We respectfully acknowledge the assistance, support and cooperation of the following advisors, without whom this book could not have been produced: Dayi Shi, Chuanbai Shi, Amado Li, Cherry Li, Hoi Sang Yu, Wei Tan, Tsai Ping Chiang, Vera Man, Kara Chan, and Way Zen. They are all to be thanked for editing and clarifying the text, sharpening the translation and preparing the manuscript for publication. Special thanks are extended to Professor John Chen for his extraordinary scholarly contribution to and input towards the first draft. Also, special thanks are extended to Tony Aromando and Ling Wang for the formatting and graphic design of the book (and the Y.M.B.A. Web Page). Their devotion to and concentration on the completion of this project, on a voluntary basis, are highly appreciated.
When four assemblies jointly invited the great master of Chan Sham to expound The Heart Sutra at the Buddhist Library of China, he made an all-out effort, although his lecture series was to last nine grueling days and even though he was already eighty-four years old. He enjoyed teaching Buddhadharma, and those who came to listen were delighted. During those nine days, there was standing room only every time he lectured, a clear sign of the greatness of that Dharma assembly in this five-kasaya period of turbidity. The old master explained the Sutra directly, eluding conventional restrictions. Although he used the traditional divisions of the Buddha’s teaching into classes, on many occasions he dealt broadly with the general idea. Initially, his aim was to explain The Heart Sutra, but he commented, likewise, on The Lotus Sutra; and while discussing The Doctrine, broached the topic of the world situation as well. And why? Because all dharmas are Buddhadharma, and all sutras are one sutra.
Buddhadharma is never separated from the world. All phenomena are Buddhadharma, and whoever understands completely does not have a single mote of dust settle on him or her. All one’s words and thoughts are thereby freed from obstacles. Each of one’s statements, whether harsh or delicate, is always exact and to the point. Sentient beings receptive to the Dharma will have their Wisdom Eye opened upon hearing this teaching, but those with distorted vision are bound to be bewildered and, most likely, will miss the whole point. Some individuals excel in the knowledge of every rule and every convention, and their words flood forth without surcease. They may have acquired mastery over the divisions and classifications of the Buddha’s teaching; but not understanding its meaning, they cannot avoid getting entangled. Playing with words and turning them about, they are bewitched; and even though their speech is systematic and orderly, they fail to understand the ultimate and lose sight of the truth. According to one of the early Buddhist sages, the entire universe is one sutra of a sramana; and, also, the entire universe is the eye of a sramana. Although an enlightened person might spend a lot of time reading a sutra, he or she will not carry it around in his or her mind. One might say one is reading sutras not with one’s eyes but with one’s wisdom, and, though reading all day long, there are really no sutras to read.
My great old teacher explained The Heart Sutra by highlighting its salient points in a prologue. According to his explanation, all is really Buddhadharma, and every single form and each tiny bit of color is the Middle Way. Speaking naturally and freely, he received support from all sides, precisely because all is Buddhadharma. The great old teacher expounded The Heart Sutra every day for nine days, yet The Heart Sutra itself was never mentioned. This is truly the way to expound The Heart Sutra.
The master lectured in Mandarin, and Upasaka Wang K’ai translated into Cantonese, making the Cantonese people very happy. Because of these lectures many of them now understand The Heart Sutra. Those who knew both dialects praised him for the integrity of his translation. Having read his notes he made while translating, I concluded, in my turn, that Upasaka Wang K’ai made every effort to retain the original meaning. Every sentence and every word is exactly as it was used by the great old master. Only the dialect is different. The translator’s descriptions convey even the sounds and the nuances to such a degree that reading them is equal to hearing them spoken. Upasaka Wang stood outside the adamantine door and eventually made a breakthrough, using his superior knowledge and skills the way one would use an ax to break down any ordinary door. People entered and discovered what The Heart Sutra holds. I believe he understands what his treasury is and what his virtues are. Wouldn’t you agree?
