Heart Sutra and Pali Sunna Sutta

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Heart Sutra and Pali Sunna Sutta

Postby Rakshasa » Sun Feb 24, 2013 7:25 pm

To a Buddhist noob like me, the message of the Sunna Sutta of the Pali canon looks like the same as that of Heart Sutra:

Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?"

"Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

"The ear is empty...

"The nose is empty...

"The tongue is empty...

"The body is empty...

"The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty."


Some Mahayanists whose minds to conditioned too much into believing the Hinayana-Mahayana dichotomy may be suspicious of this Sutta (or they could be correct...what is the history of this Sutta?). But to me this looks like a affirmation of the Mahayana idea of emptiness as laid out in the Heart Sutra. In fact, it even debunks the belief of certain early sects that believed in existence of the five skandhas.

Comments?
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Re: Heart Sutra and Pali Sunna Sutta

Postby Jnana » Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:01 am

Rakshasa wrote:But to me this looks like a affirmation of the Mahayana idea of emptiness as laid out in the Heart Sutra. In fact, it even debunks the belief of certain early sects that believed in existence of the five skandhas.

Comments?

IIRC the phrase "empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self" is not uncommon in other sources, although I can't recall specific examples off the top of my head at the moment.

However, the similes for the aggregates given in the verse section of the Pheṇa Sutta are also given in a few Mahāyāna sūtras. This same verse of similes is also quoted by Bhāviveka and alluded to by Buddhapālita, although their interpretation of what this passage means differs. For Buddhapālita these similes refer to selflessness and lack of nature (niḥsvabhāva). This would carry the same insight as the Heart Sūtra. But for Bhāviveka, this verse passage only refers to the selflessness of persons, because Bhāviveka denies that śrāvakas realize the selflessness of phenomena. The verse in question is this:

    Form is like a glob of foam;
    feeling, a bubble;
    perception, a mirage;
    fabrications, a banana tree;
    consciousness, a magic trick —
    this has been taught by the Kinsman of the Sun.
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Re: Heart Sutra and Pali Sunna Sutta

Postby jeeprs » Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:46 am

I don't think it is correct to say there is a 'dichotomy' between 'hinayana and Mahayana'. As Mahayana began to develop and emerge, many of the monasteries had monks from both Mahayana and other schools. They observed the same vinaya. Certainly there were always debates between the various schools, in fact debate and, in a sense, competition between various interpretations have been characteristic of Buddhism from the outset. But I think many of the ideas that were emphasized and made explicit by the Mahayana existed in an implicit form in the earlier texts. They don't all say the same things, but there is a degree of continuity between them. Sunna existed in the early texts as a precursor to the more developed idea of sunyata that was elaborated in the prajna-paramita texts.

For example, here is a short essay on Emptiness by Thanissaro Bikkhu which, I think, would not be too out of place in a Zen dojo. Of course in many other matters Ven Thanissaro's teachings would diverge considerably from Zen teachings. But there is still a common thread in some respects.
He that knows it, knows it not.
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Re: Heart Sutra and Pali Sunna Sutta

Postby Huifeng » Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:43 am

The Sunna sutta mentioned above is just one example of many, and not a particularly poignant one in my opinion. (Though check out the section on the empty world in the smaller Prajnaparamita.) For early sources for the teachings of sunyata in the Mahayana, one of the best places to look is in the so-called "Maha-sutras", a collection of texts originally from the Sarvastivada Samyuktagama (and elsewhere). For example, the Mahasunyatadharmaparyaya, the Paramarthasunyata sutra, the Mayajala sutra, etc. Alas, because these are not found in the Pali, they are relatively unknown to the average English language reading Buddhist public.

~~ Huifeng
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Re: Heart Sutra and Pali Sunna Sutta

Postby Rakshasa » Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:25 pm

I believe that a lack of Self directly implies the lack of "others".** Saying that "there is no self of beings" implicitly contains the meaning "there is no self of dharmas". It is because of this that I am beginning to think that the later Mahayanists who over emphasized the difference between the selflessness of beings and Dharmas were the ones holding erroneous views. The early Buddhist canon does not necessarily contradict later Mahayana assertions on such metaphysical matters.

I personally think that various branches of Buddhist practice that are organized into different texts today in fact all came from the Buddha's early prominent disciples. For example, Sariputra was probably passed down the wisdom Sutras because he was foremost in wisdom, Kasyapa was probably given the Chan transmission because he was an ascetic, Modgalyayana was probably given Tantric transmission because he was known for his Siddhis, Subhuti was given the madhyamika teachings etc.

** Something like the Quantum Mechanics idea that the universe doesn't exist without an observer. So if there is no self, there is nothing else too. In any case, the theory of dependent origin of everything essentially confirms that Buddha taught that there is no self of phenomena even to the Sravakas.
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