The Heart Sutra is a very interesting text within the whole of buddhist literature in that it took a much more prominent place in the east as it did in its native India. It is one of the many sutras that form the canon of the Mahayana branch of buddhist philosophy and practice. The Mahayana branch of buddhism focuses mostly on how it is possible to be happy in this life, but that this happiness is only possible through detachment from “taints” which cause one to act in ways that contradict the Dharma. To be happy and a Mahayana buddhist one must free themselves from notions of the self, death, and material things in order to invest fully in helping relieve the stresses and sufferings of others. It doesn’t really take that much to begin training your mind in the Mahayana mindset really, as we see in The Lotus Sutra it is possible for anyone to work towards buddhahood. Among other things the Baghavad Gita too tells its adherents that “even the smallest spiritual practice (dharmaste) protects one from great fear” and it is perhaps this older indian notion which began to work its way into the Mahayana tradition. Between the accessibility of the practice and the relative ease that one can start down the path to Buddhahood, the Mahayana tradition begins to chip away at the problems facing people now, and thousands of years ago.
Why is it that people follow any sort of spiritual path? The logical answer, according to Lama Sumati Marut, is that people follow a belief that makes them happy, really happiness is the good that religion tries to sell. Happiness really, is the business of buddhism, it asks you to re-define what makes you happy, what happiness is in its real form, and how to differentiate between what seems good for you on the surface (a shiny new Lexus and Gucci boots) and what is good for your being (helping to ease the lives of others, and bring them happiness). The Heart Sutra tells us a few things which become pretty important down the line, for instance this sutra is where we find the idea that buddhas are eternal yet infinitely manifest in different ways. The “I” referred to in chapter 16 is where most Mahayana scholars believe the idea of the eternal nature of a buddha has come from. Various Mahayana schools hold this thought that there is an eternal buddha whose manifestations are “emanations” of this eternal buddha. One of the other key pieces (especially for modern practice) is the idea found in the 14th chapter which outlines the actual practice and attitudes that one who is a bodhisattva should strive to uphold. The last of these is one which I find particularly resonant as it tells the aspiring bodhisattva that it is possible to use ones powers of buddhahood to literally draw beings towards enlightenment. The idea that one who has attained the eighth consciousness can use their ability to tap into their buddhahood to help other beings do so more easily opens up whole new possibilities for compassionate and selfless action.
Although happiness can be said to be the business of the buddhist, the other chief concern is that of human suffering. The Buddha says that life is suffering, obviously the revelation must be the foundation for becoming buddhist as it was after the the first of the four noble truths, surely it is first for a reason. It may seem awkward that a religion whose business is happiness primarily chose to focus on suffering first, but really this is because to be truly happy, one must be conscious of all kinds of suffering even the kinds that most people don’t even notice. Not only that, but one must act to alleviate even the smallest amounts of suffering for the most miniscule of sentient beings. Buddhism addresses the concept of suffering by making it impossible to separate it from happiness. You cannot be happy and buddhist if you are not constantly and keenly aware of suffering. Your own suffering should be made known to yourself so you can release yourself from the taints associated with it. Suffering, especially in the modern world is likened by Lama Marut to holding a hot coal. Until someone realizes that many of the attachments to things and even to people that they have are ultimately hurting rather than helping them then they cannot progress and be happy. Most people, in the backs of their minds know when something is hurting them but choose to ignore it, Lama Marut calls this holding onto our coals because despite knowing that they are burning us and hurting us we cling to them because we do not see things as they really are. We think, “this is my coal, and nobody can take it from me.”, it becomes a possession that even if it hurts us, is enticing just because it can be possessed at all. The biggest obstacle for many is the letting go of their coals. In fact, most cling to their coals tighter and tighter until their coal burns through them, the release of the coals is a way to explain releasing one from the taints of this existence. The process of doing this is the purpose of the buddhist spiritual practice.
Happiness is only possible when suffering is gone, suffering can only be dispelled through elimination of the taints, and elimination of the taints can only come through discipline, focus and selflessness. Happiness for the Buddhist is essentially tied to the cessation of suffering. Think of it like this: Happiness is always around us, at all times from countless sources, and buddhism focuses on the process of removing all of the suffering so that the truth can more easily be seen, accessed and spread to others. Additionally the practice of buddhism seeks to alter the world view of the practitioner because one must see things as a buddha to become one. The easiest way to become a bodhisattva is to be as one, says Lama Sumati Marut. One must project happiness to bring happiness to oneself, which is only possible by bringing it to others. If you view others with the compassion you become much more aware of all the positive things they do for you and can see all the minute ways in which happiness is brought into your life by others, for which you should thank them, thus making them feel valued as well. The creation of ones karma is a constant process and Buddhism seeks to re-program the mundane mind and transform it into an intellectual mind, ever-conscious of speech, thought and action. Happiness and human suffering are at the center of the Buddhist ideology and philosophy and the exploration of these two ideas and how to master them in order to ultimately allow all beings to not only be liberated from samsara but then achieve nirvana.