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the Heart Sutra's "Form is Emptiness"

Discussion of general East-Asian Mahayana Buddhism, Sutras & Shastras.

Re: the Heart Sutra's "Form is Emptiness"

Postby Lunarious1987 on Tue Jul 12, 2016 3:03 am

desert_woodworker wrote:We read in The Great Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra -- and we chant -- the potent Mahayana words:

    "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form;
    form is exactly emptiness; emptiness exactly form
I'd say we come to an understanding of this only through practice.

But Albert Low Roshi has written a few kind words on this which I'd like to share. I think they -- and he -- do a helpfully good job.

Low Roshi writes, in addressing the meaning of the above words of the sutra,

    "what has no form is the basis of form." ***
I feel that this adds a good viewing angle, a good perspective, on the sutra's confident assertion of equivalence or identity of these otherwise seeming "two".

Other teachers, such as Thich Nhat Hanh in particular, write and speak about the lack of self-nature of things, and Thich Nhat Hanh likes to share the fact that, say, a flower is not made up of "flower-stuff", but only of other stuff. For example, a flower is made from sunlight, clouds, soil minerals, CO2 from the air, chlorophyll, polysaccharides, etc.

(I've come to like to say, "No flowers were harmed in the making of the flower"). :tongueincheek:

So, by analogy -- or, naturally -- it seems natural and consistent that "form" must be constituted of something that is NOT form.

The "something" that is NOT form is ...emptiness.


*** Albert Low; ZEN AND THE SUTRAS; 2000; 31.


I Norway (and probably other Western countries) they call one of the highest degres in Philosophy: Amanuensis. It means a holy text learned slave. A slave.

In Martial Arts, they say that the attitude is more important that then skill itself. That is, if a mugger hunts me, I just take an attitude of a fighter (in fear) and hope the mugger escapes. Maybe because I have no endurance. Having no endurance is not important.

In Christianity they say that love is to Give, not to take neccesarily or overly.

So be a learned SLAVE and give by taking the load of others if you follow the big boat. Otherwise, everyone is alone on their Big Way. When I pray, I always salute on the others first, then I salute on myself. Because it comes from emptiness. I'm so empty that I a stupid. But mentally strong as a bull.

- Don't be thankful to be righteous. Be righteous to be thankful.
- Shia: "We are the friends/owners of proof, wherever it bends we bend."
- Imam Hussein was once asked: what is affluence? He said : Decreasing your wishes , and being satisfied with what is enough for you.”
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Re: the Heart Sutra's "Form is Emptiness"

Postby cam101+ on Sat Nov 05, 2016 12:53 am

Yes, we come to an understanding of this through practice, but even so, it doesn't take much, well, intellect, to understand it in other ways. It means that nothing has any intrinsic value or meaning, we project those things onto everything. Everything simply is. Everything is Buddha nature, or as Dogen says, everything is Buddha.
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Re: the Heart Sutra's "Form is Emptiness"

Postby desert_woodworker on Sat Nov 05, 2016 2:09 am


"Understanding" by intellect and by waking up are completely different. That's point 1 (which I see you recognize).

Now to save time and space about "emptiness", I'll paste what Conze said:

    Roughly speaking, we may say that the word ["emptiness"] as an adjective (sunya)
    means 'found wanting' and refers to worldly things, and as a noun (sunyata)
    means inward 'freedom' and refers to the negation of the world.

    "It [emptiness] thus becomes a name for Nirvana, if only because that [Nirvana] lacks greed, hate and delusion; it is one of the doors to deliverance.
But the "found wanting" of objects is not the only impression that one garners of objects, viewing from the awake state. What also is clear and evident is their lack of an intrinsic nature. That is, as conditioned objects, they do not stand alone, on their own.

Instead, they are like a cartoon flip-book of "moving" images. Something came before, and something comes after (just as in the case of dharmas). A flower is not made of flower-stuff, but of other stuff (minerals; water; sunshine; CO2; polysaccharides; etc.). So, this kind of (adjectival... ) emptiness is emptiness of self-nature.

And the other kind of emptiness which is "freedom" in awakening cannot of course be compared in kind with an intellectual grasp of an idea of any sort of emptiness.

Again, and as always, correct practice is the Rosetta Stone -- and touchstone, besides -- of what Buddhists talk about when they speak from the awakened condition (say, as the Buddha, or our many Zen Buddhist ancestors, spoke), and correct practice is the gate (path... ) to that condition.

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Re: the Heart Sutra's "Form is Emptiness"

Postby desert_woodworker on Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:52 pm

I found a couple of paragraphs in Conze's BUDDHIST THOUGHT IN INDIA (1962; 1967. P. 202) which elaborate on a couple points made occasionally here.

A first point is my observation about how, after a certain point in practice (say, Zen Buddhist practice), or after certain developments in practice, the sutras or other scriptures can come to read "like letters from home".

A second point is Michael's point to certain members about how, often, statements made by Zen Buddhists imply or contain their opposite. So one should be careful in believing that any assembled palimpsest of cherry-picked selections from statements made by a host of Zen Buddhist masters or adepts -- or even by just one -- can be used legitimately for arguing one's point of view, as occasionally some members here try, or have tried... , to do. This caution particularly is to be observed if one's point of view or point of argument is not informed by correct practice, and is formed only or mostly by miscellaneous reading.

Here, then, we have Edward Conze, on two points regarding the Prajnaparamita writings of Mahayana Buddhism:

    "The Mahayana writings, and in particular the Prajnaparamita Sutras, are almost exclusively concerned with the problem of the Unconditioned, nothing but the Absolute over and over again. On the face of it there could be nothing more dreary and uninteresting than the 'Unconditioned' -- a grey patch, a wan abstraction, an elusive will-o'-the-wisp. But it is a fact of observation that in the course of their spiritual struggle people actually come to a stage where this abstraction miraculously comes to life, gains a body, fills, sustains and irradiates the soul. It is then that these writings become interesting and meaningful."

    Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The lengthy writings on Perfect Wisdom are one long declamation in praise of the Absolute. Everybody knows of course that nothing can usefully be said about the Absolute. This had prompted the Sthaviras to keep silent, or at least nearly silent about it. The Mahayanists, on the other hand, consider everything that might reasonably be said about it, and expressly reject it as untrue and inadequate. In any case they observe the precaution of always cancelling out each statement by another one which contradicts it. Everywhere in these writings contradiction is piled upon contradiction. Whatever is said about the Absolute gives really no sense, but, on occasions, people feel impelled to say it. Likewise what we think and say about people we love is, strictly speaking, never quite true. But it would be unnatural not to say or think it. So with the Absolute. The metaphysics of the Mahayana expresses a state of intoxication with the Unconditioned, and at the same time attempts to cope with it, and to sober it down."
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Re: the Heart Sutra's "Form is Emptiness"

Postby Michaeljc on Sat Dec 24, 2016 8:26 pm

Loving emptiness and hating existence is not the way. Why would Buddha ancestors want such delusion again? Do not wish to become Brahma and Indra, but simply seek for unsurpassed awakening

Dogen. Eihei Koroku. Volume 6. Dharma hall discourse 440
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