The Heart Sutra


This part of the sutra concerns the teaching of the six paramitas, or the bodhisattva practice as explained in the Tripitaka. Allowing one’s actions to be guided by one or all of the paramitas, one will surely attain the path and the fruit. For each of the previously mentioned six fundamental defilements there is one of the six paramitas or perfections of virtue, to be applied as a specific antidote.

Charity eliminates greed, discipline cures laziness, patience overcomes hatred, determination overcomes laxity, meditation cools the mind making it receptive to wisdom and wisdom dispels ignorance. The Mahayana doctrine of action and principle differs from the Theravada as to the intent. In addition to one’s actions that should follow the paramitas one is expected, according to the Mahayana understanding of the bodhisattva path, endeavor to liberate all sentient beings by leading them toward an upward path while seeking his/her own enlightenment upward. If one has not cut off grasping completely, one’s wisdom becomes colonized by consciousness, turning into an obstacle rather than being a virtue.

According to the Buddha, “there is no wisdom and there is no attainment whatsoever”. It means that the paramitas and the bodhisattva action as promulgated by the Tripitaka are not entities to be grasped, conceptualized, manipulated or used. But this is the perspective of the Mahayana, Dharma; the teaching of Emptiness is evident neither in the practice nor the wisdom, and not in Buddhahood for that matter, as taught by the Theravadins.

The Dharma of Emptiness is characterized by the concept of Emptiness as the substance of all dharmas. Then the six paramitas and the bodhisattva action are the reflection in the mirror, since they are all amenable to change and therefore empty of self. The already introduced Chinese term Wu, meaning non, un-, or none, expresses the true nature of the mirror, or its capacity to receive and relinquish all that goes on in front of it without holding on to any part of it. If the paramitas are practiced with the understanding that they are rooted in Emptiness, the great enlightenment can be attained. Non-wisdom is the true wisdom, non-attainment is the true attainment. This is what it means to practice deeply the Prajna Paramita; the five fundamental conditions of passions and delusions stop, and the two kinds of birth and death are finished forever.

In addition to the paramitas of bodhisattva action there is another set of six paramitas of principle as part of teachings of the intermediate school (Tung Jiao). Action and Principle are not separated in the teaching of the differentiated school (Bie Jiao), but in the original or genuine school (Yuan Jiao) the six paramitas are practiced as non-action; the practice leads to perfect wisdom and to the supreme Bodhi.