An Explanation of the Heart Sutra
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Also available as an audiobook on CD
The Heart Sutra is probably Buddha’s most well-known discourse; and yet it reveals an aspect of his teaching – ultimate truth emptiness – that is one of the most difficult to realize.
In this extraordinary book, Geshe Kelsang takes us line by line through the Sutra and explains its hidden meaning with remarkable clarity.
Sincere study of this book lays a firm foundation for meditation on ultimate truth emptiness, which leads to the complete eradication of the ignorance of self-grasping and the experience of permanent inner peace.
The book also includes a special practice based on the recitation of the Sutra for overcoming obstacles and hindrances.
“For the serious student of Buddhism, a better book would be hard to come across.” — THEMIDDLE WAY
Everything is Like a Dream
Another example that is often used to illustrate the meaning of emptiness is the experience of dreaming. When we dream, we may have extremely vivid experiences. We may travel to colourful lands, meet beautiful or terrifying people, engage in various activities, and as a result experience great pleasure or suffering and pain. In our dream a whole world appears to us, functioning in its own way.
This world may be similar to the world of our waking state or it may be quite bizarre, but in either case while we are dreaming it appears to be utterly real. It is quite rare to have the slightest suspicion that what we are experiencing is just a dream. The world we inhabit in our dream seems to have its own existence completely independent of our mind, and we respond to the world in our normal way, with desire, anger, fear, and so on.
If, while we are still dreaming, we try to test whether the world we are experiencing is real or not, for example by tapping the objects around us or by questioning the other people in our dream, we shall probably get a response that seems to confirm the reality of our dream surroundings. In fact, the only certain way to know that we have been dreaming is to wake up.
Then we instantly realize without any doubt that the world we were experiencing in our dream was deceptive and was merely an appearance to our mind. It is quite clear once we are awake that what we experience in a dream does not exist from its own side but depends completely upon our mind. For example, if we dream of an elephant, the ‘dream elephant’ is merely an appearance to our mind and cannot be found inside our bedroom or elsewhere.
If we check carefully, we shall realize that our waking world exists in a way that is similar to the way in which our dream world exists. Like the dream world, our waking world appears vividly to us and seems to have its own existence independent of our mind. Just as in the dream, we believe this appearance to be true and respond with desire, anger, fear, and so on.
Also, if we superficially test our waking world as we did our dream world to see whether it really does exist in the way that it appears, we shall again receive an apparent confirmation of our view. If we tap the objects around us they will appear to be quite solid and real, and if we ask other people they will say that they are seeing the same objects in the same way as we do.
However, we should not take this apparent confirmation of the inherent existence of objects as conclusive, since we know that similar tests cannot reveal the actual nature of our dream world. To understand the true nature of our waking world we must investigate and meditate deeply, using the type of analysis already described. When by these means we realize emptiness we shall understand that objects such as our body do not exist from their own side. Like the dream elephant they are mere appearances to our mind. Nevertheless our world functions, following its own apparent rules in accordance with the laws of cause and effect, just as our dream world functions in its own way.
The experience of realizing emptiness can therefore be compared to waking up. Once we realize emptiness we see clearly and without any doubt that the world as we experienced it before was deceptive and false. It appeared to have its own inherent existence, but having understood emptiness we realize that it is completely empty of inherent existence and depends upon our mind. In fact, Buddha is sometimes called the ‘Awakened One’ because he has awakened from the ‘sleep’ of ignorance.
© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition