Heart Sutra explained
What is Transcendental Wisdom?
excerpt, by John Crook
Prajnaparamita, the "insight that takes us to the other shore", is the name for transcendental wisdom.
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is sitting in a mode of active, close observation of the mind, a meditative enquiry, observational rather than intellectual. The five skandhas (heaps or accumulations) which he is observing are sensation, perception, cognition, volition and consciousness.
As the Bodhisattva directly investigates this experience as a continuum and strives to isolate and identify each of the five skandhas he finds in fact they are merely names for aspects of a unitary, confluent process. Although named for analytical understanding, each skandha turns out to be unfindable as a separate entity. Even so, their designation is not meaningless as it points to an aspect of the activities of mind.
Such insight in meditation allows the practitioner to let go of all such discriminations so that they merge in one awareness. Suffering indeed is brought about by discriminations of sensation, perception and cognition acting with reference to an ego's needs. The sudden disappearance of their conceptual distinctiveness into a merged oneness of meditative equipoise is thus experienced as a release from all contingent suffering.
The quiet collapse of the skandhas in meditation brings about the collapse of the ego for just as they are illusory so too is the ego. Avalokiteshvara was experiencing this directly in a heartfelt manner, coursing in it with neither fear nor attachment. On hearing the question his compassion was aroused and he answered not from thought but from his immediate experiential state.
Avalokiteshvara knows the psychology which Sariputra has been taught. Eyes, ears, etc., give rise to their specific consciousnesses. Consciousness relates needs to action and speaks of goals and paths, of old age and the fear of death. But all these are empty of inherent selfhood from their own side just as the functions of perceiving, cognising and so on, are. They are all names that allow us to construct a (secondary) world of descriptions within which our intention of preserving the pivot of it all, the ego, has its being.
We live in a conceptual cage of our own ideas. This is our virtual world, our living dream awake. Once these terms are properly understood their "thingness" evaporates. We are freed from the cages through the dropping of the names. Once more there is a merging into a sense of oneness, silence, emptiness. It is not that there is nothing there. It is just that the universe appears in the only way our minds allow objects in a continuum.
And so Avalokiteshvara says: "Sariputra, this emptiness of all dharmas is not born, not destroyed, not impure, not pure, does not increase nor decrease. In emptiness there is no form, no sensation, perception, volition, or consciousness: no eye, ear, nose, tongue body, mind, no sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thought, there is no realm of the eye and so on through to no realm of mental cognition, There is no ignorance and there is no ending of ignorance through to no ageing and death and no ending of ageing and death. there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no cessation of suffering and no path. There is no wisdom nor any attainment."
We live in a world of conceptualisations and they constitute a cage, even a Buddhist cage. While the structure of our mind can do no other than represent the universe to us in these conventional, socially sharable, modes, the whole great thing itself remains untouched, ineffable. In letting go of these discriminations and our attachment to the conceptual scenarios they generate, we find an uncharacterisable freedom. Nothing can be said of emptiness yet "that which is" undoubtedly exists. Even an emptiness of emptiness can be said to exist, although in saying this we pass beyond language.
"With nothing to attain, Bodhisattvas relying on Prajnaparamita have no obstructions in their minds. Having no obstructions there is no fear and departing far from confusion and imaginings they reach ultimate nirvana. All Buddhas in all times have relied on this and thereby gained supreme release."
Sariputra's logical mind must have seen the inner logic of this. Since the whole edifice depends on conceptualisation based in the five fundamental functions of mind, once these are laid aside, a clarity free from the imaginings of attachments can emerge. It was always there, prior to thought. It is not anything new. It is just how things are when released from the splitting influences of conceptualisation.
Ga-te, ga-te, para-ga-te, para-samga-te, Bodhi svaha!
Gone, gone, completely gone, utterly gone, behold Wisdom!