The Buddhadharma is profound and wonderful, but to expound the unfathomable doctrine in all its depth is far from easy. Some people devote most of their energy and thought to the Dharma by teaching or explaining the sutras; however, in their deducing and in their searching for terms and supportive quotations, they have not yet reached the level of the Buddha’s mind. The one who has not climbed Mount Tai (Tai Shan) can only say, “How majestic!” Someone who has not seen the Yellow River but who yet describes how great, how vast it is, is not speaking from his own experience. If one’s view regarding the Dharma is based on speculation, one’s understanding will not be clear; one is not then going to be in a position to explain the Dharma successfully to others. When the teacher lacks understanding of the Dharma, it is hard on the students. They must study too hard to make up for the incomplete guidance. They might even become discouraged and give up, fearing failure, and that would be such a pity! When the great master expounded The Heart Sutra in the Buddhist Library of China, I translated his lectures from Mandarin into Cantonese. I had taken refuge in the Three Jewels from my master many years before that, and Le Kuo, another master, had taught me Buddhadharma. Obliging and kind, he did not abandon me even though I was foolish. He guided me patiently to the right path. Bound by my fixed karma, I am constantly in a hurry and do not devote enough time to the Tathagata’s teachings. It is difficult to reduce my ignorance and change my habits, and my mind is as dull as it was before I started aspiring to Buddhadharma.
However, the Grand Master T’an Hsu’s practice of the Tao of Bodhi is most serious. He thoroughly comprehends the unsurpassed Dharma in all its implications, and his Tao is of the highest integrity. His great reputation has long been established. My goal while learning Buddhadharma was to work with an all-out effort, to follow faithfully, and to be authorized to translate. I feel, nevertheless, uneasy about my own limited knowledge. Prior to his systematic explanation of the Sutra, the master presented in everyday language and with perfect freedom of expression the results of his thorough and exhaustive study, bringing into play all the subtlety of the wondrous and profound Dharma. It seemed as easy as if he had peeled a plantain or stripped a cocoon, using many carefully chosen examples along the way to make his discourse more relevant in terms of daily life. The audience was very impressed and deeply moved. If the Grand Master had not already climbed Mount Tai and had not already seen the Yellow River with his own eyes, how could he have expressed himself so lucidly, so consistently?
During those nine days of
his lectures, the entire Dharma assembly experienced a deep sense of well-being,
and at the conclusion of the series they all agreed to take up a collection
for the publication of the master’s discourses, which themselves are to
be used as an offering to all mankind and to provide a good condition for
the Dharma’s condition in the future. With this in mind, I have accepted
the responsibility for arranging and organizing my notes on the master’s
discourses. Other commentaries I have read are brief and to the point,
but that approach does not suit all readers. Consequently, I chose not
to edit my record of these lectures but handed them over as complete and
integral to the Grand Master’s teaching. I did not avoid or dodge any of
the problems; I just presented the record in a straightforward manner.
Also, because people have difficulty sometimes with literary language,
I did not take the liberty to emphasize, exaggerate or add anything for
fear of losing the meaning and the expressions characteristic of the Grand
Master’s discourse. May I be forgiven for my awkward presentation.
Wonderful Prajna! Mother of all Buddhas and the supreme guide and teacher of sages and saints! All that is comes from Prajna and returns to Prajna. Sentient beings experience birth and death on the Wheel of Life-and-Death, their minds deeply affected by ignorance, bent by the five skandhas, and confused and submerged in the ocean of suffering for long kalpas. How regrettable! Prajna is said to be the light in the darkness of a very long night. On the ebb and flow of the ocean of suffering, Prajna is a raft. To a house consumed by a blazing fire, Prajna is the rain. Without Prajna the universe is darkness, without Prajna the human mind is ignorant, without Prajna sentient beings suffer without respite. Cultivation of the Prajna Paramita, the perfected virtue of knowing truth by intuitive insight, relieves us from our suffering and helps us to overcome all kinds of calamities. All Buddhas of the past, present and future attain Prajna, and the sages and saints have cultivated Prajna. Therefore, all of us need to cultivate the practice of Prajna.
