanting them. No intellectual understanding required.
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 20, 2014 4:44 pm

Jesse wrote:Chanting them. No intellectual understanding required.


To what end? If there is no understanding, couldn't one just as well chant Lorem Ipsum?
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby LastLegend » Wed Aug 20, 2014 5:17 pm

"All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows
Like dew drops, a lightning flash
Contemplate them thus" -Diamond Sutra
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Jikan » Wed Aug 20, 2014 5:18 pm

Chanting a text like the Heart Sutra, rather than something silly or meaningless, is a way to practice mindfulness. Specifically, to be mindful of the content of the Buddha's teachings. The Heart Sutra especially is valuable for this, because it is a kind of summary of the Prajnaparamita literature. It's very chantable. It doesn't take much effort to commit it to memory if you do it regularly. And once you have it, it gets stuck in your head and you may be reminded of it throughout the day. And these reminders may lead to insights.

Analogy: you might not be able to know everything there is to know about the history of the automobile, the internal combustion engine, the chemistry of petrofuels, and the complete maintenance of the make/model you might rent at your next visit to the airport. That shouldn't prevent you from occasionally driving safely from point A to point B mostly reliably. Incomplete knowledge with a striving for more is better than none at all, and a defeatist attitude gets you exactly that.

The Heart Sutra represents a high view. Insisting that you must have an equally high view before engaging with it practically seems to defeat the purpose of having these texts available to us now. Why not practice while you can?

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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Jikan » Wed Aug 20, 2014 5:20 pm

LastLegend wrote:"All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows
Like dew drops, a lightning flash
Contemplate them thus" -Diamond Sutra


Exactly. The sutras invite beginners to contemplate them, basically to use them, in order to gain some understanding. Whatever understanding you have now is the prerequisite for doing this. The idea is to come back to it again and again and again...
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby yan kong » Wed Aug 20, 2014 5:43 pm

Jikan wrote:Chanting a text like the Heart Sutra, rather than something silly or meaningless, is a way to practice mindfulness. Specifically, to be mindful of the content of the Buddha's teachings. The Heart Sutra especially is valuable for this, because it is a kind of summary of the Prajnaparamita literature. It's very chantable. It doesn't take much effort to commit it to memory if you do it regularly. And once you have it, it gets stuck in your head and you may be reminded of it throughout the day. And these reminders may lead to insights.


There is still also merit in memorizing Dharma texts and chanting aids this.
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Malcolm » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:14 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:The Heart Sutra is a beautiful, profound text, conveying the highest wisdom. But that wisdom is far beyond the attainment of most ordinary practitioners...


No, it is not. It is easily attainable of you have the right teacher and the right path.
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:38 pm

Jikan wrote:Chanting a text like the Heart Sutra, rather than something silly or meaningless, is a way to practice mindfulness. Specifically, to be mindful of the content of the Buddha's teachings. The Heart Sutra especially is valuable for this, because it is a kind of summary of the Prajnaparamita literature. It's very chantable. It doesn't take much effort to commit it to memory if you do it regularly. And once you have it, it gets stuck in your head and you may be reminded of it throughout the day. And these reminders may lead to insights.


So, in some ways, this sounds similar to the practice of Buddha-remembrance -- except the object of remembrance is a little different. One is recollecting a teaching rather than a Buddha (as would be the case in nembutsu, for instance).

Insisting that you must have an equally high view before engaging with it practically seems to defeat the purpose of having these texts available to us now.


Yes, that's a good point. It would be like not calling on Kuan Yin because one isn't a bodhisattva yet, right?

Malcolm wrote:No, it is not. It is easily attainable of you have the right teacher and the right path.


Are you referring specifically to Vajrayana, or is this also true in the sutra schools?
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Malcolm » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:50 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Are you referring specifically to Vajrayana, or is this also true in the sutra schools?


Both.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:08 pm

Could you elaborate a little? I don't have much expertise, but my impression was that most Mahayana paths are spread out over aeons and the ten stages must be completed. And even the first stage is out of reach unless one has renounced the worldly life.
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Jesse » Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:20 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Could you elaborate a little? I don't have much expertise, but my impression was that most Mahayana paths are spread out over aeons and the ten stages must be completed. And even the first stage is out of reach unless one has renounced the worldly life.


