The Heart Sutra • Prajnaparamita Hydara Sutra • Interbeing and Emptiness

The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the Five Skandhas and found them equally empty. After this penetration, he overcame ill-being.

“Listen, shariputra, form is emptiness,
and emptiness is form.
Form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form.
The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

“Listen, shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness.
They are neither produced nor destroyed,
neither defiled nor immaculate,
neither increasing nor decreasing.
Therefore, in emptiness there is neither form, nor feelings, nor perceptions, nor mental formations, nor consciousness.
No eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind.
No form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind.
No realms of elements (from eyes to mind-consciousness), no interdependent origins and no extinction of them (from ignorance to death and decay).
No ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path.
No understanding and no attainment.

“Because there is no attainment, the Bodhisattvas, grounded in Perfect Understanding, find no obstacles for their minds.
Having no obstacles, they overcome fear, liberating themselves forever from illusion, realizing perfect Nirvana.
All Buddhas in the past, present, and future, thanks to this Perfect Understanding, arrive at full, right, and universal Enlightenment.

“Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding is the highest mantra,
the unequalled mantra,
the destroyer of ill-being,
the incorruptible truth.
A mantra of Prajñaparamita should therefore be proclaimed:
*Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.”

*Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore. Enlightenment!

Gone from suffering to the liberation from suffering.
Gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness.
Gone from duality into nonduality.

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva




If you look closely at a sheet of paper, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in the sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. We can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

If we look into a sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine, and so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception.

Your mind is in here and mine is also, so we can say that everything is in here in this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here—time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything coexists with this sheet of paper.

To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing.

The Heart Sutra seems to say the opposite. Avalokiteshvara tells us that things are empty. Let us look more closely.

Empty of What?

The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the Five Skandhas and found them equally empty.

Bodhi means being awake, and sattva means a living being, so bodhisattva means an awakened being. All of us are sometimes bodhisattvas, and sometimes not. Avalokita is the shorter name of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Avalokita is neither male nor female and sometimes appears as a man and sometimes as a woman. In Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese, this bodhisattva’s name is sometimes translated as Guanyin, Quan Am, Gwaneum, and Kannon, which means “the one who listens and hears the cries of the world in order to come and help.” Avalokiteshvara also embodies the spirit of non-fear, as he himself has transcended fear.

The Prajñaparamita Heart Sutra is his wonderful gift to us. Perfect Understanding is prajñaparamita in Sanskrit. The word “wisdom” is usually used to translate prajña. Understanding is like water flowing in a stream. Wisdom and knowledge are solid and can block our understanding. In Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an obstacle for understanding. If we take something to be the truth, we may cling to it so much that even if the truth comes and knocks at our door, we won’t want to let it in. We have to be able to transcend our previous knowledge in the same way we climb up a ladder. If we are on the fifth rung and think that we are very high, there is no hope for us to step up to the sixth. We must learn to transcend our own views. Understanding, like water, can flow, can penetrate. Views, knowledge, and even wisdom are solid, and can block the way of understanding.

According to Avalokiteshvara, this sheet of paper is empty; but according to our analysis, it is full of everything. There seems to be a contradiction between our observation and his.

Avalokita found the Five Skandhas empty. But, empty of what?
The key word is empty.
To be empty is to be empty of something.
If I am holding a cup of water and I ask you, “Is this cup empty?” you will say, “No, it is full of water.” But if I pour out the water and ask you again,you may say, “Yes, it is empty.” But empty of what? Empty means empty of something. The cup cannot be empty of nothing. “Empty” doesn’t mean anything unless you know “empty of what?”

My cup is empty of water, but it is not empty of air.
To be empty is to be empty of something. This is quite a discovery.
When Avalokita says that the Five Skandhas are equally empty, to help him be precise we must ask, “Mr. Avalokita, empty of what?”

The Five Skandhas, which may be translated into English as five heaps, or Five Aggregates, are the five elements that comprise a human being. These five elements flow like a river in every one of us. In fact, these are really five rivers flowing together in us: the river of form, which means our bodies; the river of feelings; the river of perceptions; the river of mental formations; and the river of consciousness. They are always flowing in us. So according to Avalokita, when he looked deeply into the nature of these five rivers, he suddenly saw that all five are empty.

And if we ask, “Empty of what?” he has to answer. And this is what he said:
“They are empty of a separate self.”
That means none of these five rivers can exist by itself alone. Each of the five rivers has to be made by the other four. It has to coexist; it has to inter-be with all the others.

In our bodies we have lungs, heart, kidneys, stomach, and blood. None of these can exist independently. They can only coexist with the others. Your lungs and your blood are two things, but neither can exist separately. The lungs take in air and enrich the blood, and, in turn, the blood nourishes the lungs. Without the blood, the lungs cannot be alive, and without the lungs,the blood cannot be cleansed. Lungs and blood inter-are.

When Avalokita says that our sheet of paper is empty, he means it is empty of a separate, independent existence. It cannot just be by itself. It has to inter-be with the sunshine, the cloud, the forest, the logger, the mind, and everything else. It is empty of a separate self. But, empty of a separate self means full of everything.

So it seems that our observation and that of Avalokita do not contradict each other after all. Avalokita looked deeply into the Five Skandhas of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness, and he discovered that none of them can be by itself alone. Each can only inter-be with all the others. So he tells us that form is empty. Form is empty of a separate self, but it is full of everything in the cosmos. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Excerpts from the book : Awakening of The Heart

There is much misconception around the idea of ’emptiness’ gained from Buddhist thought and other philosophical and theosophical oriented understandings.
Some simplistic misinterpretations have been made; oversimplification that all is ‘nothingness’ or that we come from ‘nothing’ and return to ‘nothing’, and sometimes this view takes on a nihilistic and sombre energy. When we look deeply into the understandings of emptiness, there is something more to see.

“All dharmas are marked with emptiness – they can neither be produced nor destroyed; neither defiled nor immaculate; neither increasing nor decreasing.”
Everything is in constant transformation, including us.
A cut rose begins its next stage of life appearing to be beautiful and pure, but once the flower withers it becomes something to be discarded, to be composted, ready for a new phase of life. The flower is neither defiled nor immaculate – it just is, constantly transforming. Looking in this way nothing is really born, and nothing dies.

Empty of a separate self, but, full of everything in the cosmos… “Even a speck of dust contains the whole universe!” Remembering this we shouldn’t be fearful of being ‘less’ than what we already are.

This emptiness; empty of a separate self, yet full of everything, plants a seed of compassion. This compassion arising from “perfect understanding”.

The Heart Sutra offers us a way to experience peacefulness with the way that things are. To become peaceful. To be free in experience. Remembering this we move from a lack of awareness and forgetfulness into mindfulness to bring peace into our everyday life.
Form; perceptions; feelings; mental formations can hold obstacles to mindfulness. Once we view with the eyes of interbeing, these obstacles are removed from our minds and fear is overcome; this is the teachings of the Heart Sutra; liberating ourselves from illusion. Illusions of separateness; illusions of our wrong perceptions, projections and fear.

Each breath we take,
each step we make,
each smile we realize,
is a positive contribution to peace,
a necessary step in the direction of peace for the world.  In the light of interbeing, peace and happiness in your daily life means peace and happiness in the world.

Thich’s translations of these sacred and ancient texts bring clarity to the insight contained. His understanding of them brings the reader to the heart of the message.
Sharing this in trust that somebody who needs to read that will find it.
Brilliant book, Awakening of The Heart, sharing it on.

Memory: Thailand travels