In this part of The Heart Sutra, the Buddha expounds the luminous Dharma of the Middle Way, or ìWhen coursing in the deep Prajna Paramita,î so that the saints of three kinds will have the occasion to relinquish their less-than-perfect views. This Sutra was translated by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang, who depended on the Buddha alone for its meaning, and, therefore, we should consider this teaching to be spoken by the Buddha.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, while practicing the deep Prajna Paramita, attained radiant wisdom through a full understanding of the ultimate Voidness of the five skandhas. The Dharma of the Skandhas is a teaching of existence rather than of emptiness, but due to the depth of his Prajna contemplation, the Bodhisattva acquired the full, complete understanding of True Reality. He ended simultaneously the two kinds of birth and death and the five fundamental conditions giving rise to passion and delusion, and, thus, irreversibly overcame all suffering.
Turning to and addressing Sariputra, the Buddha reiterated the essential point for the benefi t of those not understanding clearly. Sariputra was the best of the best, the most advanced sravaka, or hearer, renowned for his sagacity. According to an established Indian custom regarding personal names, a person could decide to use either his or her motherís or fatherís name, or both. The wordsariputra (chiu lu tzu in Chinese) literally means a certain species of waterfowl similar to an egret. Sariputra chose to use the name of his mother, who was said by those who knew her to have luminous eyes like that particular bird. She had the reputation of surpassing her brothers in wisdom and keen spirit. Sariputraís mother was an adept of the heterodox path, and, as her name suggests, she was a person of the highest wisdom.
Thus, directly addressing Sariputra, the Buddha declared, ìForm does not differ from the Void, and the Void does not differ from FormÖ; the same is true for feeling, conception, volition and consciousness.î This statement highlights and expands the foregoing sentence of the Sutra, leading toward a deeper, sharper understanding of its essential teaching. This Dharma might not be clearly understood, however, without at least some further explanation.
I have already, heretofore, introduced the fivefold interpretation of the meaning of Voidness, or Emptiness, as follows: the obstinate voidness of worldlings; the annihilation voidness of those travelling the outer, or heterodox, path; the voidness understood by means of analysis, as practiced on the path of the Two Vehicles; the Void perceived by Bodhisattvas as the true substance of the universe; the Supramundane Void of True Existence. Thus, ìForm does not differ from the voidî, is an observation of inconceivable wisdom rooted in the deep practice of Prajna Paramita.
The sense-organ group produces three types of experience: touching combined with seeing; the activity of one sense-organ door alone; activity of the mind alone. This point relates to the six kinds of dataósight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thoughtóand the corresponding six material sense-organsóeye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. All our experiences, physical and mental, are generated and accumulated by this group. During their interaction with their objects, the senses are affected, or contaminated, by earthly views. The result, then, is dust (attraction or aversion of the senses) which characterizes the sentient sphere, or Kamadhatu. Dust of this kind is one of
the major hindrances to Enlightenment.
Let us proceed with an analysis of these three types of experience. The first is, experience that comes about through contact with form, any form, by means of combining seeing and touching and includes mountains, rivers, houses, flowers, dogs, our bodies and all the other forms that have corporeality and can be touched as well as seen; and the result of that contact is the dust of form.
The second is the kind of experience produced separately by one of the four based on contactóhearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. Hearing is accomplished by the ear and produces sound-dust; smelling is accomplished by the nose and results in smell-dust; tasting is done with the tongue, generating taste-dust; and touch informs us of bodily states, thereby producing touch-dust.
The third kind of experience arises from mental activity alone. It engenders mind objects, thoughts or ideas and eludes both sight and touch. While each of the five sense organs has its own specialized field, the mind knows and receives all of them. A mind-object, or mental formation, is a shadow of the five kinds of dust; the mind knows all of them, but they do not know and cannot know one another.
The six kinds of dust generate these three kinds of experience; but where do the six kinds of dust come from? With our five physical sense organs, we experience the material world. When a sense-organ relays information obtained through contact to its corresponding consciousness, the dust is produced. The six kinds of dust involve the participation and combination of numerous forms in the process of generating the three types of experience. How, then, can form be considered the true existence of the Supramundane Emptiness? How, then, can we call void what our eyes can see and our hands can touch?
We may believe we see with our eyes, but, actually, it is our seeing nature that sees. A dead body, for example, though having eyes, cannot see, because its seeing nature is no longer there. The seeing nature, as substance, has no specific residence. It is neither the brain nor the mind. It is vast and boundless, signless, unattainable. Despite the fact that we can see whatever is in front of us, we cannot see our own seeing nature. Because our seeing nature cannot be traced and cannot be fathomed, we assign to it the term Emptiness, or Voidness.
