Click here for a line-by-line commentary on the Heart Sutra, with explanatory notes for terminology.

    

HEART OF THE PRAJNA-PARAMITA SUTRA

(with outline)

1. Introduction

2. Explaining the essence of the Prajna-paramita practice

3. Explaining that from practising prajna-paramita you can obtain the ultimate fruit

4. Conclusion


 

Explanatory notes to Prajna-Paramita Sutra

The Three Classifications:

The fundamental reason that Buddha taught was to provide ways and methods for sentient beings to escape the realm of unending suffering. The essence of his teaching is the Law of Dependent Origination. This law states that when conditions are ripe, phenomena come to be, and when conditions change, the phenomena fade away. However, sentient beings attach to these impermanent phenomena and erroneously conjure up the notions of "self" and/or "this is mine".

To remedy this, the Buddha used the Three Classifications to show that a person is nothing more than a combination of various elements which come together under suitable conditions. Therefore a person is also dependently originated; and hence empty of "self".

The Three Classifications are:

  1. The Five Skandhas
  2. The Twelve Bases
  3. The Eighteen Fields

The Five Skandhas

Skandha [i.e. aggregates, heaps, or groups]: has the meaning of accumulation and grouping together of similar physical and mental phenomena.

The file aggregates [i.e. form, sensation, recognition, volition, and consciousness] come together to form one interdependent unit. This combined unit is unstable and transient, but we attach to this interdependent unit and/or the five aggregates as the self.

The first skandha represents physical elements, and the remaining four represent the mental activities of a person.


The Twelve Bases

Bases (ayatana) [sources, places] imply the meaning of germinating and nourishing. That is, mental functions and activities can be germinated and nourished from these twelve bases. They are the six internal bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind), and the six external bases (sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles and dharma). The six internal bases are also called the six sensory organs, on which mental activities rely to function. The six external bases are sometimes referred to as the six objects and are what mental activities process and act on.


The Eighteen Fields

Fields (dhatu) imply the meaning of groups and classifications. These fields form the foundations and conditions of all mental activities. That is, a person can be divided into eighteen fields, each having its own properties, characteristics, and area of activity. The eighteen fields are the six internal bases, the six external objects, plus the six consciousness which arise when the six internal bases interact with the six corresponding external objects.


The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

Dependent origination means that the arising or the becoming of a phenomenon is dependent on the coming together of conditions and/or other phenomena. When conditions are ripe, a phenomena arises; when these conditions change, the phenomenon ceases to be.

The twelve phenomena (links) of dependent origination illustrate the causal relaitonship and interdependence of the twelve links, which together constitute the existence and continuation of life.

The forward cycle of these twelve links is the unending transmigration of a living being in the wheel of reincarnation. On the other hand, the backward cycle implies that once this interdependent chain is broken, liberation is attained. These twelve links are :-

  1. Ingorance - from which volition and karma arise and come to be.
  2. Volition - from which consciousness arises and comes to be.
  3. Consciousness - from which body and mind come to be.
  4. Body/mind - from which the six internal bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) arise and come to be.
  5. The six senses - from which the six external bases (sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles and dharma) arise and come to be.
  6. Contact - from which sensory and mental sensations of pleasure, pain or neutrality arise and come to be.
  7. Sensation - from which desire, thirst and craving arise and come to be.
  8. Desire - from which attachment, clinging, or grasping arise and come to be.
  9. Attachment - from which existence and the process of becoming arise and come to be.
  10. Existence (becoming) - from which birth or re-birth (reincarnation) arises and comes to be.
  11. Birth - from which ageing and eventually death arise and come to be.
  12. Ageing and Death - from which ignorance and the cycle repeats itself, indefinitely until broken.

The Four Noble Truths

Truth here implies reality. The Four Noble Truths are four principles that enlightened beings see and understand as reality. The Four are:

  1. Suffering: "But what, O monks, is the noble truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, decay is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering. In short, the five groups of existence connected with attachments are suffering."
  2. The cause of Suffering: "But what, O monks, is the noble truth of the Origin of suffering? It is that craving which gives rise to fresh rebirth and, bound up with lust and greed, now here now there, finds ever fresh delight. It is the Sensual Craving, the Craving for Existence, the Craving for Non-existence or self-annihilation."
  3. The Cessation of Suffering: "But what, O monks, is the noble truth of the Extinction of Suffering? It is the complete fading away and extinction of this craving, its forsaking and giving up, liberation and detachment from it."
  4. The way to attain Cessation of Suffering: "But what, O monks, is the noble truth of the way to attain Cessation of Suffering? It is the noble eightfold path that leads to the Cessation of Suffering, namely:
    1. Right View
    2. Right Thought
    3. Right Speech
    4. Right Action
    5. Right Livelihood
    6. Right Effort
    7. Right Mindfulness
    8. Right Concentration

      See [Buddhist Dictionary], pg. 151, by Nyanatiloka. (1987)