study chapter one



The Arising of Srutamayiprajna


 In the vast and deep dharma ocean

Of the Buddha’s glorious teachings

There is a tiny droplet, Heart Sutra,

Which exposes the wisdom of the profound.

Examining this droplet diligently

It is found equal to the whole ocean.

By contemplating its deep meaning

We study attentively for great knowledge.

By training thoughtfully in the correct view

We reflect on our conceptual errors.

In practicing the Profound Perfection of Wisdom

We meditate for calm and insight.

Understanding then with certainty

We transcend all mental hindrance

And through heightened full awareness

We experience the blossoming of prajna

And abide in the dharma ocean of truth,

Free and filled with admiration

For the Sutra’s profound words.

   This short poem introduces this monograph and refers to a five-phase progression in the way prajna blossoms into bodhi.  This is given in the text of the Heart Sutra itself and is inherent in its format:

  The first clue revealing the sutra’s hidden structure is,    . . . Avalokitesvara was contemplating the deep meaning of the Profound Perfection of Wisdom. . . . Here the word contemplating refers to study (sruti). This study is covered in Chapter One of this commentary.

  The second in the progression is “How should those of good lineage train, who wish to practice the Profound Perfection of Wisdom?” In this case the word train refers to thoughtful reflection or critical analysis (cinta), a deeper level of study that deeply impresses upon the memory and understanding. Training, or thoughtful reflection is covered in Chapter Eight of this commentary.

   The third step mentioned is “ . . .who wish to practice. . . .”  The word practice refers to the practice of meditation (bhavana).  These first three steps, sruti, cinta and bhavana are descriptive of the three root prajnas (mulaprajnas) of Mahayana Buddhism, srutamayiprajna, cintamayiprajna, and bhavanamayiprajna. These are related to the methodology of the Prajnaparamita Sutras. Bhavana is the subject of Chapter Nine.

  The fourth clue is “Having passed completely beyond all errors they realize ultimate nirvana.” Someone who has reached this stage is certain of having passed completely beyond all errors since he/she is certain of an errorless mind.  Clarity of understanding is certainty (niscaya), which is the subject of Chapter Ten.

  The fifth and last in the series is, “. . .they realize ultimate nirvana,” and “. . .have fully awakened . . . .”  This refers of course to bodhi and the highest level of prajna (adhiprajna), which is described in Chapter Eleven.

   The fourth and fifth prajnas arise from the three root prajnas when developed in order.   According to these clues and others within the Heart Sutra we are furnished with a definite and distinct way of development culminating in awakening.  These five prajnas are not separate qualities of wisdom, but are meant to indicate the stages of the blossoming of prajna into full awakening.  As we will discover further on in this investigation, these five prajnas also accord perfectly with the obvious progression of the Heart Sutra mantra:

gate = srutamayiprajna

gate = cintamayiprajna

paragate = bhavanamayiprajna

parasamgate = niscayamayiprajna

bodhi = adhiprajna

    According to the Sutra, the same progression is exactly how awakening comes about.

   Studying (sruti) the elements and parts of the text of the Heart Sutra means becoming familiar with terminology and the ideas presented therein.   This is the preliminary prerequisite to further and deeper study and expanded analysis of these ideas that entails a thoughtful reflection (cinta).  Once the srutamayiprajna arises, it supports the arising of cintamayiprajna.   Study is a fairly undeveloped stage but further and deeper reflection does develop through studious enquiry.  The Heart Sutra treats study and thoughtful reflection similarly as gate, gate – the second gate indicating a more thorough progression of the same idea.

    Study is the necessary preliminary to the arising of insight (vipasyana).  This is the format for practice of meditation (bhavana) according to the Heart Sutra. Training (cinta) is the necessary preliminary for gaining confidence and understanding in preparation for meditation by which certainty of the deep truth of emptiness comes about.   Training is a deeper level of study, thoughtful reflection.  Practice is the practice of meditation through which the first two root prajnas come to fruition.   When meditation is successful, the three root prajnas have blossomed and give rise to further perfection of wisdom. Certainty (niscayamayiprajna) then arises and stability in concentration and realization arises with it through persistently advancing through the first three root prajnas.  A contemplative practitioner must develop certainty of the truth of emptiness. Simply by understanding the method of the Heart Sutra we can easily become confident of a direct and certain awakening. Fullness (adhiprajna) is the heightened or complete aspect of prajna-wisdom and, in its fullness of holistic apperceptive wisdom, equates with bodhi.  This is the culmination of the blossoming of prajna into bodhi and thus,      “. . .fully awakening into unsurpassed complete enlightenment through relying on the Profound Perfection of Wisdom.”

  This is the explanation of the introductory poem regarding the structure and method of the Heart Sutra that begins our study.

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