In part 2 of this wonderfully clear commentary on the Heart Sutra, H.E. Zasep Tulku Rinpoche explains the Emptiness of Form, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formations and Consciousness.
Rinpoche explains why the teaching of Heart Sutra is the ultimate teaching for Wisdom, the Perfection of Wisdom, and how it can help us overcome attachments, aversions and fear. Rinpoche gives a beautiful explanation of the Heart Sutra Mantra OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SOHA. Finishing off the teaching, Yoko Dharma beautifully sings the Heart Sutra Mantra.
Full 36-minute video plays below, and full transcript after this video below. Also below is the full English translation of the Heart Sutra:
Full transcript of video commentary teaching
H.E. Zasep Rinpoche: “I would like to continue from where I stopped last time. So like the Buddha said, the feeling is emptiness. Perception is emptiness. Mental formations are emptiness. Consciousness is emptiness. So, now, feeling is emptiness does not mean that we don’t have feelings, or we should not feel, or we should freeze our feelings, or shut down our feelings. That’s not the meaning of emptiness of feeling, or that is not the aim or the meaning or message of talking about a feeling of emptiness, or emptiness of feeling.”
So now, the feeling is part of human being. Every creature, sentient being, has feeling. Actually, I should say a few words about sentient being. When we talk about sentient being, we pray for all sentient beings. We pray that we would like to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings. We do our dedication, end of the meditation, or end of the sadhana practice, we dedicate our merit, good karma, for the enlightenment for all sentient being. So sentient being, what is sentient being?
Tibetan word for sentient being [translates as] the one who walks, or one who moves, and is one who has consciousness, and mind.
So the definition of sentient being is the creature that has mind, that has feelings, and that walk by itself, or move by itself. Like worms, or like insects, and small insects, tiny things move by themselves. And have got feelings. Even the earth worms have feeling. And when you digging earth, and the worms don’t like exposed, bright sun or heat, they try to get back into the dirt.
So feeling, we have lots of feelings. So generally, we have three kinds of feelings. A happy feeling, unhappy feeling, and a neural feeling, all mentally. Physically, we have pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling, and neutral feeling. This is part of human nature. But it is not simple, like simple. Because the different feelings, emotions, creates lots of activities in our mind and body. It gives you lots of joy or happiness, and excitement, and pleasure. Or, at the same time, it can give us pain, suffering, and emotional … what do you call, destruction? Or makes unstable. And then, all sorts of defilements, mental defilements arise. Sorrow, sadness, nostalgic feelings about past, going back to the past, and so forth.
Second Skanda: defilements arising due to feelings
So lots of defilements, mental defilements arising due to the feelings. And we create lot of karma, and unwholesome karmas. And we can also create wholesome karmas, good karma, or virtuous karma, as well. But most of the time, generally speaking, sentient beings create more unwholesome karmas than wholesome karmas because they don’t know what is wholesome, and what is karma, even. They don’t know how to create wholesome karmas, or virtuous karmas. Negative karma, unwholesome karmas, are easy to create, and easy to commit.
So anyway, the feeling is very big part of our life. And for that reason, heart sutra, you can see in the heart sutra, the feeling is … Avalokitesvara said, “Feeling is emptiness.” Once you meditate on it, look at, first, whatever you feel. And first, you sit and meditate, or observe your feelings, right? You have to know your feelings. And once you know your feeling, that’s already start.
This is the beginning. And beginning of the path is the beginning of the solution. Once you know what it is, then you feel less fear, or less kind of like a panic. It’s like sickness. If you don’t know what is going on, it’s scary, you could panic, right? But that’s why you go to the doctor, or you do examination and check up. And once you know what it is, then you feel not so bad. Or what can I do? And there is a medication, and so on, and so forth. You know how to heal yourself. And beginning like that.
First you meditate, and observe the feeling. And then, you know what kind of feeling it is. Pleasant, or unpleasant, indifferent feeling. And then, if you relax yourself, looking at, observing the feeling, slowly, the feeling will subside itself. And there will be less and less feeling. Or at least, you are familiar with your feelings, so you don’t have to panic. And there’s no scared, you don’t get scared.
