The Heart Sutra: guarding against dualistic thinking

Posted by on Sep 30, 2012 in Buddhism | No Comments

How many Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb?

One and not one.

That’s the essence of the Buddhist take on reality. It’s non-dualistic. This is what ‘transcendental’ means.

Much of the later development of Buddhism (the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions) strike me as attempts to avoid our inevitable tendency to drop into dualistic thinking.

Take, for (a good) example, the Heart Sutra. What a load of nonsense!

“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form”.

What is this, The Matrix?

Actually, it’s only nonsense on the level of the language in the sutra. It’s an attempt to communicate something that is, in fact, the opposite of nonsense. (And in fact with study it actually makes quite a lot of sense rationally. There’s a lot packed into it and no room to go into it here I’m afraid – perhaps I’ll do a seminar on it in the future).

The Heart Sutra is part of the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ (Prajnaparamita) tradition in Mahayana Buddhism. There are a whole bunch of sutras in this tradition. My favourite is called ‘The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter’. The letter is ‘a’.

The letter A in Sanskrit is a negative prefix. It means ‘not’ or ‘non-‘. So ‘Anatman’ means ‘not-self’. ‘Ahimsa’ means ‘Non-harm’. So basically, this sutra is saying you’ve got it wrong. Whatever you think the perfection of wisdom is, it’s not that.

This sutra is another great example of the attempt to break our need for logic and rational clarity. It’s trying to drop you down or pop you out into a wider and richer experience of wisdom.

Byron Katie, who doesn’t identify as being a Buddhist, but who definitely talks Dharma, has 4 questions and a ‘turnaround’ that she calls ‘The Work‘.

Doing the work can be a great way of breaking down dualities – particularly those that are causing you conflict – in your own life. It’s deceptively simple. But I’m not even going to try to explain because actually it’s pretty subtle stuff. Best to go check out her site.

My other two favourite Buddhist jokes

1. Why do Buddhists always have cobwebs in their houses? Because they don’t have any attachments.

2. A Buddhist goes up to a hot dog vendor and says “Make me one with everything”.

Btw, I wrote this post because of a comment onĀ this post.


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