The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Mindful Monday Morsel: The Heart of the Universe

by Lydia Anderson
November 11, 2013
Mon, 11/11/2013 - 13:41 -- landerson

This week's morsel comes from Mu Soeng's The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra. This is the bold and intriguing assertion of the Heart Sutra, a text of seminal importance to the Buddhist tradition made even more fascinating by its deep resonance with the cutting edges of quantum physics and cognitive science. This selection examines the following line:

"In the three worlds all buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi."

The “three worlds” are the worlds of past, present, and future (at times also interpreted as the worlds of form, formlessness, and desire). In these three worlds or time periods the transcendental wisdom of shunyata is the vehicle that enables aspiring buddhas to complete their liberation project. In the Indian Mahayana tradition it is taken for granted that an aspiring bodhisattva is synonymous with an aspiring buddha, since a bodhisattva is aspiring for buddhahood.

Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi means “Perfect Unexcelled Awakening.” It is the enlightenment of a perfect buddha (sambuddha), one who has by him- or herself rediscovered the wisdom that leads to liberation. In traditional Mahayana usage,Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi is also a statement about the completion of the bodhisattva path, that is, the realization of buddhahood. Such buddhahood puts one in possession of the “ten powers” (Skt: dashabala) of a Perfect Buddha:

knowledge of discernment in any situation of what’s possible and what’s not
knowledge of ripening of deeds in oneself and others
knowledge of superior and inferior abilities of other beings
knowledge of tendencies in other beings
knowledge of the manifold constituents of the world
knowledge of paths leading to rebirth in various realms of existence
knowledge of what will lead to purity and what to impurity
knowledge of various meditations (dhyana) and concentrations (samadhi)
knowledge of death and rebirth
knowledge of when the defilements are completely eradicated

The “attainment” of these ten powers in Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi may seem, on the surface, a logical contradiction since the sutra has just declared that there is “no attainment” and “nothing to attain.” The implicit message here is that in and of itself Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi too is empty, but the ten powers arising out of completing the path can be used as skillful means, which, along with wisdom and compassion, is the hallmark of a bodhisattva in the Mahayana literature. Possessing these ten powers, the bodhisattva works tirelessly to save all beings knowing fully well that all is inherently empty. The effort is directed toward helping individuals change their karmic legacies and patterns rather than saving any solidity called a being.

Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi changes the complexion of the sutra from a mere rejection of Abhidhamma categories to a positive fulfillment of the bodhisattva vow to save or liberate all beings, “All beings, one body; I vow to liberate.” The bodhisattva treads on this path immersed in the intuitivewisdomof shunyata rather than in the rational categories of Abhidhamma or in the illusion that there is someone who can “save” someone.

The wisdom of shunyata is not an opinion or a category but a realization in the bones and the marrow of the practitioner; it is a realization of the empty nature of phenomena rolling on endlessly, in which the practitioner does not see herself or himself as intrinsically separated from the rest of the phenomenal world. In this way of cognizing phenomena, the experiencer and the experienced are inseparable and indistinguishable. The bodhisattva and those being “saved” are also inseparable from one another.

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