Commentary on the Heart Sutta by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche

As heard by Derek Rasmussen, 21st of January, 2002

You don’t necessarily know it but you’re on about developing relationships with phenomena. You would like your relationships with people and things to be good but what about spiders?!
Do you have good feelings toward spiders? You should.


You want your relations to be good; that’s loving-kindness. That’s the central core of the teaching; you’re not going to get anywhere without loving kindness. And that is ‘relative bodhicitta’.


There are two liberations: ceto-vi-mutti, getting your heart free of emotional suffering. Then after liberation of the heart you have prajna-vimutti, liberation of wisdom. ‘Pro’ (pra) is in favour of, toward; and ‘ja’ is birth; so toward birth of knowledge.


If you have a loving relationship with the universe and you’re open and you can abide in loving kindness, then you are bound to experience absolute bodhicitta. Absolute bodhicitta is sunyata, emptying. You ARE liberated from suffering and you CAN liberate others, that’s absolute bodhicitta, you can even liberate material from suffering, like the Shakers who made beautiful furniture for example.


The Heart Sutta. Notice that the first word is heart; there has to be loving kindness first, and then you come to understand totality. You see people with bad things happening to
them and you see that it’s all conditioned and you realize that whatever has a cause has a cessation, it may take several lifetimes, it may take one lifetime, it may take one meditation session, but whatever has been conditioned can be unconditioned. ‘For in truth what could go wrong?’ says the sutra, that’s an important point, it’s all law, you may not like it, but it’s all law.




Mantra is mano/tra, mind tool, you ARE a mantra, a mind tool. You didn’t know that, but your mind is a tool of the universe. Theoretically, in depth, OM AH HUM, is the only mantra you need, it is
the root womb guru; if you did OM AH HUM in depth you would clear the womb level. So everything else is a ‘failure’ in a way, ‘That didn’t work, so let’s get more elaborate, try something else…’


All the tangkas, that circle around the radiant figure, that’s the womb; they’re in the womb, ‘garbha’. Always keep the ‘bija’, all the time, you must think when you do your meditation, you should think that you’re in the womb.


Back to the mantra: the first GATE, is ‘having gone into life’ (into the womb), into becoming; the second GATE, you focus on ‘rise and fall’, focus on the abdomen, the womb region, get to the point where you see coming into being.


GATE, GATE: gate doesn’t just translate as ‘gone’, it’s also ‘coming’; so GATE GATE is coming into being and passing away, insight, seeing the origination and cessation (and even the footsteps). Anything that is coming into being is passing away, and anything that is passing away is automatically coming into being (you would use the expression that it’s ‘turning into something else’).


PARASAMGATE: the whole universe is doing this – coming into being and passing away. There is no separate ‘I’ that isn’t conditioned. Some fish in the depths of the oceans have no eyes, because there is no light down there, there is no ongoing need for vision. The senses arise due to need for them, external stimulus, conditions.


There are creatures without hearing because there is no need for it; when you study them they have vestigial hearing organs which have gone dormant, no longer used. (As an aside, hearing is THE liberative sense -thus I have heard – but it is also the most delicate sense, it is lost easily, you should take care of it).


The ‘gone’ part, totally gone beyond suffering gone, because you realize interdependent origination. The sutra says ‘no old age’, well you know there’s old age, but life goes on, it’s on its way to other changes, JATIMARANA. birthdeath. you never separate jatimarana, there is no hyphen in it.


The Heart Sutra, sunyata, is sometimes called the ‘Terrible Doctrine’, because for egos it’s terrifying. The bodhisattva relies on the Heart Sutra, sunyata. But when you let go of identity and understand that even identity is transient, that can be terrifying.


This Sutra is spoken by Chenrezig, Avalokatisvara literally means ‘world traveller’ (loka is world), a traveller through the worlds, planets and galaxies, a space traveller ‘whilst coursing in wisdom’. An effective meditation that I have done and recommend, (interestingly, it’s also a meditation that Einstein did) where you put your mind in outer space and look down on earth and phenomena. You see the wisdom that has ‘gone beyond’; but you can’t see anything without loving-kindness.


What you see is the five heapings, the five builders that you call an identity or a person. Five is a very sacred number for the human being, the preferred number for fingers and toes, it is a bit of an ideal number. The Buddha said ‘I have found you oh builder’, these five are the builders, the automatic blind building. Your mother and your father got together one day and did ‘ha-ha’ and here you are… being built.


Emptying is still forming, you die and some other manifestation is forming. It isn’t a one, two sequential thing, no, you are forming the next life NOW; you are all pregnant and you are all giving birth to form right now; emptying and forming can’t be separated; if it wasn’t emptying it couldn’t be forming, it would be STUCK. ‘Emptying’, I prefer to use it as a verb, a noun is set, it’s not ‘emptiness’, a thing.


Whatever is forming that is emptying, that is RUPA by the way. Even your emotions are constantly changing, it’s impossible for you to stay in one emotion, consciousness itself is waxing and waning.


You’re changing every moment, you’re liberating every moment, so where’s the suffering?? You should rely on the perpetual change in every moment, put your faith in that. The mark of Dharma is emptiness, there is no separate THING that’s forming, there’s just forming, jatimarana is not hyphenated, it’s all one thing.


There is no separate eye, ear, taste etc, at some point in your life you will cross over, taste colours etc. What you CHOOSE to see is governed by feelings and your feelings are governed by body and you can’t stop it in order to analyze it. You may put forward the illusion that you can measure it but there’s no separate phenomena, the objects of mind – dhammanupassana – that’s interdependent origination.


Eye consciousness requires light, an organ, the organ has to work and there has to be an object to be seen. You try to make objects out of your thoughts, you try to SEE your thoughts.


‘Therefore, oh Sariputra, there is no THING to be attained’ – but there IS attainment. There are no obstructions in the mind, if you look. This reminds me of a story of the student who phoned up the Zen Roshi, he were miserable, he asked him ‘How do I get free?’ and the Roshi answered ‘Who’s holding you??’


You’re changing every moment, you’re liberating every moment, so where’s the suffering?? Yes, there are repetitive patterns, so why do you need to get free? You should rely on the perpetual change in every moment, put your faith in that. There’s also the story about the teacher by the side of the river, the students come up, ‘Oh Lama, lama, Where’s the water??’ ‘It’s right there! (he points)’. And they go ‘Oh Lama, wonderful Lama!!’ But what the hell are you talking about?!? It’s right THERE!


There is no past present or future, it’s always pasting, presenting, futuring, streaming – stream entry – maybe it’ll click with you why it’s called that. The Buddha said This you must come to realize, you are neither in the past, nor the future, nor betwixt the two, there’s no present. If it’s empty, then let it empty and form, it doesn’t go empty and then form, it’s immediate, they are the same. If you wake up in the morning and don’t IGNORE, that’s freedom. Ego’s choose. Egos get up in the morning and want a repetitive pattern.


The Buddha said ‘Not to get what you want is suffering; and to be conjoined with what you don’t want is suffering’. What if you wanted something that you got? Notice that he didn’t say that permanent good (sukha) could not be attained. So what can you want that is not suffering?
That’s happiness. Nirvana is permanent good formations; it’s getting what you actually want, in depth. To the extent that you are in loving-kindness you will hear, understand, what I said today.