Mindfulness meditation important
So this is why meditation on awareness is very important. Mindfulness meditation is important. Mindfulness of feeling, awareness of feeling’s important. And not only that, awareness of emptiness of feeling is important. Because feelings that change all the time, they don’t stay all the time one way or the other. And like the clouds that come and go, and like the weather change. So if you are patient and just accept the way it is, the weather, it’s changing, is mother nature. There’s not much you can do. It’s better you practice patience. Like that, if you look at your feelings, then you feel better. And meditate on emptiness of feeling.
Third Skanda: Perceptions
Then, perception. The perception is emptiness. Emptiness is also perception. This is a, actually, very interesting here. Perception is emptiness when you look at the perception, and your perception change. You have a certain way of thinking, a certain way of seeing things. You have certain projections on certain type of people, a group of people. And now, your perception has changed. You don’t have a negative perception anymore. You have positive perception, right? Whatever. Perception has changed. Perception is impermanent. Perception is emptiness of inherent, and emptiness, it does not exist inherently, because you see your perceptions changing. And that’s why heart sutra indicating, or you see in the heart sutra, perception is emptiness.
Now, emptiness is also perception. So the emptiness of the perception is, and perception. Where does the emptiness of the perception come from? The emptiness of the perception comes from your perception. Your perception is labeling the emptiness of perception. Your perception is labeling, also, perception. Right? So therefore, perception is emptiness, and emptiness of perception.
Fourth Skanda: Mental Formations
And likewise, mental formation. Mental formation is a subtle perception. So there’s a little bit different between mental formation and perception. And third, skanda, and heart skanda. There are small differences, not a big difference.
As it’s said that perception is like you walking to the temple, you see inside the temple, there is statutes. There is a painting, thangkas, and so forth. That’s your perception. Then, you pay more attention, and more details about what kind of statue is this? What kind of thangka is this? Oh this thangka is Avalokitesvara. This thangka is Tara. This thangka is Manjushiri. And then, what kind of Manjushiri is this? Black Manjushiri? White Manjushiri? Or orange Manjushiri? And what kind of style of painting is this? Who paint it? Tibetan style? Or Nepalese style? Or maybe if it’s old, old, thangka, maybe it’s ancient Indian style, or Chinese style, right?
So details. That kind of subtle perception is called mental formation. That’s the fourth skanda.
Fifth Skanda: Consciousness
Fifth skanda is consciousness, the mind, okay. So then, now, you’re going into the mind. And mind is emptiness. And twin nature of the mind is emptiness. The Prajnaparamita sutra, another Prajnaparamita sutra, 8000 verses, and it states, two nature of the mind is empty, and two nature of the mind is clay-like. As I mentioned this before, the mind doesn’t exist within the mind. The two nature of the mind is clay-like.
So why do we say mind doesn’t exist within the mind? What does that mean? Well, this is the meaning. Mind doesn’t exist within mind, means that your mind is meditating on your mind. Your mind is the subject, your mind is the object. And usually, we say, the subject, the mind, is coarse mind. Object mind is subtle mind. So they are mind to mind. But, it is questionable. And actually, the subject/object mind, is the subtle mind, or not. Because your mind is jumping around, and you don’t really see subtleness of the mind. So I think if you are an advanced meditator, or yogi, you could see the object of your mind is subtle one, until that probably hard to see. Subtle one. Your mind is all over the place.
In any case, one thing for sure. Your mind is subject and object both, okay? So mind to mind. So when you meditate, subject mind meditating on object mind. So then you don’t find another mind, separate mind, subject mind. They’re not separate, okay? So this is why it says mind doesn’t exist within the mind. So something kind of like you have a box, then you put something else inside the box, different things. Not like that. Not separate thing. It’s mind, just mind. Mind to mind. Same mind. Okay. And mind doesn’t exist within the mind. And something separate mind, doesn’t exist within mind means something separate doesn’t exist.
And true nature of the mind is Clear Light. Clear Light and cognizer.
Or you could say recognizer if you are seeing second time, is a recognizer. And also, according Prajnaparamita, Buddhist philosophy, the definition of mind is … clear and knowing. Clear and knower. Selsing, clear, rigpa is knower. Clear and knower. That’s the definition of mind. Now, mind doesn’t exist inherently or independent. Sometimes, you might think mind does exist inherently because mind is subtle, and most subtle thing, no one really knows what mind is. Maybe, mind is inherent existence, and something.
