From The Archives: Lecture on the Heart Sutra

Brief Dharma Lecture by H.H. Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche Dorje Chang

February 19, 2006

Teaching on the (Brief) Heart Sutra Teaching

Translator: Dr. Jeffrey Schoening

Transcribed by Ogyen Choezom

So today, Rinpoche is going to give a brief teaching. And it’s going to focus especially on the teaching of the Heart Sutra. The essential teaching of the Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Discriminating Insight.

So, there’s the people who take refuge, and then the objects, in whom refuge is taken. The objects in whom refuge is taken are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. And the ones taking refuge are we, the individuals. So, for us, as individuals taking refuge, it is important we have faith.

And there are 3 levels of faith. There’s a simple and pure faith. There’s an aspiring faith. And there’s a faith of conviction. So, this faith of conviction, the highest level of faith is one that keeps in mind always taking refuge in the Three Jewels. It always has this in mind, and it does this in this life, and in the future lives as well.

So, the Heart Sutra can have an extended and a brief version. And what we have here in the brief version, are these 4 lines at the top of this page that [are] abbreviated “Heart Sutra.”So, this was composed by lamas of the old. Rinpoche has the oral transmission for this teaching, and as I understand, he is going to give us the oral transmission for this teaching.In addition, he will also give an explanation to the words in this 4-line verse. So, thinking with the mind and the joyful and happy disposition that one aspires to understand the meaning of the Heart Sutra now listen to the verse that Rinpoche will now read.

This comes from the treatises on Perfection of Wisdom or the Perfection of Discriminating Insight. And Rinpoche has now given us the oral transmission. And, in order to understand these teachings, it’s very important that we study the text. It’s very hard to gather any understanding of the material without having done some studying.

What we do now, having heard this oral transmission from Rinpoche we [now] do have this in our minds and in our hearts. So, Rinpoche has now given us a brief commentary to these first 4 verses. And, these contain the complete essential teaching of the Heart Sutra. They can be difficult to understand and [require] lots of study, and it’s good to ask questions of this, to study, and address those questions.

Now, I will go over what Rinpoche just said.

So, the first line: “Beyond word, thought, and description, the Prajnaparamita

The commentary is “As proclaimed in the text, the sutra, the Manjushri Namasamgiti…The one who abandoned speaking with words. So, even if one thinks to state in words, the complete subject matter of the Great Mother, Prajnaparamita, there is no verbally stating the true meaning.

So that’s what the first line means.

The second line: “Unborn, unceasing, an essential nature of space.” The commentator says this: The nature of the mind is empty from the beginning: the freedom from the eight extremes of the consequentialist middle way… Explained by [the] teaching master, Buddha Palita, this freedom is like space, free of arising, abiding, and ceasing. But it is not free from the conventional designation of one: empty space…Giving the opportunity for the journey of planets and stars, etc. Or two: a result arising from the cause. Or three: adopting virtue and abounding evil deeds.

Move to the third line. “Experienced by the wisdom of personal realization.” The special wisdom taught in the Prajnaparamita text…Is the experience of only the wisdom that realizes emptiness…Born in the mind stream of the yogis who have entered the Mahayana path. But it is not realized by the individuals who went to the path of the hearers or solitary Buddhas. According to the explanation of the great Prajnaparamita text or treatises, here, the text is the Prajnaparamita. The path is the Prajnaparamita. The result is the Prajnaparamita. And the essential meaning is the Prajnaparamita. Dividing into 4, is the system of commenting, explaining, and interpreting.

And finally, the fourth line. “Mother of the Buddhas of the Three Times, to you I pay homage.” All the Buddhas of the three times having relied on the great mother, Pragya Paramita were enlightened. To this Prajnaparamita, who is like a mother to all the Buddhas, I pay homage.

That completes the commentary.

So, there are many commentaries written on the Heart Sutra, the essence of the Prajnaparamita. And these have been written by lamas, Indian saints, and Tibetan lamas. These are available, there are translations in English. It is important to study these in order to better understand the meaning of the Prajnaparamita, the perfection of discriminating insight.

It’s very important to do the prayers. [Because] if we do the prayers, we will have the blessings enter us. And there’s a story in Tibet about a woman who did the practice for the White Parasol Goddess. She would recite the mantra––she had great faith and would recite the mantra. This is also about the importance of faith. She would recite the mantra for the White Parasol Goddess, with her great faith. The parasol would appear over her. She had this sort of attainment; she had this sign of blessing from the White Parasol Goddess. But she said the mantra wrong. When she recited the mantra, it wasn’t well done. And so a lama heard her one day reciting the manta. He just heard this really broken mantra being recited. And so, he talked to the woman about [how]

“You’re saying this all wrong. You have to say it like this. This is the correct way to say the mantra.”

And so she then learned, in addition to great faith, the correct way to read the mantra.

However, she stopped having the umbrella, and the parasol disappeared. She was so caught up in saying the mantra correctly that her faith had been disturbed because of this. So the lama had to talk to her about, “Okay, look, I told you the correct way to say it. But, it messed you up. You know, you’re not getting the blessing of the Parasol Goddess at the same rate you had been getting it before. There’s been no appearance of this parasol above you. So, just go back to saying it the way you did say it.” And, so she did. And with this her faith was renewed or restored. And again, the parasol appeared.

So this just shows, it’s not so much what we just say, but it is [the] importance of the faith, the power of the faith that brings the blessings, that brings the understanding, that brings the realization. So, faith is very important.

 It’s important to study this, and then gradually, the understanding will come. It takes time, it takes effort, and gradually, you’ll get the results.

Now for the practice of the Heart Sutra, the abbreviated Heart Sutra, we will recite the four lines beyond word, thought, and description. We will have our hands in the prayer position, and then, when we recite the mantra, Teyatha Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha, then we have our palms facing up. And we can just hold them down in our laps with our palms facing up. And we can recite this 3 or 7 times or as much as we’d like. Then, when we recite the homage, after the mantra we put our hands back in the prayer position, with homage to the lama, homage to the Buddha, and so forth.

On the next page, we are averting or repelling obstacles, various sorts of unfavorable factors. We are trying to settle our minds, to get rid of disturbing, discursive thoughts. And so…in order to do that, or as in part of doing that, when we say in the words, “repel, vanish”––and these are underlined in the text…So when we say, “repel, vanish, eliminated, utterly eliminated,” we clap our hands.

So we go…“repel *clap* immediately all the unfavorable factors to be abandoned through practicing our holy Dharma. May they vanish, *clap* may they be eliminated, *clap*, may they be utterly eliminated, *clap*.”

When we’re clapping…when we are clapping our hands, we are repelling all obstacles, obstacles, outer, inner, secret. All these different types of obstacles we are repelling. And also, we are, as it says in one of the prayers we do to Padmasambhava, we pray to him to avert all obstacles. And also to bestow all the things we wish for. All the aspirations; make them come real immediately. So, both of these are happening at the same time. That our wishes are being fulfilled, and that all obstacles be repelled.

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