Reality, and the Heart Sutra

December 1, 2008

There are times, like now, where I have serious doubts about "reality". Before you laugh, or think that I'm really crazy, have you ever read (or chanted) The Heart Sutra?

If not, let's explore a few verses in rapid order. It begins like this:

Form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

Form is an object, like a human being, a chair, or a book. Emptiness is usually interpreted as something like "transient" (or, in more difficult terms, lacking inherent existence). Transience means that a human is a human as long as you're alive, but (a) you're always changing while you're alive, and (b) one die you will die, and if you are cremated (for example), your human, physical form will turn to ashes. (There are more gross ways of dying, such as dying in a forest and then decomposing, or perhaps being eaten by a tiger in the jungle, but I'll stick with cremation here.)

Similarly, a chair is a chair as long as it retains the form of a chair, but one day it might break, and then it's no longer useful as a chair. Or it might burn in a house fire, and also be reduced to ashes. And oh, BTW, if you look at the components of a chair at a microscopic level, you really can't tell while you're in there that it's a chair; all you see are a bunch of atoms and molecules flying around, and odds are they don't know they're part of a bigger thing called a chair.

Here's the next verse:

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

So, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness are also both form (they exist in some shape) and emptiness (they are transient, or fleeting).

Going on:

all dharmas are marked with emptiness,
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

In short, everything is transient (empty), and in transience there is no permanent form, feelings, etc. (This negation part really needs to be discusses in great detail.)

All of this leads up to the big conclusion:

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

In the words of the sage/chef Emeril Lagasse, "Bam!"

There is a lot of discussion that needs to happen here --  and one day I'll come back and cover this in detail -- but for today's post I don't want to make this too long, so let me cut to the chase: Doesn't "No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind", sound a little like "None of this is real"?

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