‘Buddha preaching Abhidhamma in Tavatimsa’ – Wikimedia Commons
There is a text that came from the dawn of ages, whose author is unknown, but which has been widely accepted, practised, and chanted in Mahāyāna Buddhism as a condensed exposé of the teaching of Buddha. Although known and praised as the ‘Heart Sutra’, its original Sanskrit name translates as ‘The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom’. If the Sutra’s main teaching asserts that all phenomena is ‘Śūnyatā’, a term widely translated as emptiness, its wide implications extend to many other aspects in the understanding of our true nature. Originally translated in Chinese by a 9th century Buddhist monk called Prajñā, the text exists in a shorter and longer version. I am sharing here the standard long version that provides an elegant and story-like context to the main teaching. I have also chosen to give to the many Sanskrit terms their original meaning or context. Following the Sutra is a short text that I wrote, some words that the text has evoked in me. I hope that this presentation will give justice to the profundity of this text, and that you will enjoy the reading.
“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”
~ The Heart Sutra
Discover this milestone of Buddhist literature: the ‘Heart Sutra’… (READ MORE…)
Back in the 12th century, in China’s Zen tradition, appeared a series of ten drawings and their accompanying poems. They were meant to describe the ten stages on the path to enlightenment, or to the recognition of our true nature. This series is traditionally named the ‘Ten Ox Herding Pictures’ or more simply ‘Ten Bulls’, and its best known version was created by the Chinese Zen master Kuoan Shiyuan in the 12th century. The present drawings are copies of the originals by the the 15th century Japanese Zen monk and artist Tenshō Shūbun.
The bull and the herder is an old theme in the Buddhist literature of the first centuries AD, and was borrowed and developed in the tradition of Zen. Although other versions have a different number of drawings, this series with ten pictures was adopted in Japan and made famous in the West through the 1957 book ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings’, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. The poems have been translated and commented numerous times, as is often the case with Old Chinese, a language which lends itself to many interpretations.
The main contribution of this version is that the series doesn’t end with the awakened state, shown by a mere circle representing emptiness, but with two more drawings where the realisation of truth is taken further into the realm of form, or everyday life. As the Zen master Jitoku Ki said: “Every worldly affair is a Buddhist work, And wherever he goes he finds his home air; Like a gem he stands out even in the mud, Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace.”
“Form is not different from emptiness,
and emptiness is not different from form.
Form itself is emptiness,
and emptiness itself is form.”
~ Heart Sutra
Taste the poetry and evocative power of these old poems and drawings… (READ MORE…)