thoughtful reflection

thoughtful reflection ch. 8



The Arising of Cintamayiprajna

      With the completion of the study of the terms and their meanings used in the Heart Sutra, a broader and more penetrating review of their implications is now in order.  While theories and conjectures can never provide proof of anything, thoughtful reflection and a deeper analysis can aid in the perfection of reason that can, at least, give a clearer indication of reality. Finding the truth and living in accord with truth is possible by exercising reason, once the right way of comprehending reality is found (right view), no more questions need be asked, and no more statements need be made regarding the matter. All the entanglements and delusions anyone experiences are due to ignorance, wrong knowledge, and lack of thoughtful reflection.  But through the powers of reason these problems can be overcome.

      The Heart Sutra is very short, very compact, and has broadly influenced Buddhist thought.  It focuses primarily on the doctrine of sunyata, emptiness.  The experience of emptiness is substantially different from knowledge that arises due to study, reasoning, or logical thinking.  Yet these very steps are necessary as prerequisite for a direct understanding that will transcend the limitations of the discriminative intellect.  Although the four lower aspects of prajna, sruti, cinta, bhavana, and niscaya have their arising from proper reason and analysis initially, adhiprajna results as the evolving fruition of wisdom.  Adhiprajna is an integrated and holistic blossoming of wisdom, and leaves nothing uninspected.    Yet this wisdom is beyond any function of intellect that uses descriptions, words, indications, or other symbolic tokens of expression such as analogies or similes.   Thoughtful reflection is an extension of study and is necessary to further prepare the ground for insight that ultimately transcends reason and logic.

      Sunyata, as found in Mahayana Buddhism, is the central and paramount doctrine around which all phenomena can be understood.   Every effort, every means available at every available opportunity should be used to meticulously examine, understand and realize its implications.   Everything that can be known as an objective phenomenon is subject to the application of the doctrine of emptiness.   All objects and events are impermanent, have no inherent self, and are of the character of suffering.   Whatever is commonly conceived as an individual object or person does not exist in the sense of its being a permanent, independent, or substantial individual.

     Anatman means not-self.   It is a specific Buddhist doctrine that defines a person as being empty of an eternal and changeless self-essence, sometimes referred to as a soul, often described as being an eternal soul, an aspect of selfness inhabiting the body.   Atman (meaning self, soul), is a Vedic concept referring to an independent, unchanging and eternal identity.   This identity as defined in this concept is the essential self-ness that is found at the very core of individuals and entities.   It is thought to be the very essence of the particular form in which it finds a home.   The implication behind this concept would be that these essential selves exist somewhere, in some warehouse of waiting selves, and become activated only when an appropriate body/form is available, and that after the demise of that body/form, it returns in its pristine, unchanging and unchanged form to home-central warehouse for whatever comes next.

   Anatman, our Buddhist concept, finds its expression based on the teaching of interdependent origination; these creative steps in the process of all phenomenal conditions point to the fact that everything is impermanent, that everything is in a constant state of flux, and that everything draws on the interactions of other things in the becoming process.  So if someone then identifies himself as being the five skandhas, or as being the body or the mind, this is simply called ego which is, even as a mistaken notion, also impermanent, changing and prone to suffering, a so-called personality made of component parts, structures that have no self either.   No thing can be found that has a self-existing nature.  Neither the mistaken human identity called ego nor any other quality or characteristic can be designated as a real self, a permanent and unchanging self-nature.   This is exactly what Avalokitesvara comprehended when he saw that all five skandhas were empty of inherent existence.

     The contemplative practitioner must penetrate into a thorough comprehension of anatman and understand that there is only a continuous process of arising and falling away in the phenomena considered mistakenly to be a separate ego, self, soul, or a permanently existing essentialness.   There must be understanding that there is no self-existent individual or person who is behind the action of being, or at the center guiding this process, even though the common presumption is that this is generally the case. Because of the ongoing interdependent origination process functioning from a basic permeation of the seed of ignorance within the storehouse consciousness, the resulting mind-creations build and strengthen the memory until it takes on the role of the experiencing “I”, and thereafter assumes its predominant role as a “self” experiencing all “others”.   This habitual assumption builds on and strengthens the individual idea of “self”, and it might be fair to say that very few individual humans existing in the normal delusional state of awareness have some sort of feeling that “they” are not an eternal personality viewing “other” from behind their eyes and through their other sensory receptors.    Very few will give any thought to the actuality of the matter or to the process that creates such an illusion.