We say, furthermore, that Emptiness is the substance of our nature. Speaking of the seeing nature and the number of colors seen, as well as their characteristics, is without relevance. To put it simply, form is nature, and nature is form. Thus, nature being void, form is also void. What does it mean when we say that form is nature? Because our six organsónamely, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mindógive rise to the six naturesóseeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowingócountless forms combine and manifest themselves as three kinds of experience and in the process generate six kinds of dust. However, form is not separate from nature, and nature cannot separate from form. When it is separated from form, nature is non-form; form separated from nature is non-nature.
We have another example in case some people are not completely clear regarding the Doctrine. Ask yourself which comes first, form or nature. If your answer is that the nature of seeing comes first, then consider how it can manifest itself in the absence of form. If, on the other hand, the answer is form, then ask yourself, how you can become aware of it without your seeing nature. There is really no difference between form and seeing; all of it is relative dharma. The seeing nature, or the seeing consciousness, is like this; and the hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing consciousnesses are also.
The just concluded study of form and nature according to Tíien Tíai has helped us to realize that they are inseparable, or nondual. Since the void is the substance of nature, it must be the substance of form as well. Accordingly, to perceive that ìForm does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from formî is to understand that they are inseparable. It is the Dharma of Nonduality.
Let me give you another example. A mirror is made to reflect whatever is in front of it. The whatever may be near or far, round or square, green, yellow, red or white, or all four. The mirror will reflect all with equal clarity. Facing clothes, the mirror will reflect clothes; facing a table, the mirror will reflect a table; and when made to face the sky, the mirror will reflect it. The mirror always reflects something, and, therefore, it is comparable to our Self Nature; the reflection itself can be compared to dust. A person of mundane concerns will misunderstand the situation, hold the reflection (dust) for the real thing, and struggle to grasp it. Who would believe that mountains, rivers, the earth, and even the entire universe are mere reflections, or dust; and, as such, they must all rise and vanish in the cycle of existence? What this means is that phenomena are the Dharma of Birth-and-Death. The mirrorís reflective capacity is like the True Nature of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching; and being True Suchness, it is unmovable, so cyclic existence cannot touch it. However, without a mirror, how can there be a reflection? Their relationship is immutable yet clearly defined in terms of sharp contrast. Similarly, form and mind-nature are one and the same. One can became enlightened and see oneís own True Nature by practicing this Dharma. TheSurangama Sutra says: ìWhen you see light, your seeing is not the light; and when you see darkness, your seeing is not the darkness. When you see the void, seeing it is not the void; and when you see a slab, the seeing is not the slab. When your Absolute Seeing perceives the essence of seeing, the former is not the latter; they still differ from one another. Therefore, how can your affected seeing reach that Absolute Seeing?î In the part of The Heart Sutra we are presently studying, seeing applies in the first instance to subject-seeing and in the second one to object-seeing. This point should be cogitated and comprehended intuitively. Without form there is no nature because form and nature are of the same substance and there is no inside or outside. This is the stupendous, wonderful Dharma of Suchness.
Letís return to the example of the bright mirror. The worldling, unlike a Saint, is interested solely in the reflection, never giving as much as a thought to the mirrorís reflectivity. Clinging to the reflection, the worldling grasps an incidental occurrence on the mirrorís surface and mistakes it for the original. The uninformed fail to understand that all that exists has its nature: earth has earth nature; fi re has fi re nature; water has water nature; wind has wind nature; and, consequently, the mirror has a mirror nature. Our True Nature is also like that, and yet most people are always confusing illusion with reality, being quite unaware of their True Nature. They grasp at and cling to reflections and dust. Thus, for them, the Tao of Bodhi is difficult to attain. The Buddha made use of many expedients while teaching the Dharma of Truth. He repeated them over and over again so those who listened could follow his example and attain Enlightenment. Reflections in the mirror are impermanent, but the mirror-nature is constant. Reflections come and go, but the reflectivity of the mirror remains.
The Enlightened practitioner of the Theravada tradition dualistically holds form and mind to be distinct and separate. However, a Bodhisattva of the Mahayana tradition, who has attained the intermediate level of practice, views the reflection as the characteristic of the mirrorís nature; and so the mirrorís capacity for reflection is not dualistically held to be separate from the reflection. There is a cohesive bond, meaning that form and mind are inseparable. It is the material entities that are unreal; this is what immateriality of substance means. Although it is true that a Bodhisattva is enlightened and the Mahayana doctrine more accomplished than that of the Theravada, there is still more that needs to be done. The only Complete Enlightenment is that of the Buddha, and it is attainable only by means of mindfulness, by being observant, and by awakening to the Ultimate Truth. Form is mind, and mind is form; they are neither two nor one. Such is the fundamental Buddhadharma. True existence is the supramundane Void, and the true Void inconceivably exists.
