On Sutra Copying (抄經)
The copying of Buddhist scriptures by hand (or Sutra copying, or "抄經" in Chinese, or "写経" in Japanese) in small standard script is fairly common in East Asian cultures(11). Some consider the practice to be a means to learning Buddhism, others even contend that it is a
meritorious act (功德
) in Buddhism as the act promotes the transmission of Buddhist scriptures even without the printing press. My work presented above is partly inspired by my personal observations of the many Buddhist scriptures that were hand-copied by past reputable Japanese monks during my visit to the Tokyo National Museum in summer 2015. One such example can be observed below:
Shosan jodo butsu shoju kyo (Sutra on Pure Land and salvation through the Grace of Buddha), Nara period, 8th century, ink on paper
On The Content Of The Heart Sutra
There are certainly many Buddhist concepts revealed in the Heart Sutra and discussing all of them accurately is certainly out of my scope. Nonetheless, I would like to discuss briefly two important Buddhist ideas outlined in the Heart Sutra:
a. The Buddhist concept of "Void/Emptiness/Nothingness (空)"
"Void/Emptiness/Nothingness(空)" in Buddhism does not mean non-existence (不存在
). Rather, it refers to the concept that all things perceptible, including concrete objects and even abstract ideas, are always ever-changing and in a state of "impermanence (無常)". Thus, nothing
permanently static and hence "real (實有)", and so all things in the
conceivable Universe are merely in a state of "non-concrete existence (
非實有)" and therefore always in a state of "voidness". Hence, the Heart Sutra
claims "form is void and void is form (色即是空，空即是色)", where "form" refers to all perceptible entities in the Universe. This concept of "void(空)" is not only observed in Buddhism but also in traditional Chinese literature as well as, surprisingly, in Christianity where the Bible asserts "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity (虛而又虛，萬事皆虛 )" - Ecclesiastes 1:2
. For further discussion on the concept of "Void/Nothingness(空)" in traditional Chinese culture and Christianity please visit these links: here
b. The Buddhist view on "Suffering(苦)" and its parallel to Christianity
In Buddhism, "Suffering(苦)" or Dukkha generally refers to the pains,
dissatisfactions, frustrations, anxieties, etc., that we all experience in life. The Heart Sutra does not directly address the origins of "Suffering" but suggests one can overcome it by staying "far away from delusional dreams (遠離顚倒夢想
)". This is consistent with the Buddhist principle of "The Second Noble Truth, 集諦
" wherein it contends that "Suffering" is attributed to one's unnecessary cravings for worldly possessions. Specifically, The Second Noble Truth argues that, since all entities are always in a state of "
any desired objects can never be fully obtained and so one's desires for them can never fully be satisfied which ultimately causes one to fall into the never-ending cycle of suffering (11
). Hence, the endless lust for power, money and social status as well as the conceited insistence that one can fully control one's fate in the ever-changing Universe
are all good examples of "delusional dreams (顚倒夢想)" that can cause unnecessary cravings which fundamentally hinders one from transcending to the state of Nirvana (涅槃), the Supreme
Interestingly, the misery resulting from the obsession and desire of temporal worldly goods is also outlined in many parts of the New Testament of the Catholic Bible:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs." - Timothy 6:10
"You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God." - James 4:2-4
"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever." - John 2:15-17
Ultimately, it is personal Pride and Greed (two of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride being the father of all Sins)
that drive one to misery and suffering. The very first example in the Bible is where Adam and Eve were banned from the garden of Eden and became mortal when they chose to eat from the "Tree of Knowledge" despite God's warning (Genesis 3:1-12); Adam and Eve had too much Pride thinking that they could disobey God, subsequently became greedy in wanting to obtain God's power, and so consequently decided to
eat from the "Tree of Knowledge". In this regard, one could argue their downfall was due to their "delusional dreams (顚倒夢想)" wherein they thought they could become equals to God.
How does one escape suffering in Christianity then? Love one another and sacrifice oneself humbly without asking anything in return:
"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." -Galatians 5:13
This is central to Christianity: one should love and help others humbly
without expecting anything in return; one should be so humble to the extent that one should not even expect a place in Heaven by doing many good deeds. Indeed, when Jesus sacrificed Himself for our salvation, He did not expect nor receive anything in return, for He is God.
Truly, no one knows who can enter Heaven or Hell after the Final Judgment. We can only follow God's ways, pray, and hope that, by the great Mercy of the Almighty God, He will send His peace to our hearts and minds so we can be rid of sufferings and be truly joyful as we live through this life's journey towards the Kingdom of God.
KS Vincent Poon Mar. 10, 2017