The Heart Sutra in the context of its relationship to koans and what koans are. I want to pursue that line a little bit. And the first thing to say about – probably the first attitude people have to koans is that they are a sort of tool, a gadget of some kind, and you use them and you concentrate on them, and you use them – a can opener for the mind
The Heart Sutra, like any koan, contains the universe, and so you have to go in somewhere. I want to go in through the “Mantra of Great Magic.” Even the word “mantra” is, in a certain way, a reference to magic, a sort of portable access to reality that you can carry around with you. And the word “magic” is also used for the word “mantra,” so where we use “mantra” to produce magic, there’s a transformative quality about the mantra so that, when you repeat it, when you keep company with it, you end up in its world.
PZI Zen Online Audio Excerpt- Guantin in the Pavilion Under the August Moon – The call and response of compassionate exchanges – air as breath of life. Anchored in the Heart Sutra. Dream of a room, barely there full of gifts for all times and places. As recorded August 23 2020.
We have such a passion to know and to be certain but, in practice, much of what we think of as knowledge is just untested thoughts. As the Heart Sutra says, even thoughts are empty, and if we are willing not to know, willing to walk through life without believing every thought that rises, then we’ll find a path out of suffering.
I think this is a time when things are kind of changing and incredibly uncertain, and that fidelity to what’s really true to us is important and valuable. And we don’t have to pretend that when difficulties are here, they’re not here. But also, we don’t have to pretend that they cancel the illumination, because nothing does, really. Even if we’re dying, the brightness of life is still there. And after we’re dead, we’ll worry about that later, [laughs] when the time comes in the bardos.
There was a teacher called Luopu, a Chinese teacher, and he said this interesting thing. He said, “You have to directly realize the source outside of the teachings.” That’s the whole thing about it. That’s Bodhidharma’s thing, the direct realization outside of scriptures. The scriptures are nice and the teachings are nice, but really, the direct understanding—the direct meeting with life—the direct meeting with awakening is the thing.
Joy and peace don’t stop the mosquitoes from biting. All these things have their source in meditation. So you want to open your heart. You want to –whatever it is – during meditation. That’s what he’s saying. Right. It comes from within.
And so you go out to the cemetery and you find your family vault. It looks a little bit overgrown; you haven’t been there for a long time. But you’ve got a key and you put it in and you pull the big stone door and it opens, just like that. It’s great. So you walk in just to kind of pay your respects; you haven’t been here for ages. And a sudden gust of wind….
You can trust that the thing that you are doing is going to work. It’s underground. There’s a growth happening in the dark. You don’t even have to see it. But, after a while, you start to notice it. It’s kind of a cool thing, actually. You think, “God, even me! Even I have some part in this.”
When something confronts you, don’t believe it. Whatever appears, shine your light on it. Have confidence in the light that’s always working inside you. When the heart rises, the 10,000 things arise too. When the heart is still, the many things cease. They come to rest. When the heart does not rise… when the heart is not anxious, as John put it last night… when the heart does not rise, the 10,000 things are without blame. So when something confronts you don’t believe it. Don’t believe it. That’s been such a kick to sit with. I just noticed that I start suffering, and when suffering comes it, it doesn’t even name itself. I’m not even aware of what I’m wrong for doing or not doing.
Tonight I want to talk about another aspect of the koan about who’s hearing, who am I, what am I. There’s a spectrum I’ve been talking about so far for all of one previous talk. And I wanted to get at it slightly at an angle by going in through dreams, and the idea of is there a difference between what we’re doing and dreams anyway, which is certainly relevant to who we think we are.
I like having a roomful of things and a roomful of people. So my plan for this talk is to say a little bit of some of the things I’ve
been thinking about as I sit with this koan, and talk a little bit about retreat, and then to have some time for conversation and questions and observations.
Eventually you come to a place where you can’t go on and you can’t go back. You have arrived at the base of cliffs; you can’t scale them, you can’t get around them, and there’s no handy tunnel through them. The Japanese teacher Hakuin called this the Silver Cliffs and Iron Mountains. It’s a daunting place—that’s the point of it. And when you arrive here your life and your journey can become your own.