SARIPUTRA, FORM DOES NOT DIFFER FROM THE VOID, AND
THE VOID DOES NOT DIFFER FROM FORM. FORM IS VOID AND
VOID IS FORM; THE SAME IS TRUE FOR FEELINGS, PERCEPTIONS,
VOLITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS."
In this part
of the Heart Sutra the Buddha expounds the luminous Dharma of the
Middle Way or "When coursing in the deep Prajna Paramita,"
so the saints of three kinds have the occasion to relinquish their
less-than-perfect views. The sutra was translated by the Tripitaka
Master Hsuen Tsang who depended on the Buddha alone for its meaning
and therefore we should consider this teaching to be spoken by the
Avalokiteshvara, while practicing deep Prajna Paramita, attained
radiant wisdom through a full understanding of the ultimate Void
of the five skandhas. The Dharma of Skandhas is a teaching of existence
rather than of emptiness, but due to the depth of his Prajna contemplation,
the Bodhisattva acquired full, complete understanding of True Reality.
He ended simultaneously the two kinds of birth and death and the
five fundamental conditions of passions and illusions and irreversibly
overcame all suffering.
more to Sariputra, the Buddha reiterated the essential point for
the benefit of those not understanding clearly. Sariputra was the
best of the best, the most advanced Sravaka or "hearer",
renowned for his sagacity. According to an established Indian custom
regarding personal names, a person may decide to use either his/her
mother's name, or father's, or both. The word sariputra (Chiu Lu
Tzu in Chinese) literally means certain species of waterfowl similar
to an egret. Sariputra chose to use the name of his mother, who
was said by those who knew her to have luminous eyes like that particular
bird. She had the reputation to surpass her brothers in wisdom and
keen spirit. Sariputra's mother was an adept of the heterodox path
and as her name suggests, she was a person of the highest wisdom.
not differ from the Void, and the Void does not differ from form;
the same is true for feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness."
This statement highlights and expands the foregoing sentence of
the Sutra, leading toward a deeper, sharper understanding of the
Sutra's essential teaching. This Dharma might not be clearly understood
without some explanation.
I have already
introduced the fivefold interpretation of the meaning of Void or
Emptiness, i.e., the obstinate voidness of worldlings; the annihilation
voidness of those travelling the outer or heterodox path; the voidness
understood by means of analysis as practiced on the path of the
two vehicles; the Void perceived by bodhisattvas as the true substance
of the universe; the supramundane Void of True Existence. "Form
does not differ from the Void", is an observation of inconceivable
wisdom rooted in deep practice of Prajna Paramita.
group produce three types of experience: Touching combined with
seeing; one sense-organ door alone; activity of the mind alone.
This point relates to the six kinds of data, i.e., sight, hearing,
smell, taste, touch and thought, and the corresponding six material-sense-organs,
meaning eye, ear nose, tongue, body and mind. All our experiences,
physical and mental, are generated and accumulated by this group.
During their interaction with their objects the senses are affected
or contaminated by earthly views. The result then is dust (attraction
or aversion of the senses) which characterizes the sentient sphere
or Kamaloka. Dust of that kind is one of the major hindrances to
Let us proceed
with an analysis of these three types of experience. The first is
experienced through contact with form, any form, by means of combining
seeing and touching and includes mountains, rivers, houses, flowers,
dogs, our body and all the other forms that have corporeality and
can be touched as well as seen; the result of that contact is the
dust of form.
The second quality
is produced separately by one of the four based on touch, i.e.,
hearing, tasting, smelling and touching. Hearing is accomplished
by the ear and produces sound-dust; smelling is accomplished by
the nose and results in smell-dust; tasting is done with the tongue,
generating taste-dust, and touch informs of bodily states thereby
The third quality
is the mental activity alone. It engenders mind objects or thoughts
or ideas and eludes both sight and touch. While each of the five
organs has its own specialized field, the mind knows and receives
all of them. Mind-object or mental formation is a shadow of the
five kinds of dust; the mind knows all of them, but they do not
know, cannot know one another.
The six kinds of dust generate three kinds of experience; but where
do the six kinds of dust come from? With our five physical sense
organs, we experience the material world. When a sense-organ relays
information obtained through contact to its corresponding consciousness,
the dust is produced. The six kinds of dust involve the participation
and combination of numerous forms in the process of generating the
three types of experience. How can form be considered the true existence
of the supramundane Emptiness? How can we call void what our eyes
can see and our hands can touch?
We may believe
we see with our eyes but actually, it is our seeing nature that
sees. A dead body, for example, though having eyes, cannot see,
because its seeing nature is no longer there. The nature as substance
has no specific residence. It is neither the brain nor the mind.
