Heart Sutra a deeper look (Part 5)
When Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva was practicing the profound prajna paramita, he illuminated the five skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.
The opening line tells us who (Avalokiteshvara) is practicing the Dharma or teaching the Buddha has given. These words were part of the teaching during the fourth stage of the Buddha’s teachings, and were aimed at those who we now call followers of the Theravada path. The Theravada path is the smaller wheel, as it only primarily directly benefits those who practice it, by becoming monks or nuns. Laypersons accrue merit by supporting those who live in monastic communities though alms. The Mahayana path which later developed to allow all to benefit from the teachings, by doing good to all beings is also called the larger wheel, because a greater number obtain benefit. Both wheels are of equal value, for the lay community needs the monastic community for guidance and teaching. The monastic community needs the lay community to support it, in order to delve deeply into the teachings. The Buddha set it up so that both support the other.
Including the term Bodhisattva tells us more about Avalokiteshvara, in that this was someone who had stopped their journey just before reaching Nirvana, in order to help other beings following the path. The Bodhisattva listens to the internal, while the rest of us are influenced by the external. By focusing on the internal they have overcome the cycle of birth and death, and are no longer driven by the six senses, sight, taste, touch, smell, sound, and thought. So this term identifies Avalokiteshvara as a teacher who can aid us on our journey.
Prajna paramita is ultimate wisdom, or knowing the true nature of reality. We see that everything is impermanent, nothing exists forever in the same state. Even the sun which has a life span of billions of years will come to an end, beginning in about 5 billion years when it becomes what scientists call a red giant star. When this happens the earth will be consumed, followed by only the core of the sun remaining, as a white dwarf. The final stage will be as a cold inert heavenly object called a dark dwarf. What happened to all the energy and matter, it has been released and we can think of them as the ashes of our sun, and the building blocks for new planets and stars in the future. Even the teachings of the Dharma are left behind by those who achieve prajna paramita. The Dharma is like a ferry we use to cross to the other side, once we reach the other side, we wouldn’t drag the ferry along with us, so it is with the Dharma.
Illuminating the five skandhas, tells us that he is revealing their true nature. The five skandhas are form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness. There are two types of attachment or clinging we engage in, to the form or to the thought. The clinging to the form, is to things we think of as our possessions, or people who we think of as ours. The other four skandhas relate to our thoughts. These four skandhas are what are ego uses to keep score. Our ego is what drives us to say mine as a small child, and as we get older, we may not vocalize it quite the same way, but our attachments are still there. What we find pleasing we try to keep close or encounter on a regular basis, food, safe shelter, close friends and family. That which we find unpleasant we try to disassociate from. Once we realize that our body and its desires are just a group of salesman working to influence our true selves, we begin to bring the ego under control.
Crossing beyond all suffering and difficulty is to have regained our true nature. We do not look to anything or anyone for happiness, we do not require possessions to justify our value. We no longer say this body is me, rather we say this body is mine for now.
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