In the next part of our discussion, we shall direct our attention to a further analysis of ìHe perceived that all five skandhas are empty; thus, he overcame all ills and suffering.î The adherents of the Buddha need to understand clearly that the form-skandha is the first one of the five. Then the fundamental question arises: Why is form different from the Void, and why is the Void different from form? Form is one of the six dusts and the first of the five skandhas. To consider form as having an independent existence is one of the wrong views. Actually, form is not different from the Void.
Someone once asked why we talk only about the skandha of form; why not talk about all five? The answer is that form as shape is most confusing, particularly when applied to the materiality of the human body. Feeling, conception, volition and consciousness are the domain of mind. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental formations constitute the group of the six dusts, also referred to as the six forms (relating to the foregoing discussion of the three types of experience). The six dusts are generated by our five material sense-organsóeye, ear, nose, tongue and bodyóeach of which possesses both shape and form, which is the first of the five skandhas. When we add the six dusts to the five skandhas, we arrive at eleven forms called collectively the dharma of form.
The remaining group of four skandhas is called the dharma of mind. The skandha of feeling and the skandha of conception jointly are amenable to fifty-one mental conditions; the skandha of volition has the form (or dharma) of twenty-four non-interrelated actions. The skandha of consciousness is made up of eight parts. The dharma of form and the dharma of mind jointly contain ninety-four dharmas. In addition, there are six inactive supramundane dharmas (asamskrtas), which bring the number of dharmas to one hundred, as referred to in the principal sastras (commentaries). The Buddhaís teachings originally contained eighty-four thousand of them, but Bodhisattva Maitreya, by condensing them, arrived at six hundred sixty dharmas. Then, Vasubandhu (c.320-400 C. E.), the Bodhisattva of non-attachment, and his older brother Asanga (c.310-390 C. E.) distilled their content further to obtain one hundred dharmas, simplifying it for future students.
The domain of mind is vast; it contains four skandhas out of the five, and its cultivation is the means to the attainment of the Path. Returning to the analogy of the bright mirror, we should understand that the reflection, or image, is composed of ninety-four form and mind dharmas, while the six inactive, supramundane dharmas (asamskrtas) constitute the mirrorness, or True Nature, of the mirror.
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practiced the deep Prajna Paramita and perceived that all five skandhas are empty. This radiant, all-encompassing wisdom is the Dharma of Reality as Non-action. In terms of our analogy, the mirrorís True Nature is the Ultimate Reality. It reveals the five skandhas as essentially void. However, without practice and study, how can we understand True Reality?
The skandha of form embodies eleven dharmas, all of which are not different from Emptiness; therefore, ìForm does not differ from voidness, and voidness does not differ from form.î What is the True Void? The True Void is the luminous wisdom of enlightened Mind. Without wisdom, how could the Emptiness of the skandhas be disclosed? Also, for that matter, how could anyone overcome and end all ills and suffering without wisdom? In reality, to break off the eleven form dharmas is far from easy. Non-duality of form has the inconceivable, brilliant form of the Supramundane Voidóthe True Existence. Such is the meaning of ìForm does not differ from voidness, and voidness does not differ from form.î The Buddha was aware that some of his disciples continued dualistically approaching form and Void as separate and distinct, as left and right for instance; and, therefore, he elaborated further, in more depth as follows: ìForm voidness, and voidness is form.î
Form and voidness initially are nondual. All present form, empty of self, is the Supramundane Void of True Existence: It is the stupendous Dharma of Non-duality and Non-grasping. Just by oneís comprehending this concept, the five skandhas are already broken off. That is the meaning of ìThe same is true for feeling, conception, volition and consciousness.î Once the skandha of form was disclosed as void of separate, lasting self, the mind-skandhas, similarly, were found to be void. To break off one skandha is to break off all of them.
Furthermore, ìThe same is true for feeling, conception, volition and consciousnessî means that feeling, conception, volition and consciousness are, likewise, recognized as void of selfhood. Rather, the Void is their essence. The Dharma of the Five Skandhas is the teaching of things in general--one is all, and all is one. Consequently, by understanding one skandha one understands all five.
Then, the Buddha continued to expand the scope of this teaching, addressing Arya Sariputra. First, the skandhas were revealed as void of self, and now Voidness is to be revealed as their true essence.