Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't Knock Unless You Already Have The Keys

DHS 177

Kanjisai Bossa
Gyōjin hannya haramita ji
Shō ken go un kai kū

The Heart Sutra is a beautiful text but you'd think that after reading through it and thinking about it year after year i'd get tired of it, be willing and ready to move on to something else at some point in time. Surprisingly, i'm not.

It starts out so deceptively simple: Kanjisai Bosatsu (also known as Kannon, in Japanese, and Avalokiteshvara, in Sanskrit) is practicing the Prajna Paramita; the paramita of wisdom, the Perfection of Wisdom. Actually, not just the prajna paramita, but the profound prajna paramita. The important point here, though, is that the sutra makes clear right at the very beginning that the key to the doors we hope to pass through lie in practice; not scholarly research, not theoretical debates, not books, CDs, DVDs, talks, or anything else that is intellectual in nature, but practice. That's the door Kanjisai Bosatsu is telling us to go through.

For years my practice was, well... "my" practice; I did it, I benefitted from it, it effected only me. Over the years, though, it slowly evolved into a wider practice. This practice was still focused on me, but at the same time it indirectly involved everyone else that came into contact with me, even though they didn't realize it. Then, after many more years, it ever more slowly evolved into just practice; a practice that didn't involve me any more or any less than it involved the mailperson that delivers mail to people in Billings, Montana, or a bank clerk in Guangzhou, China — in other words, it involved everyone and everything even though it manifested at a particular time and a particular place called me. Practice became something that i participated in rather than something i did.

And, that's what Kanjisai Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva Kanjizai) was doing — he was participating in the deeply profound practice of the Paramita of Wisdom. Wisdom doesn't mean to imply that because he was a bodhisattva he was incredibly learned and knew all of the Buddhist literature and theory inside out, like a gray-haired wise old man, no, it means that he understood what the Buddha understood, that he saw reality through the same eyes that the Buddha saw it, that he was aware of the sham that most people pass off as "life."

Wisdom means that he understood emptiness and impermanence and how all life is defined by these concepts, how everything is nothing but emptiness and impermanence, and yet, at the same time, how everything is at the same time dual, divided, and apparently self-existent. Wisdom doesn't mean you threw away the concept of apparent reality and have moved up to the bigger and better concept of ultimate reality. Wisdom means that you can see reality for what it really is, which is non-dual duality, which is impermanence lasting countless eons, which is both apparent reality and ultimate reality, at one and the same time, at no time, here, nowhere, in your life, and in absolutely nobody's life.

As he was sitting in meditation (probably) and participating in this mysterious process of non-dual duality, he saw that the five skandhas, the five heaps, are also empty. It's not that everything is empty of any self-inherent existence and composed solely of the five skandhas, but that that is true AND that the five skandhas themselves are also empty. Everything, with no exceptions is empty. Why? Because everything is one reality and that one reality is empty. You can't say that everything is empty except the skandhas or you are still mired in the world of duality. In a non-dual reality, if you say anything is empty of inherent existence, then by definition you are saying that reality, in total, in its oneness, is empty of inherent existence.

So that's where this beautiful document starts — on your zafu and out of your head. We are told, while still standing at the front door, that if we want to enter we have to accept two principles: the entire journey is predicated on practice and the entirety of everything is one and empty. If you don't accept those, you might as well just move on and knock on another door because those are the keys to the door of the Heart Sutra.

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