The second sutra that I will be explaining from the Prajñāpāramitā is the Heart Sutra. If you have not already read Prajñāpāramitā Part I: The Diamond Sutra, I encourage you to start there before continuing with this article on the Heart Sutra.
The Heart Sutra is one of the shortest sutras known to exist, but in its lines it holds the entirety of Siddhartha’s teachings. Think of it as a bud on a flowering plant, within it exists a bloom far larger than the tiny bud would lead you to believe.
Much like the Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra is all about breaking through our veiled perceptions of ourselves and the world in which we exist. This sutra is sometimes known as the “Insight Sutra” that can bring the student to the other shore of understanding.
Therefore, if the Diamond Sutra is the diamond-bladed sword that cuts through the illusions of our perceptions, the Heart Sutra is the opening of our eyes or the awakening of our minds so that we may know the truth. In less analogous terms, it gives us the insight we need to better understand life in a way that will liberate us from our narrow mindedness of what is and what is not.
The emptiness that is described in the Heart Sutra is more an explanation of the inter-being of both being and non-being, than it is some kind of suggestion that all is nothingness.
Everything we perceive with our senses is exactly that, a perception of something. But our perceptions of what is, attempts to define these things as solely those perceptions. When in reality, they are far more than even our senses can define. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh describes this perfectly when he explains that a tangerine is more than the tangerine we see with our eyes, smell with our noses, taste with our tongues, feel within our hands, or hear with our ears when we tear them open to eat.
A tangerine is the sun, the rain, and soil that went into its formation. When you eat a tangerine, you are eating the sun, the rain, the Earth. A tangerine is what the sun, the rain, the Earth looks like, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds like. This same understanding should be applied to all other things as well.
The Heart Sutra is the teaching that awakens us to the understanding that everything is a part of everything else, and in that interconnectedness there is a loss of individuality. Not one that we should fear or anguish in, but one that we should celebrate.
There is no life without death, no death without life, and there is no joy without sadness, and no sadness without joy. Everything is interconnected and there is no separateness.
The Heart Sutra as a mantra in Sanskrit: Om gate gate pāragate pārasamgate bodhi svāhā
In English: Om, gone, gone, gone to the other shore, gone altogether to the other shore, enlightenment, hail!