     The very concept of “eternal” requires there be an unchanging state of existence.  It requires that whatever it is that is the complete whole-being exhibiting eternal qualities be so without change. The very idea of a separate and eternal soul-personality residing within a body, observing that body’s thoughts, acts, etc., seems to be part and parcel of the taught assumptions of most religions. The dogma structure of religions also stresses in various ways the changing potentials for the individual person, stressing as part of the religious teachings the fact that change for the better is the way according to the teachings of their particular deity.   The saving grace involved in this change process, after the “death” of the body, can then only be enjoyed if that eternal soul is able to exhibit those changes for the better of the personality involved in a state of being other than that which made the body possible. Such expectation-thinking is flawed, because an eternal soul, or anything whatsoever that is created, is incapable of being “eternal” since there is constant change taking place in all shape, form, and qualities. In our ignorance we usually do not consider such things, and if we do then the partial and errant expressions which language uses creates a jumble of mental formations that tend to finally end up in contradictory ideas.  These ideas in their turn then create doubt and confusion which, when expressed, can quickly be put to rest under the comfort-blanket of “there are some things we can never understand and so must put our faith and trust in (place here your appropriate deity, cleric, guru, religious text, or whatever else gives solace).

      So having now expressed what a “person” cannot be, let us explore what a “person” is.   A “person” is a continuity of changing events, process itself, a complex flux of conditions that, when investigated, is all that a person really is.   A collective set of conditions is not a self; it is not an isolated collectivity since all is related and interdependent, each with all, and all with each.    A collective set of conditions is usually conceived of as a self, but there are only conditions, no real self-being or “eternal” entity of any sort.   Albeit, this pseudo-entity, as a collectivity, does have the capability of altering the conditions of its collective conditionality, changing dysfunctional or unskillful characteristics into better ones, or vice versa.   Since there is no definitive boundary anywhere in the totality of the flux of conditionality, there is nowhere that an isolated self can be found.     All is process; all is functionality.

    Without the recognition of this truth, one is left presupposing it is his ego personality that does good or ill, experiences suffering, gets enlightened or not, controls the doings of the body, oversees and does the doing; but it is not the ego personality, nor is it any kind of individual self that enters into the ultimate nirvana of the Heart Sutra discourse.   In the Visuddhimagga, the great encyclopedic compendium of Theravada Buddhism, it is written:

There is suffering, but no sufferer is found;
Deeds are, but there is no doer;
Nirvana is, but no one who enters it;
The path exists, but there is no traveler of it.

     The idea of an ego is another collective set of mental factors, and although there is some relative value in such conceptions, ideas are only ideas, always partial and in some degree faulty.   The mind is faulty when it splits the phenomenal world into a perceiver and an object perceived.  This is dichotomy, a presumption of a real duality between “me” as perceiver and the “other” as the perceived object. This initial dichotomy makes us think that everything and everybody are distinct and separate entities; thus the ego-notion “me” becomes a fixed conception which dominates the mind.   Then attachment, desire, hate, greed, and more delusion arises, inevitably ending in some sort of suffering.   This condition is healed and cut away by prajna-wisdom concerning the complete understanding of emptiness and selflessness.

   Anatman and Sunyata are not so much philosophical or psychological principles or dogmas as they are instructional devices.   All things, events, and objects (dharmas) are nothing more than collective appearances.   As such they exist as objects perceived by sense organs and given mind-form, and resulting in patterned perceptual formats that can become more and more impressed, fixed, and ingrained.   They are functional concepts of totality process, but as real and separate objects they are empty of any sort of permanent beingness; they exist as emptiness, and as being empty of inherent being they are non-existent.

    The Heart Sutra does not make distinction between form and emptiness.  Form is always a composite objectivity, and emptiness is a conceptual device. They both exist conditionally, form as a set of composites, and emptiness as a conditional thought structure related to that form.   Verbal designations do not make something into a self.   Language of any sort does not create a “self” when applied to a condition.    Everything we experience in ignorance is thus mere definition, description, mental structure culminating in an act of naming, a composition of multitudes of interdependent factors.   Buddhism uses the devices of anatman and sunyata to help the falsely discriminating mind cease its dysfunctions.

    Everything is a ceaseless flux, a continuously changing event, but there is no definite thing that changes.   Whatever is mistakenly conceived as an entity is only a set of conditions impinging on a sense faculty — which makes another set of conditions that we know as sense consciousness and sense data together with conditional elements.  All of this is process interdependency, and there is no self at any location or point in time and space that is in any way separated from the entire process.   What things are, as appearances, are abstractions made by mind, and the procedures of meditation can help reveal this. Things DO have a relative validity in terms of how they are referenced and comprehended and used, and there is a utility on the mundane level for the use of these concepts and verbal expressions, but what they describe are invalidities from the point of view of absolute truth.   Real Truth (thusness) is emptiness.