Emtpiness of Mind is subtle
It’s easy to see the impermanence and emptiness of the form, and feeling, because they keep changing, perceptions. But mind is something very, very subtle. Then you might think, mind does exist inherently, independently. No. Mind doesn’t exist inherently, independently. Because if you meditate on the mind, you don’t find inherently existing mind, or independent existing mind. There is not one mind, or many mind, this or that. And what is mind? So mind is basically a collection of thoughts. Or you could say procession of thoughts. Like you see the people who have the parade, or traffic, one car after another car.
So like that, so many thoughts, coming and going. so mind doesn’t exist, inherently or independent. This is the meaning of emptiness of mind. And does not exist inherently, independent. But mind do, of course, exist. And on the relative level, and conventional level, the mind is the root of everything. Our mind is the cause of our happiness, our mind is the cause of our suffering. And this is the ordinary mind. And Gampopa, the great Tibetan Buddhist master, Gampopa, he was a Milerepa disciple. Gampopa said, the root of samsara is ordinary mind. And so, it actually means we don’t see the mind as a Buddha nature. We don’t see, there’s a Buddha nature within every mind, every sentient being. So this is an ordinary mind.
Mind that is ignorant and deluded. And that’s the root of samsara. Once you see the Buddha nature within you, and Tatathagharba, the potential of the Buddha. And then, is no longer ordinary. And once you experience emptiness of the mind, your mind is no longer ordinary mind, right? Because you have wisdom. Wisdom of shunyata. And is no longer empty, and no longer the root of samsara. Otherwise, it’s the root of samsara, ordinary mind, okay? So this is why you meditate on emptiness of consciousness. Emptiness of mind.
So now, “Shariputra, likewise, you should look, all phenomenon of emptiness. All phenomenon on emptiness, emptiness of definition, unborn, unceasing, unending, and undefiled, and so forth. There is no defilement. There is no emptiness of defilement. There is no beginning, there is no end, and so on, and so forth. Also, emptiness of sense consciousness. Here in the Heart Sutra, it states, sense consciousness are also empty of inherent existence. For example, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
Death and sickness are just imputed labels
So all the senses, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind are emptiness. Likewise, the object of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind like form, sound, smell, taste, touch, touchable. All these things are emptiness, because they do not exist inherently. They have no inherent nature. They keep changing, all the time. They’re dependent on our eyes. And likewise, all the elements. And then, go on. For example, birth, death, old age, sickness, are all emptiness. Emptiness of inherent existence. They don’t last forever and ever. And when you look at what is birth? What is death? What is sickness? And so forth. These are the labels, impugning, right?
And for example, birth. Okay, we’re born here, in this world. And actually, the birth started at the first moment of the conception, inside the mother’s womb. When you’re born, when you come out, you’re already nine months old, nine months old. And old age already started, from the moment you are born. So where is the birth, and where is the old age? And birth is happening. Old age is happening. And death is happening. And all the time, what we call momentary old age, momentary death, is all happening. So all the time, it’s happening. And there’s not one pure, or another pure.
There is no, really, inherent existent birth. Or old age, or death. So if you meditate on emptiness of birth, old age, and death, if you understand meaning, deep meaning of emptiness of birth, old age, death, then you can overcome fear of old age and death.
One can overcome aversion to old age. Oh, I don’t like become old, and you know? I don’t look good, and so on, and so forth. I look strange, I look different, so on and so forth. All those aversions are gone. Instead, you feel how I feel, good. I’m old now, I feel … and accomplished a lot. I have done lots of things in life. I have accomplished so much. I like to celebrate my old age, instead of feeling aversion.
And also, look at death, likewise. If you’re dying with a natural cause, dying due to old age, then death is completion of life. And it’s time to celebrate. So these kinds of knowledge arise from understanding of emptiness, and interdependent of the birth, old age, and sickness.
This is why Heart Sutra is very precious. Very special. And it’s when you read, a short sutra, is sort of simple. And some people think it’s simple, because they don’t understand, right? And also, a bit confusing, and a bit negative, are the words. Like, eye, no eye, no ear, no tongue. But no attainment, no none attainment, that’s very confusing, right? If there’s no attainment, then why are we trying to attain something? Why do we meditate?