The wonderful doctrine of Prajna is true and, therefore, real; it is perfect in all places and at all times, and yet it is inconceivable. If one can understand that voidness is not void since radiant existence exists within its mystery, then, at that moment, all is perceived as void. Sages and saints become accomplished by means of Prajna, the ultimate ground all sentient beings share. The uninformed majority fails to understand that all that exists is produced by causes and conditions and that the self is a false self without any selfhood. Most grasp form and mistake it for True Existence, enduring immeasurable suffering on the Wheel of Life-and-Death. The practice of truth, or the reality of Prajna, excepted, there is no release from suffering in the Three Realms, no hope of freedom from worldly worries.
It says in The Mahaprajna Paramita Sutra, “All forms are unreal and illusory, and if they are seen as such, the Tathagata will be perceived” because, originally, the true Void is formless. The Sutra says further, “The one who sees me by form and seeks me by sound cannot perceive the Tathagata because of deluded views.” This is to be understood as saying that the one who perceives the form (or body) and the sound (or voice) as the Buddha is grasping merely the form. Missing the true meaning of reality, he or she is unable to perceive that all dharmas are voidness. The Sutra says further, “A Bodhisattva that still clings to the false notion of an ego, a personality, a being and a life is not a Bodhisattva.” Bodhisattvas, like the Buddhas, establish themselves in Emptiness, apprehending their ego, personality, being, and life as false views rooted in duality. “The one who hears this pure teaching with a clear and faithful mind can attain the really real, the reality that is formless; those freed from all forms are called Buddhas,” the Sutra continues.
The Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra is the core of The Mahaprajna Paramita Sutra in six hundred scrolls. Its teaching is the teaching of supramundane Voidness as the only true existence, the true Void being mysteriously concealed in the existing. Therefore, one might say the substance of this sutra is the Voidness of all dharmas; and non-obtaining is the purpose. There is nothing to be obtained from the manifestation of dharmas, all dharmas being void, or empty. Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, coursing deeply in the Prajna Paramita, comprehended the substance of the reality of Prajna: All dharmas, as well as all five skandhas are empty of self, and completely free of thought. For this reason the Bodhisattva received the name Guan Zi Zai Pu Sa.
As the substance of all dharmas, Voidness confirms the true reality of form as non-form. The one who understands that Buddha and sentient beings are not different can liberate all sentient beings from disease and calamity, end the cycle of birth and death, and attain perfect, complete Enlightenment and Nirvana.
The aggregate of form (rupa skandha) stands for all matter that is produced by causes and conditions, with no permanent substance and no separate, lasting self. The remaining four skandhas are as follows: feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness. They all belong to the dharma of mind, which is, likewise, void. But mind cannot find expression without form, and form cannot manifest itself without mind. Without form, mind cannot be expressed; without mind, form cannot be made manifest. In other words, apart from form there is no mind, and apart from mind there is no form. Although they are inseparable, they are not the same, as stated in the Sutra: “Form is Voidness, and Voidness is form.” Being neither form nor mind, all dharmas are void here and now; this is the wonderful Dharma of Reality and Suchness, transcending all others.
The uninformed view the perceptible world with all its beings and non-beings as real or true. Some of them know that it is an illusion produced by the interaction of matter and mentality, that it is deceptive and impermanent, and that it must return to the Void. That interpretation of voidness has not been especially created by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in order to emphasize that all dharmas are rooted in emptiness, because all existence is originally devoid of selfhood and, therefore, empty. It is what they truly have been practicing for countless kalpas. All those who attain Enlightenment attain understanding of the true substance of reality. They perceive that the five skandhas are empty and, thereby, overcome all ills and suffering.
Ultimately, mind and form are not different. Likewise, the rest of the existing world has neither birth nor death, is neither pure nor impure, and it neither increases nor decreases because it is originally void (of selfhood). If one perceives birth as coming and death as going, or if one claims that clean is pure and dirty is defiled, holds full to be an increase and less a decrease, then one is not yet empty of skandhas. These views represent obstacles which bind. Not being able to liberate oneself, how can one hope to liberate others? When one has finally reached the understanding that all existence is produced by causes and conditions and is, therefore, empty of permanent self, then all reality equals stillness and the absence of diversified form. Then birth and death, pure and impure, increase and decrease—all are void. Without defiled thought arising, suffering and calamity vanish. The entire range of artificial or contrived forms is the result of the six organs, six kinds of data and six kinds of consciousness. Reality, in truth, does not comprise any realm. When the five skandhas are empty, there is no diversity of form. Without ignorance there is no ending of ignorance, and it is the same for old age and death.