It is vast and boundless, signless, unattainable. Despite the fact
that we can see whatever is in front of us, we cannot see our own
seeing nature. Because our seeing nature cannot be traced and cannot
be fathomed, we assign to it the term Emptiness or Void.
We say, furthermore,
that Emptiness is the substance of our nature. Speaking of the nature
of seeing, the number of colors seen, as well as their characteristics,
are of no relevance. To put it simply, form is nature is form. Nature
being void, form is void also. What does it mean when we say that
form is nature? Because our six sense-organs, namely eye, ear, nose,
tongue, body and mind give rise to the six natures, i.e., seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing, countless forms
combine and manifest themselves as three kinds of experience and
in the process generate six kinds of dust. Yet form is not separable
from nature and nature cannot separate from form. When it is separated
from form, nature is non-form; form separated from nature is non-nature,
We have another
example, in case some people are not completely clear regarding
the doctrine. Ask yourself, which comes first: Form or nature? If
you answer that the nature of seeing comes first, then consider
how can it manifest itself in the absence of form? If, on the other
hand, your answer is "form", then ask yourself, how can
you become aware of it without your seeing nature? There is really
no difference between form and seeing - all of it is relative dharma.
The nature of seeing, or the seeing consciousness is like this and
the hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing consciousness
The just concluded study of form and nature according to Yien Yai
helped us to realize they are inseparable or nondual. Since Void
is the substance of nature, it must be the substance of form as
well. Accordingly, to perceive that "form does not differ from
Void, Void does not differ from form", is to understand that
they are inseparable. It is the Dharma of Nonduality.
Let me give
you another example: A mirror is made to reflect whatever is in
front of it, The "whatever" may be near or far, round
or square, green, yellow, red, white or all four. The mirror will
reflect all with equal clarity. Facing clothes, the mirror will
reflect clothes, facing a table the mirror will reflect a table,
and when made to face the sky, the mirror will reflect it. Mirror
always reflects something and, therefore, it is comparable to our
Self Nature; the reflection can be compared to dust. A person of
mundane concerns will misunderstand the situation, hold the reflection
(dust) for the real thing, and struggle to grasp it. Who would believe
that mountains, rivers, the earth, even the entire universe are
a mere reflection or dust, and as such, they must all rise and vanish
in the cyclic existence? What this means is that phenomena are the
Dharma of Birth and Death. The mirror's reflective capacity is like
the True Nature of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching:
being true Suchness, it is unmovable, and cyclic existence cannot
touch it. But without a mirror, how can there be reflection?
is immutable yet clearly defined in terms of sharp contrast. Similarly,
form and mind-nature are one and the same. One can became enlightened
and see one's own True Nature practicing this dharma, The Surangama
Sutra says: "When you see light, your seeing is not the light
and when you see darkness, your seeing is not the darkness; when
you see void, seeing it is not the void and when seeing a slab,
the seeing is not the slab. When your absolute seeing perceives
the essence of seeing, the former is not the latter; they still
differ from one another; how can your affected seeing reach that
absolute seeing?" In the part of the sutra we are presently
studying, "seeing" applies in the first instance to subject
seeing and in the second one to object seeing. This point should
be cogitated and comprehended intuitively. Without form there is
no nature - form and nature are of the same substance and there
is no inside or outside. This is the stupendous Dharma of Suchness.
Let us return
to the example of the bright mirror. The worldling, unlike the saint,
is interested solely in the reflection, never giving as much as
a thought to the mirror's reflectivity. Clinging, grasping the reflection,
the worldling grasps an incidental occurrence on the mirror's surface
and mistakes it for the original. The uninformed fail to understand
that all that exists has its nature; earth has earth nature; fire
has fire nature; water has water nature; wind has wind nature and
consequently the mirror has mirror nature. Our True Nature is also
like that and yet most people are confusing illusion with reality,
quite unaware of their True Nature. They grasp and cling to reflections
and dust. For them the Tao of Bodhi is difficult to attain. The
Buddha made use of many expedients while teaching the Dharma of
Truth. He repeated over and over again so those who listened could
follow his example and attain enlightenment. Reflection in the mirror
is impermanent, but the mirror-nature is constant. Reflections come
and go, but the reflectivity of the mirror remains. However, the
enlightened practitioner in the tradition of Theravada holds form
and mind to be two, distinct and separate.
who attained the intermediate level of practice views the reflection
as the characteristic of the mirror's nature, and the mirror's capacity
for reflecting is not held as separate from the reflection. There
is a cohesive hold, meaning that form and mind are inseparable.