Emtiness of Four Noble Truths
So it is not a simple, and not so easy, either. And so, it is very precious teaching, practice.
Likewise here, the [Emptiness of the] Four Noble Truths, again, here. So no suffering. No cause of suffering. No cessation of suffering. No path through cessation of suffering. Four Noble Truths. So we’re not saying there’s no Four Noble Truths. Buddha taught For Noble Truths after his enlightenment. He enlightened in Bodh Gaya, then he walked over to Varanasi, crossed the Ganges River. He went to… Sarnath, deer park. And there, he taught Four Noble Truths.
The very first teaching of the Buddha is Four Noble Truths. Nobles Truths of suffering, Noble Truths of the cause of suffering, Noble Truth of cessation of suffering, Noble Truth of a path to cessation of suffering. So again, the Four Noble Truths are also emptiness, and suffering is emptiness. Cause of suffering is emptiness. Cessation of suffering is emptiness, path to cessation of suffering is emptiness.
To attain Enlightenment, practice Prajnaparamita
Now, I will wrap up the Heart Sutra. I won’t talk too much.
And those of you wish to attain enlightenment, and you should practice Prajnaparamita. And Prajnaparamita is called Mother of all the Buddhas, Prajnaparamita. We say, Great Mother and Perfection of Wisdom, and the Mother of all the Buddhas. So this is a kind of analogy, or example, right? So all the Buddhas of the past, Buddhas of the present time, and the Buddhas of the future, and all the enlightened beings of the past, present, and future, rely on perfection of wisdom. This is the way to become enlightened.
If you would like to become enlightened Buddha, you should practice perfection of wisdom. Meditate on emptiness. Meditate on shunyata. And then, one can [ultimately] become enlightened. For that reason, we call Prajnaparamita is Mother of all the Buddhas, perfection of wisdom. And Heart Sutra mention, all the Buddhas of the past and present, future, are dependent, rely on perfection of wisdom.
Dharani Mantra of Perfection of Wisdom
And now, there’s a Dharani, there’s a mantra here the mantra of perfection of wisdom. Which is
Om Gate Gate Paragate Para Samgate Bodhi Soha
[Pronounced Ohm gah tey gah tey para gah tey para sam gah tey boh dee soh ha.]
This mantra, or Dharani, is the mantra of perfection of wisdom. So the mantra, om gate gate paragate para samgate bodhi soha is the essence of the Heart Sutra. This is the first kind of mantra. And it says here, the mantra of Perfection of Wisdom. Mantra of Prajnaparamita. Mantra of great mind, great realization. mind… It’s a mantra of great consciousness. Maha Sita, Sanskrit word, maha sita.
So when you meditate on the meaning of Prajnaparamita, meaning of mantra, the gate mantra, then you will obtain realization of shunyata. And realization of perfection of wisdom. Then, your mind becomes the advanced mind, and you are getting closer, closer to enlightenment. And therefore, your mind is the great mind, great rigpa. [foreign language 00:29:08] so this mantra is also supreme mantra, unequal mantra, and uncommon mantra. This mantra is a supreme mantra, and a precious mantra. And a mantra is a protection of the mind, protection of the heart. And mantra is medicine for the mind. Remember, mantra is the medicine for the mind. And this mantra is the origin of mantra, one of the very first mantra’s. And we call it Dharani. Dharani is like mantra.
So just reciting this mantra is very powerful. It is healing our heart, healing our mind, and healing sorrow and suffering. Gate gate means going, going. Paragate para samgate bodhi soha, going beyond samsara, going beyond the cycling existence. And we go beyond birth, old age, sickness, and death. And going beyond suffering. Beyond blames and so forth. And then, one will become enlightened. And para samgate bodhi soha, going towards the enlightenment, reaching the enlightenment.
And then, at the end of the heart sutra, Buddha, himself, came out from profound samadhi of illumination. And the Buddha said, “Oh, good, good.” He rejoiced, rejoiced the dialogue that had, the dialogue between Avalokitesvara and Sariputta, he rejoiced, he give his blessing, he give a confirmation. “What you discussed is perfect, I rejoice.” And now, it becomes the sutra. It actually equivalent of the teaching of Buddha, because Buddha, himself, give blessings and confirmation. So yeah. So I think I will leave it here, now.