Isn't that more Theravada? Renunciation is in the mind, being a monk only makes it easier..
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Malcolm » Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:24 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Could you elaborate a little? I don't have much expertise, but my impression was that most Mahayana paths are spread out over aeons and the ten stages must be completed. And even the first stage is out of reach unless one has renounced the worldly life.


The Heart Sutra leads to the first bhumi, which was rather common in India, actually.
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there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby LastLegend » Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:49 pm

Chanting is a form of meditation because you focus when you chant. " no wisdom, no gain, and no non-attainment." So just chant, you will accumulate also. Chanting some random text is no good. :D
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:53 pm

Jesse wrote:Isn't that more Theravada? Renunciation is in the mind, being a monk only makes it easier..


HI Jesse,

I actually think Mahayana may be stricter on this point, at least in some schools. The Shurangama sutra lays down some pretty hardcore requirements for would-be meditators.
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Jesse » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:06 pm

Different paths for different people. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Jikan » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:08 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Jikan wrote:Chanting a text like the Heart Sutra, rather than something silly or meaningless, is a way to practice mindfulness. Specifically, to be mindful of the content of the Buddha's teachings. The Heart Sutra especially is valuable for this, because it is a kind of summary of the Prajnaparamita literature. It's very chantable. It doesn't take much effort to commit it to memory if you do it regularly. And once you have it, it gets stuck in your head and you may be reminded of it throughout the day. And these reminders may lead to insights.


So, in some ways, this sounds similar to the practice of Buddha-remembrance -- except the object of remembrance is a little different. One is recollecting a teaching rather than a Buddha (as would be the case in nembutsu, for instance).

Insisting that you must have an equally high view before engaging with it practically seems to defeat the purpose of having these texts available to us now.


Yes, that's a good point. It would be like not calling on Kuan Yin because one isn't a bodhisattva yet, right?


Yes, that's exactly my point (both points). Luckily for us, Kannon makes herself available to everyone who calls on her, no matter their level of realization. Why not call on her with a sincere intention to understand the real meaning of the Dharma?
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby dzogchungpa » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:08 pm

Malcolm wrote:... the first bhumi ... was rather common in India, actually.

How do you know that?
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Fruitzilla » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:46 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Could you elaborate a little? I don't have much expertise, but my impression was that most Mahayana paths are spread out over aeons and the ten stages must be completed. And even the first stage is out of reach unless one has renounced the worldly life.


It's easily attainable anyway. It's actually so easy you won't think it possible, as unhelpful as that may sound..

All you wrote there aeons, stages and renunciation are just stories which only serve to keep you away from it. The point is to see through them and see what's right in front of your nose. Hit your thumb with a hammer and see what remains of those stories, as old Genkaku would say...

The Heart Sutra points beyond bhumis, attainments, renunciation, high and low teachings and simply says ( in more modern words: ): You are not your brain, you are not the stories you tell about yourself, other people, things, and concepts, but also not something apart from it.
Language divides, experience ( for lack of a better word ) is whole, and that's what you are, whole.

I'm afraid all this is phrased a bit clumsily and I'm sure others will throw the book at me. Anyway, make of it what you will, this is my experience.
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Re: Heart Sutra -- why study it?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:13 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:All:

I've been wondering about this for some time. The Heart Sutra is a beautiful, profound text, conveying the highest wisdom. But that wisdom is far beyond the attainment of most ordinary practitioners, and indeed, there may be a danger in believing that one actually has this kind of prajna and can engage the sutra on its own level. The same could be said of the Diamond Sutra.

The issue sometimes comes up in discussions when someone wants to argue that this or that aspect of the (provisional0 dharma teachings are inessential - and for support, they point to the prajnaparamita texts.

But this leaves me wondering: why study them then? What chant or contemplate them? If we do so, isn't it with the aim of taking them to heart and using them as a guide?

What is the most beneficial way to approach these texts?


When asked a similar question my teacher said something like " at some point there is no real distinction between an expert and an expert faker". Personally I think it's not that hard to get a basic intellectual understanding of it..just read some good commentaries. Other than that, it's always siad that just reading it accumulates merit so..
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is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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