Understanding the Buddhist Heart Sutra

Of all the Mahayana Buddhism texts, the Heart Sutra is one of the most well-known and often recited. It is short, however it is believed to offer pure wisdom3. It is a complicated sutra that seems to break down existing notions. It is part of the Prajnaparamita or Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. The earliest known translation was created by a monk named Chih-ch’ien sometime between 200 and 250 CE.

The Deeper Meaning Behind the Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra pushes Buddhists to go beyond believing in what it says. Many take the words to heart and begin to grasp its meaning through practice. The text begins with Avalokiteshvara, or the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion, speaking with disciple Shariputra. The dialogue states that the five skandhas are empty, which means they are free from suffering.

Emptiness is a core doctrine in Mahayana Buddhism. It is not meant in the literal sense that nothing at all exists. Instead it means that events and things are not intrinsic to existence. Instead those things only have identity within our thoughts. It also goes along with the concept of dependent origination, or the idea that nothing exists independently. The Buddha teaches in the Four Noble Truths that distress is seeded through the notion that we exist independently.

The Heart Sutra & The Two Truths

The Heart Sutra is also associated with the Two Truths, which continue the concept of emptiness and dependence. This doctrine explains that existence is absolute and relative. The conventional truth is how the average person views the world, which is as a realm of beings and things. The ultimate truth is that the really are no individual things and beings that exist independently. Many Buddhists work with dharma teachers to understand the significance and meaning of the Heart Sutra.

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