‘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…)
That might be the most important thing of all. Not the meditations that leave you in a state of gratitude and wonder. Not the repeated understandings, no matter how deep and essential they are. Not the feelings of awe in front of that experience of oneness — the disappearance of yourself, and the appearance of your true, revealed, precious self. “I got it at last” were you thinking… But no. That would have been a bit too easy. None of these might do it in the final end. For these extraordinary revelations will eventually have to die down. For these experiences will have to end of their natural end. For these lack the last little remaining kick. There always seems to be another last ‘top of the mountain’. Another frontier. Another clarification. Another hope. Another deception. Another naïve expectation. And another waving hand and unwanted reminder from your sense of being a separate entity. “Hey, I’m still alive!” And back are you on your meditation cushion for another sprout of failing expectation.
That might be the most important thing of all. Not to leave a way out for yourself to escape and hide in a little corner. To grab yet another last little pleasure. To keep yet another wee sense of pride. To have yet a negligible remaining sense of being ‘me’ and enjoy the show from a distance. For these little remaining indulgences, no matter how small and inconsequential they may appear to be, will give rise once again to a fully grown sense of being a person. And this ‘person’ still has on a leash the dark beast of suffering that seems to come back with ever more strength and power. We might finally be eaten by it and be left here, a panting failure. We might never make it… The beast is barking now. Growling in the background. Waking itself up. Hungering for more and better with sharp scintillating teeth.
That might be the most important thing of all. Simply to give yourself up to just being. To not think you’re going to participate to your own banquet. You cannot be a guest of honour when you are yourself the one to be devoured. You just have to give it all up. Every thing of you. Every remaining bits or crumbs on the table of your apparent self. And it will have to be a pleasant offering. For it will never be forced on you. You are invited to die willingly. Or more precisely, to die understandably. To let go of that pestering little thought of yourself. That old haunting belief. That erroneous identity. Knowing that it’s your only chance. The last little thing left to do. That last remaining kick. The most important thing of all. So do it… That’s how you have a really joyful banquet.
“You can’t both drink the cup
of the Lord and the cup of demons.
You can’t both partake of the table
of the Lord and of the table of demons.”
~ 1 Corinthians 10:21 (The Bible)
Text and photo by Alain Joly
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