Pillar 3 - The Heart Sutra

First, I must state that although I have practiced Zen Buddhism throughout my life, I do no consider myself a Buddhist nor do I subscribe to any type of organized spirituality or religion. Buddhism has had a profound influence on how I have navigated my life and enabled me to get through many difficult situations.

The Heart Sutra is a central text and teaching in Mahayana Buddhism. It is the text heard being recited through the first track Gone, Gone and I chant the last part of the sutra on the last track, The Other Shore Simply put, The Heart Sutra states that all things, more specifically the 5 skandhas, are empty. The five skandhas are the body (form), mental formations, perceptions, feelings and consciousness. The emptiness being referred to here is not nothing nor is it negative. It does not mean that all of creation is empty of value or meaning. Because of emptiness, creation can happen. But when we say emptiness, we must answer the question, empty of what? All things are empty of a separate, independent existence. In other words, this is because that is and when that is not, this is not. It speaks of the interconnectedness and impermanence of all things. Without the trees, sun, water etc...we as humans simply would not be. In the opening line to his commentary for the Hear Sutra Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: "If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper." In other words, one thing contains all things; the one is in the many and the many are in the one. Without the cloud there would be no rain and without the rain no trees and without the trees no paper. This interconnectivity is true for all things. By truly embracing this idea, we become free from the fear of birth and death because we realize that we are in a constant state of becoming. Now I am in this form but only because of the sun, water, oxygen and countless other things. If they were ever to fall away then what I call I will as well.

My illness came to be because things inside me changed and for whatever reason stopped functioning as they used to. Something caused my illness to manifest and once it did, everything within and without changed. My entire identity, my self became different than what it was and I became scared but the teaching in the sutra stipulates that there is no birth or death so therefore one should not be afraid. In the same commentary Thich Nhath Hanh also wrote: "Once the wave realizes that it is only water, that it is nothing but water, it realizes that birth and death cannot do it any harm ".

If one looks deeply into this teaching, it leads to the cessation of suffering. Why? Because when one understands that nothing is permanent; that the reality in front of us is just an arising and an eventual falling away and forever changing reality then we begin to realize just how pointless and dangerous attachment is. And attachment is the numero uno cause of suffering.

I chose The Heart Sutra to bookend the EP not only because of how profound of a teaching it is but also because it had such an impact on my spiritual journey when I first encountered it many years ago. When my illness hit and became a regular fixture of my daily existence, the teaching of The Heart Sutra gave me the hope and strength and perspective to move through it with as much ease as I was able. It gave me the wisdom that regardless of the severity of the pain that it would eventually fall away. Also, the self that I had come to "know' had, within days, completely fell away and I was all of a sudden someone else, my body was something else than what it had been. This is because that is and when this is not that is not. When the internal functions of my body fell away, everything I knew to be normal; everything I took for granted fell away. My first reaction was to resist my situation and to cry "why me". But I quickly realized that this resulted in more suffering. Instead, embracing and accepting what was happening lead me to peace of mind and heart. I just had to be with the pain and the discomfort and not judge it nor attempt to wish it away. This was not easy but it was absolutely necessary to get me through night after night of excruciating pain and profound uncertainty. In this sense, I died before I died.