Thank you very much. [End of transcript of commentary.]
The mantra follows the teaching, sung beautifully by Yoko Dharma:
Om Gate Gate Paragate Para Samgate Bodhi Soha
Om Gate Gate Paragate Para Samgate Bodhi Soha
Om Gate Gate Paragate Para Samgate Bodhi Soha
The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra
Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavan was dwelling on Mass of Vultures Mountain in Rajagriha together with a great community of monks and a great community of bodhisattvas. At that time, the Bhagavan was absorbed in the concentration on the categories of phenomena called “Profound Perception.”
Also, at that time, the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara looked upon the very practice of the profound perfection of wisdom and beheld those five aggregates also as empty of inherent nature.
Then, through the power of Buddha, the venerable Shariputra said this to the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara: “How should any son of the lineage train who wishes to practice the activity of the profound perfection of wisdom?”
He said that and the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara said this to the venerable Sharadvatiputra. “Shariputra, any son of the lineage or daughter of the lineage who wishes to practice the activity of the profound perfection of wisdom should look upon it like this, correctly and repeatedly beholding those five aggregates also as empty of inherent nature.
“Form is empty. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is also not other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, discrimination, compositional factors, and consciousness are empty.
“Shariputra, likewise, all phenomena are emptiness; without characteristic; unproduced, unceased; stainless, not without stain; not deficient, not fulfilled.
“Shariputra, therefore, in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no discrimination, no compositional factors, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no visual form, no sound, no odor, no taste, no object of touch, and no phenomenon. There is no eye element and so on up to and including no mind element and no mental consciousness element. There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so on up to and including no aging and death and no extinction of aging and death. Similarly, there is no suffering, origination, cessation, and path; there is no exalted wisdom, no attainment, and also no non-attainment.
“Shariputra, therefore, because there is no attainment, bodhisattvas rely on and dwell in the perfection of wisdom, the mind without obscuration and without fear. Having completely passed beyond error, they reach the end-point of nirvana. All the buddhas who dwell in the three times also manifestly, completely awaken to unsurpassable, perfect, complete enlightenment in reliance on the perfection of wisdom.
“Therefore, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom, the mantra of great knowledge, the unsurpassed mantra, the mantra equal to the unequaled, the mantra that thoroughly pacifies all suffering, should be known as truth since it is not false. The mantra of the perfection of wisdom is declared:
TADYATHA [OM] GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA
“Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound perfection of wisdom like that.”
Then the Bhagavan arose from that concentration and commended the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara saying: “Well said, well said, son of the lineage, it is like that. It is like that; one should practice the profound perfection of wisdom just as you have indicated; even the tathagatas rejoice.”
The Bhagavan having thus spoken, the venerable Sharadvatiputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara, those surrounding in their entirety along with the world of gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas were overjoyed and highly praised that spoken by the Bhagavan.
(This completes the Ârya-bhagavatî-prajñâpâramitâ-hridaya-sûtra)
About H.E. Archarya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Rinpoche is popularly known for his approachable teaching style, strong humor and teachings based on a long lineage of great lamas. His own gurus included the most celebrated of Gelug teachers: His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Venerable Geshe Thupten Wanggyel, His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Venerable Lati Rinpoche, Venerable Tara Tulku Rinpoche and Venerable Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche.
Rinpoche is spiritual director of many temples, meditation centers and retreat centers in Australia, the United States and Canada. He was first invited to teach in Australia by Lama Thubten Yeshe in 1976.
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Venerable Zasep Rinpoche
Author | Buddha Weekly
Rinpoche is spiritual head of many Dharma Centres, and teaches around the world. Originally from Kham province in Tibet (born 1948) Rinpoche has taught in the west since 1976, after he was first invited by Geshe Thubten Loden and Lama Yeshe to teach at the Chenrezig Institute in Australia. Today, he is spiritual head of the Gaden for the West centres in Canada, U.S., and Australia and also spiritual director of the the charities Gaden Relief Project (Canada) and Manlha Tus NGO (Mongolia). He is the author of three books, including his latest release in 2018 with a rare English commentary and practice instructions for Gelug Mahamudra.