It is the material entities that are unreal; that is what "immateriality
of substance" means. Although it is true that a bodhisattva
is enlightened and the Mahayana doctrine more accomplished then
the Theravada one, there is still more that needs to be done. The
only complete enlightenment is that of the buddha, and it is attainable
only by means of mindfulness, by being observant and by awakening
to the Ultimate Truth. Form is mind, mind is form and they are neither
two nor one: That is the fundamental Buddhadharma. True Existence
is the supramundane Void, and the True Void inconceivably exists.
In the forthcoming
paragraph we will direct our attention to the interpretation of
"he perceived that all Skandhas are empty, thus he overcame
all ills and suffering." The adherents of the Buddha needed
to understand clearly that the form-skandha is the first one of
the five. The question is, why? Why is form different from the Void,
and why is the Void different from form? Form is one of the six
dusts, and the first of the five skandhas. To consider form as having
independent existence is one of the wrong views. Actually, form
is not different from the Void. Someone asked why we talk only about
the skandha of form; why not talk about all five?
as shape is most confusing, particularly when applied to the materiality
of the human body. Feeling or sensation, perception, volition and
consciousness are the domain of mind. Sound, smell, taste, touch
and mental formations are from the group of the six dusts also referred
to as the six forms (to summarize the forgoing discussion of the
three types of experience). The six dusts are generated by our five
material -sense-organs, i.e., eye, ear, nose, tongue and body; each
of these possesses both shape and form, being the first of the five
skandhas. When we add the six dusts to the five skandhas, we arrive
at eleven forms called collectively the Dharma of Form.
group of four skandhas is called the Dharma of Mind. The skandha
of feeling and the skandha of perceptions jointly are amenable to
fifty-one mental conditions; the skandha of volition has the form
(or Dharma) of twenty-four non-interrelated actions. The skandha
of consciousness is controlled by eight minds. The Dharma of Form
and the Dharma of Mind jointly contain ninety-four Dharmas. In addition,
there are six inactive supramundane dharmas (asamskrtas), which
brings the number of Dharmas to one hundred, referred to as the
Principal Sastras (commentaries). The Buddha's teachings contained
originally eighty-four thousand of them, but Maitreya Bodhisattva,
by condensing them, arrived at six hundred and sixty Dharmas.
the Bodhisattva of non-attachment, distilled their content further
to obtain one hundred sastras, simplifying it for future students.
The domain of the mind is vast; it contains four skandhas out of
five and its cultivation is the means to the attainment of the path.
Returning to the analogy of the bright mirror, the reflection or
image is composed of the ninety-four form and mind Dharmas, while
the six inactive supramundane Dharmas (asamskrtas) constitute the
mirrorness or True Nature of the mirror.
Avalokitesvara practiced the deep Prajna Paramita and perceived
that all five skandhas are empty. The radiant, all-encompassing
wisdom is the Dharma of Reality as Non-action. In terms of our analogy,
the mirror's True Nature is the Ultimate Reality. It reveals the
five skandhas as essentially void. But without practice and study,
how can we understand True Reality?
of form embodies eleven dharmas, all of which are "not different
from Emptiness" therefore "form does not differ from the
Void, and the Void does not differ from form."
What is the
true Void? True Void is the luminous wisdom of the enlightened mind;
without wisdom, how could the Emptiness of the skandhas be disclosed?
And, for that matter, how could anyone overcome all ills and suffering?
In reality, to break off the eleven form Dharmas is far from easy.
Nonduality of form has the inconceivable, brilliant form of supramundane
Void - the True Existence. Such is the meaning of "form does
not differ from the Void, and the Void does not differ from form."
The Buddha was aware that some of his disciples continued approaching
form and Void as two, as left and right for instance, and therefore
he elaborated further, in depth: "Form is Void, and Void is
Form and Void
initially are nondual. All present form empty of self is the supramundane
Void of True Existence: It is the stupendous Dharma of Nonduality
and Nongrasping. Merely by comprehending this concept the five skandhas
are already broken off. That is the meaning of "the same is
true for feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness."
Once the skandha of form was disclosed as void of separate, lasting
self, the mind- skandhas, similarly, were found to be void. To break
off one skandha is to break off all of them.
is true of feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness";
feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness are, likewise,
recognized as void of selfhood: The Void is their essence. The Dharma
of the Five Skandhas is the teaching of things in general - one
is all, all is one. Consequently, by understanding one skandha one
understands all five. The Buddha continued to expand the scope of
this teaching, once more turning to Arya Sariputra. First, the skandhas
were revealed as void of self, and now Void is revealed to be their