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The Heart Sutra Essay Sample

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The Heart Sutra Essay Sample

            The Heart Sutra is a very short text that begins with the introduction of Prajnaparamita, a teaching of the Perfection of Wisdom that the Mahayana Buddhists follow. It is explained within the text that there can be no attainment of enlightenment in emptiness. Emptiness, in this context, is defined as form, sensation, perception, consciousness, and memory. In essence, emptiness is the self; the body, thoughts, sounds, and feelings. Bodhisattvas do not live within the walls of the self, therefore they are fearless. This freedom of the self and of fear enables the bodhisattvas to achieve nirvana, or total enlightenment.

            The main goal of the bodhisattvas is to achieve nirvana and become Buddhas. Therefore, they take refuge in the teachings of Prajnaparamita, not in material possessions or feelings of pride. The point is that one cannot think of oneself as a being, because all of the negative, such as pride and possessions, go along with the being, and prevents achievement of nirvana. According to the text, beings are not open or free enough to put these things aside and experience enlightenment. It is difficult for a being to put these things aside because these things are so ingrained in a being’s life. However, once these things are pushed to the backburner, the individual can then concentrate on spiritual matters, and that is the most important issue.

            At the end of the Heart Sutra, all Buddhas gather at Prajnaparamita, so one should know the mantra of the teaching. The mantra is said to be great and true and it heals all suffering. This is the summary of Prajnaparamita. The mantra empowers the bodhisattvas to push aside material possessions and feelings of the being to make way for enlightenment. This is the main message.
The Diamond Sutra, the oldest known printed book, is longer than the Heart Sutra, but still in the family of the Perfection of Wisdom that the Mahayana Buddhists follow. The text begins with the Buddha sitting to rest after a walk with the monks for offerings. Subhuti, one of the monks, then asks the Buddha a question about how one should walk, stand and control one’s own thoughts to become a bodhisattva.

            The Buddha goes on to explain to Subhuti that no one can be a bodhisattva if they have attachment to material possessions or feelings of pride and a want for personal gain. The Buddha answers Subhuti’s questions throughout the text, including the question, will anyone remember and practice these teachings in the future. The answer is that fearless bodhisattvas will remember and try to put the teachings into action. These bodhisattvas will also have honored many Buddhas by doing so and will gain clarity of mind. If one could comprehend these teachings and put them into practice to show others, that bodhisattva would be blessed and their merit would be great. It is stressed that only open minds would be able to comprehend the teachings in the future because of the contradictory nature of the teachings.

            The entire text is devoted to explaining to Subhuti that one who wants to reach nirvana does not do good for personal gain. They do not help another and expect a reward. The Buddha is helping Subhuti throughout the text on his journey to unlearn his ideas of what compassion, enlightenment and reality are. The only reality is that if one is to achieve nirvana, one must let go of the self. The whole meaning of the text is that one needs to learn to let go of material things and focus on the spiritual.

  HEART SUTRA DIAMOND SUTRA
TEACHINGS Instruction on how to achieve enlightenment.

True nature of things is emptiness.

Must let go of material possessions and feelings of pride.

Must let go of the self.

Bodhisattvas are fearless.

Goal is to achieve nirvana.

Often repetitive

Short text

Instruction on how to achieve enlightenment.

True nature of things is emptiness.

Must let go of material possessions and feelings of pride.

Must let go of the self.

Bodhisattvas are fearless.

Goal is to achieve nirvana.

Contradictory

Often repetitive

Long text

HISTORY Member of the Perfection of Wisdom class of Buddhist literature.

Practiced by Mahayana Buddhists.

Extremely popular.

Dates to first century.

Called the Heart of Perfect Wisdom.

Member of the Perfection of Wisdom class of Buddhist literature.

Practiced by Mahayana Buddhists.

Extremely popular.

Dates to 868.

Called the Diamond that cuts Through Illusion.

INFLUENCE Has had a great influence on Mahayana Buddhists.

According to Mahayana Buddhists, this sutra represents the original teachings of the Buddha.

Known by the number of lines it contains.

Sums up the essence of Buddhism is a few short lines.

Has had a great influence on Mahayana Buddhists.

According to Mahayana Buddhists, this sutra represents the original teachings of the Buddha.

Known by the number of lines it contains.

Describes the essence of Buddhism at a great length.

            Buddhism, according to the Heart and Diamond Sutras, can be compared to Christian teachings in three ways, the idea of God, the idea of the human, and the idea of salvation. In the Christian teachings, God is a single, all-knowing being that judges an individual’s sins and good deeds. It is explained that the Christian God forgives all who ask for forgiveness. All individuals are made in this God’s image. Buddhism, however, is quite different. Buddhists worship many gods, not just one. They strive to live a certain way; and although Christians strive to do the same, Christians’ main focus is trying to please God. Buddhism is more about comprehending the great powers of their gods and gaining favor that way while Christianity is more about just believing, not having to understand.

            The idea of the human is radically different between the two religions. Buddhists try to escape the self to become something bigger while Christians accept and love the self because it is made in God’s image. Buddhists try to clear their minds to accept their beliefs while Christians think about their sins and their faith in their God. However, even with these differences, both religions’ followers make it their duty to spread their beliefs to others and use their bodies for this purpose.

            The idea of salvation is similar in Buddhism and Christianity. Christians believe that if they are good and they tell others about Christianity, they will go on to a better place where all their dreams come true. Buddhists believe that if they escape the self and can comprehend their beliefs and put them into practice, they will achieve nirvana. In both cases, practicioners of the faith go on to a better place and a better understanding if they are noble and good.

            To me, the Buddhist belief is the same as any other religion’s belief; if you do good, good things will happen to you and you will be saved. Even though this is contrary to our nature as humans (survival of the fittest), don’t we all try to be the best person we can be and help others find their way? That is what religion and faith is all about. Buddhists have a different way of going about it than, say, Judiaism, but they both come to the same conclusion, the same goal.

Pine, Red.  The Diamond Sutra.  Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint.  2001.  1-27.

  • Pine, Red. The Heart Sutra.  Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard.    2-5.

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