Supreme Prajna is stillness without form. When one is neither the resultant person nor the dependent condition, one’s suffering ends. When delusory thoughts and views are severed, it is the end of the cause of suffering. However, to relinquish the doctrine of unreality is to block the cessation of suffering. Without the three studies there is no path. If there is no subject of wisdom, it is called Non-wisdom. Without the object and its domain there is absolutely nothing to obtain. True mind is not empty, yet it is Emptiness. Although Bodhi is considered to be an attainment, there is really nothing to attain. To perceive the ground of all Buddhas is Suchness. There are adornments everywhere, and ten-thousand merits manifest themselves. When Dharmakaya becomes manifest, there is only true Emptiness. Mind established in true Emptiness completely encompasses the universe. There should be no seeking—no inside and no outside. The universe is not attainable in that way. As long as there is something to attain, there are obstacles; thought arises and there is then an object. To have an object means duality, which means the loss of true reality, which cannot be called the Prajna Paramita.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practiced wonderful Wisdom and attained Enlightenment completely free of attachment. He entered emptiness, unobstructed, through the gate of liberation. Since there is nothing but Emptiness, (including the body, mind and all that exists), a Bodhisattva is never moved by eulogy or ridicule, slander or fame. Even war, famine or the bubonic plague are dismissed by him or her as illusions taking hold through karma. Letting go of all that seemingly exists on its own, independently of the mind, sets forth brightness; and the one experiencing it will not be intimidated. The Bodhisattva then enters the kind of liberation that is Nirvana. Similarly, the one who has been practicing over a long period of time achieves wonderful calmness, which empowers him or her when faced with disturbance. Water cannot submerge such a one, nor can fire burn. Having attained liberation, the Bodhisattva is fearless. Seeking Dharma outside, in what exists apparently independently of the mind, is proceeding backward, perpetuating a misunderstanding of what is good and evil, dreaming of gain, and holding the cycle of birth and death to be the opposite of Nirvana. It is essential to let go of distinctions such as dreaming versus thinking, right side up, etc., if one wants to enter the gate of liberation through non-action. Only when the name or form is dispatched and there is no mind object, can the original Enlightenment become manifest and Nirvana, the perfect liberation in the Dharmadhatu, be obtained.
All the Buddhas in the three periods depend on the Prajna Paramita for the attainment of Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi. Due to their superb causes, they attain the fruit of sainthood. Thus, we know that the Prajna Paramita can dispose of all kinds of demons. Independent of personality and Dharma, free at all times and in all places, the Buddhas manifest or remain concealed depending on their potential. The Great Mantra is beyond the comprehension of the saints and the worldly alike. Endowed with a power to sever ignorance, it radiates brilliance and stillness. This great, bright Mantra emanates unadulterated Wisdom, and its power to transcend the Three Realms and attain supreme Nirvana is beyond comparison. Illuminating throughout the ten directions, it shines, like the sun, everywhere without discrimination. Such is the unequaled Mantra.
The one who can receive and
hold this Sutra and Mantra will liberate all sentient beings from obstacles,
release them from suffering and attain Complete Enlightenment. This is
true and it is real! Therefore, the Prajna Paramita Mantra says, “Gate,
gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.” The great master T’an Hsu commented,
“The Mantra belongs to the esoteric tradition and, accordingly, belongs
to the five kinds of texts deemed primal, untranslatable, and inconceivable;
when they are translated and explained, they will become conceivable Dharma,
and their original meaning and merit will be lost.” In short, the primary
purpose of the Prajna Paramita Mantra is to liberate self and others, traverse
the sea of suffering and, attaining Complete Enlightenment, reach the serenity
and joy that is Nirvana.