    All things are empty of a separate self-being (svabhava).    Emptiness itself is also empty.   There is no location where “empty” is found; there is no non-location where “empty” is found; there is no location where “not-empty” is found; there is no non-location where “not-empty” is found.   Things are, and are not; change is, but no thing undergoes the change.  The web of the conditional matrix is infinite and endless and all is its fuel, and there is no separation anywhere therein.   Any separation that takes place, any object or event, so-called, is nothing more than a conceptual “snapshot image” made by the errant mind that creates a semblance of selfhood out of a momentary small piece of the morphing process.    What is called an object or a self, is only the aggregates doing what aggregates do, supporting the whole for their momentary existence, experiencing an instant in the flux, but mistakenly morphed into a separate mental item by the naming and defining mind.   Use of words for descriptions of objects and conditions begins to lull us into a belief that there are real self-existent objects as these languages describe. We forget that words are arbitrary verbal absurdities used to describe perceptual absurdities, delusion based on primal ignorance.

     Emptiness is a potent device used to counter the errant svabhava view.  The differentiating way of conceptual awareness that sees things as having inherent selfness is the svabhava view, and it is so ingrained in consciousness that only skillful effort will undo the knot it has tied in our thinking. Understanding emptiness is the activation of prajna-wisdom, the prajna view that knows things as they really are, as selfless.    In the Heart Sutra this is called practicing the Profound Perfection of Wisdom.  The training is thoughtful reflection, a repetitive and successively deeper review of emptiness that can change the habitual memory-structure of the mind that comprehends according to the svabhava view. Thoughtful reflection is able to reverse memory patterns and can clear them away, allowing the pure prajna to function.  The knot gets cut through.  To awaken is to move beyond the deceptive dysfunction of the discriminating mind.   Starting in lesser degrees the svabhava cognitions weaken and the prajna cognitions become more stable, and in time the svabhava perceptional process is completely overcome and replaced by pure prajna apperception. This is the mother of the buddhas.

    Strong thought habits are established by repetition of certain kinds of thoughts.  Habits of cognition can be overridden and replaced by ceasing the repetitive habit and replacing it with more skillful actions repetitively.  The key is to understand that memory patterns can be changed; if they were self-existent they could not, as permanent self-entities, be changed.  If we see the truth of emptiness, as did Avalokitesvara, we will awaken to ultimate nirvana, transcending all ills and suffering.

    Sentient beings do not have buddha-nature; sentient beings are buddha-nature.  This essential wisdom of purity gets covered over by traces of karma created by ignorant daily actions, interactions, all nurturing the svabhava viewpoint.   As a result, beings are bound by the chains of this world in the rebirth circle (samsara), the wandering-on endlessly through the cycles of the effects of our thinking and deeds that arise conditionally according to our faulty discriminations.   Fortunately, good advice comes to all by way of this Heart Sutra that gives knowledge to dispel obstructions to our buddhahood by dissolving patterns of erroneous cognition.  Then the dust-covered mind can be cleansed and buddha-nature re-viewed.

     Like Avalokitesvara, we can know the aggregates for what they are.   They do not constitute a real “me”; neither do they or any object posses any inherent self-being.  Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.   No thing has any permanency; the only thing permanent is impermanence.  Yet, neither impermanency nor change can be considered entities either because they are not of themselves, but function, process only.   And these are only words, therefore empty, too.   In this process of conceptual grasping and possessive clinging is the entanglement we encounter as turmoil and delusion. Only when we release the attachment to self, either personal self, or self in thing, will sublime insight and blissful awareness occur spontaneously.

     It is possible to maintain precision awareness, a skillful and useful mind governed by right view and understanding, and by training in thoughtful reflection.     If we can stabilize and maintain the prajna view we can remain free in the presence of truth-recognition beyond all distraction.  Mental obscurations and conditional negative tendencies will lose their grip.   To fulfill the training according to the Heart Sutra it is helpful to impress the text of the Sutra into memory.   This is exactly why it is chanted over and over, century upon century, by the Buddhist congregation worldwide, as a contemplative and devotional practice.   This is a radical pathway that can create the needed opening for an awakening from the deluded dream of ego and separateness. This delusional dream is the wheel of samsaric wandering.  Whatsoever or whosoever desires to emerge from the bewilderments of the wheel, seeking the freedom of the bodhisattvas and the tathagatas, must study, reflect, meditate and act on the truth of emptiness and selflessness.   It has been often said,

All things are impermanent;
All things are potentials for misery;
All phenomena are selfless;
Nirvava is peace.

    Understanding this truth, coming to the recognition that the material and mental aggregates are all conditioned events, the misconception of a truly existent “me” gets abolished.   The wheel of samsara and its consequential pain finds alleviation. Thoughtful reflection, training in correct view, seeing clearly and with reflection devoid of dust becomes an obvious necessity.  Meditation gives final experiential certainty to this newfound Way.   Upon this wisdom is found the nourishment for final and complete awakening.   Upon this wisdom is found the engendering of the Perfections in their final brilliance.


next chapter click here


right view





Enlightenment Philosophy Books Advaita Consciousness Psychology Wisdom Contemplative Science