For example, the Heart Sutra does not say “no self,” “no home,” “no partner,” “no job,” “no money,” which are the things we usually care about. Therefore, in order to make it more relevant to our life, we have to fill those in. The Heart Sutra gives us a basic template of how to contemplate emptiness, but the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras fill in a lot of stuff, not only saying “no eye,” “no ear,” and so on. They go through endless lists of all kinds of phenomena, so we are welcome to come up with our own personal lists of phenomena that map out our personal universe and then apply the approach of the Heart Sutra to those lists.
The Heart Attack Sutra
There are accounts in several of the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras about people being present in the audience who had already attained certain advanced levels of spiritual development or insight that liberated them from samsaric existence and suffering. These people, who are called “arhats” in Buddhism, were listening to the Buddha speaking about emptiness and then had different reactions. Some thought, “This is crazy, let’s go” and left. Others stayed, but some of them had heart attacks, vomited blood, and died.
It seems they didn’t leave in time. These arhats were so shocked by what they were hearing that they died on the spot. That’s why somebody suggested to me that we could call the Heart Sutra the Heart Attack Sutra. Another meaning of that could be that this sutra goes right for the heart of the matter, while mercilessly attacking all ego trips that prevent us from waking up to our true heart. In any case, so far nobody has had a heart attack here, which is good news. But the bad news is that probably nobody understood it either.
From “The Heart Attack Sutra, by Karl Brunnhölzl, published by Snow Lion, 2012.
Feature Image: Unknown Artist.