The Heart Sutra Has No Clothes

Here's a thing for fans of the Heart Sutra to think about. In the Sanskrit text there are a number of phrases relating emptiness with form. For example "śūnyataiva rūpam" and "śūnyatāyāṃ na rūpaṃ"

Now, both of these cannot be true. The former says that "emptiness is only form". The latter "with respect to (or "in") emptiness there is no form." This is a flat contradiction.

However, contradictions in Buddhist texts, particularly in Prajñāpāramitā texts, are like the emperor's new clothes. We can all see that they are contradictions, contradictions mean something doesn't make sense, but we assume that a) the texts are profoundly wise; and b) that profound wisdom need not make sense. By this logic the presence of a flat contradiction in a "sacred" text is welcomed as proof that it is profound. The more incomprehensible the better.

Though we see something that does not make sense, we take this incomprehensibility to indicate something profoundly sensible. The Emperor has new clothes.

There's only one way out of this dilemma, which is to say that the Emperor has no clothes on. But those whose careers are built on interpreting and promoting the bullshit, who write about it, preach about it, and teach special practices to realise it, are going to resist. They are the Emperors tailors. They've made something out of nothing and cannot afford to admit it. And the run-of-the-mill folk who desperately want their miserable lives to have some greater meaning and purpose are also loathe to admit that the Emperor is naked. They doubt themselves so much that they're willing to go along with a naked Emperor just in case there is something magical going on that might make life meaningful after all. So they don't raise a fuss either.

Those of us who do say that the Emperor has no clothes on like fools. But having seen the naked emperor, we can't unsee him. A contradiction is a sign of confusion, not profundity. I can even venture to explain how this confusion might have come about, and why the latter phrase is actually a bit profound and the former is just a mistake. But the desire for profundity generally overwhelms the desire for clarity (if there is any desire). Some people seem to resent the attempt bring clarity to a situation. They want magic rather than clarity. It's like they are reading Harry Potter and secretly wishing it were true - like the Cambridge University students (raised on the books and films) who play "Quidditch" on Jesus Green on the weekend - running around the field with sticks held between their legs representing "broomsticks" and trying to throw a ball through one of 3 shoddily made hoops. It's just sad.

I begin to see what Pema Chodron meant about hope being a hindrance. While we are hoping for something else to be true, we never pay attention to what is really going on.
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