Altar Sutra: On Prajna: Part 2

Since our minds are vast and of the nature of oneness, we should settle them on vast things rather than being distracted by trivial ones.

Don’t talk about Enlightenment all day without practicing it in your mind. To talk about it without practice is like pretending to be a king.

Wisdom can’t be attained by talking about it all the time. Those who think it can are not in the lineage of Patriarch’s and Masters.

There are, and have always been, those who spend a lot of time talking about spirituality while not doing any sort of spiritual practice. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this ‘Spiritual Materialism’. It’s not about how you look or what you say or even who your teacher is. It’s only about how you engage the practice. Buddhism isn’t something you talk about or something you talk about. It’s not even something you are. Buddhism is something you do.

What is Prajna? Prajna is a Sanskirt word that means wisdom.

If we can keep our minds steady and free from attachment to desire and be wise in our actions, then we are practicing Prajna, or wisdom. One foolish idea is enough to block our wisdom, while one good thought will manifest it again.

When we are ignorant or held by delusion we can’t see it. We can talk about it, but we can’t really engage wisdom.
What is Paramita? It is a Sanskrit word that means ‘to the opposite shore’.

The metaphor here is crossing a stream. This shore is the world of clinging and suffering. It sometimes called Samsara. The other shore is the realm of Awakening, where we don’t cling to our attachments so completely, where we can engage the world without illusory duality. This is sometimes called Nirvana.

This shore is the world where we cling to sense objects. The other shore is where we are in a state of non-attachment, a state above existence or non-existence, where we transcend delusion.

To know the Dharma of Mahaprajnaparamita is to know the Dharma of Prajna. If we don’t put it into practice, then we are ordinary. If we direct our minds to practice it, then we are Buddhas.

But when we are ordinary, we are also Buddhas. And the truth is that delusion and Enlightenment are one.
The Mahaprajnaparamita is the most exalted and supreme teaching. It never stays, nor does it come or go.
Through this teaching the Buddhas of the present, past, and future attain Enlightenment. We should use this teaching to break up our delusions about ourselves, to disentangle from our egos. Following this practice ensures the attainment of Enlightenment. Through this practice we can turn the three poisons, greed hatred, and delusion, into morality, concentration, and wisdom.

This echoes the Diamond Sutra which, in many parts, sings it’s own praises and describes itself as the greatest and highest and most important sutra. It’s not surprising that Hui-neng is so devoted to the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutras. It’s said that he attained Enlightenment after hearing just a few words from the Diamond Sutra.

When we are free from delusions, wisdom manifests. Those who understand this aren’t carried away by idle thoughts. To operate from our true nature, to use wisdom for contemplation, to take an attitude of non-attachment toward all things: this is what is meant by realizing our true nature and attaining Enlightenment.
If you want to penetrate the mystery of ultimate reality and the Awakening of Prajna, you should practice by reciting and studying the Diamond Sutra, which will enable you to see your own true nature, which is, as described by the text, immeasurable and unlimited.

This Sutra belongs to the highest School of Buddhism and the Buddha delivered it for the wisest among us.
When followers of the Mahayana hear about the Diamond Sutra, the seed of Enlightenment is awakened in their minds, they know that Prajna is their true nature and they don’t need to turn to scriptural authority to understand this.

The Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, Tradition of Buddhism is the largest of the three main divisions. (the other two are Theravada, which came first, and Vajrayana). Mahayana Buddhism was created as a more accessible school. The different subdivisions of Mahayana are very diverse, but they have in common the notion that Enlightenment is available to everyone, not just monks, and that it can be attained in this life.

Altar Sutra: On Prajna: Part 1

On Prajna (Wisdom)

One day, after reciting the Heart Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng gave the following teaching:
The great seed of Awakening is within all of us. It is because our minds are under delusion that we fail to realize this. This is why we seek advice and guidance from Masters and Teachers
The truth is there is no difference between an Enlightened being and an ignorant one. The only difference is that an Enlightened being sees their own true nature.

Now, let’s talk about the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra so each of us can engage with wisdom.

Several things going on here. The Master is talking about the concept of Buddha nature. This is a traditional Mahayana Buddhist teaching that we are all awakened already, that Enlightenment isn’t something we are seeking, it’s just that we are trying to see through our delusion to see our Enlightened nature underneath. The Mahaprajnaparaimta Sutra is the Sutra of Great Transcendental Wisdom. We’ll talk more about that a little later.

Those who talk about wisdom all the time don’t know that wisdom is inherent in our nature. Talking about food won’t make you full when you’re hungry. Just so, talking about wisdom will not make you wise. We can sit and talk about Emptiness forever, but talking will not make us realize our fundamental nature. It’s pointless.

This is similar to a line from another famous Chinese spiritual text, the Tao Te Ching. “The way that can be spoken of is not the true way.” That is, once we start speaking, we have probably missed the point. The truth is beyond the language we can use to talk about it. Bodhidharma, the first Chinese Patriarch called it, “Beyond words and letters. Emptiness here means we are without inherent self nature. That is, there is no part of us that is really separate from the world around us. Our nature is oneness.

‘Mahaprajnaparamita’ is a Sanskrit word. It means Great Transcendental Wisdom.
We have to put Transcendental Wisdom into practice.Just reciting the teachings of Mahaprajnaparamita without putting them into practice is like a phantom, a delusion, a flash of lightning.

This reminds me of this quote from Ikkyu: ‘Like vanishing dew, a passing apparition or the sudden flash of lightning– already gone — thus should one regard one’s self,’

When we simply recite the teachings, we aren’t doing much good. We have to embody the teachings. Don’t study the Buddha. Be the Buddha.

The Buddha outside isn’t the true Buddha. The true Buddha is within.

Maha means ‘great’. The abilities of the mind are great. What lies within us is infinite, neither long nor short, neither happy nor sad, neither good nor evil.

Our true nature is Emptiness and there is really nothing to be attained. The Essence of our minds is the absolute void.

When I talk about Emptiness, don’t think in terms of nothingness or annihilation. We shouldn’t fall into this idea because then we could begin to think that nothing matters.

A very common mistake people make when they start learning about Buddhism. Buddhism is not nihilism. I think of Emptiness as being vast and open, like the sky.

The void we are talking about is capable of containing many things of various shape and size. The void
contains the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth.

The void contains all of these. So do we.

This echoes a quote by Rumi, the famous Muslim mystic:
‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop’

We call our true nature great because it contains all things. All things are within our nature. When we see the behavior of others, we must not be attached to it, so that our minds can be as void as the sky. In this way, we can say our minds are great. So, we use the word Maha.
The ignorant talk about it and the wise put it into practice.
The mind is great in capacity because it is one with everything.

When our minds work without being clouded by hindrance, to ‘come’ or to ‘go’ then we are dwelling in a state of ‘Prajna’, wisdom.

All wisdom comes from within ourselves.

Once we understand the essence of our minds, we can be free from delusion.

What is the Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch?

The Altar Sutra is a Mahayana Buddhist text by the Sixth Patriarch in the Ch’an Buddhist tradition, Hui-neng.

Hui-neng (638–713) is one of the most respected and revered figures in Buddhist history. He was an illiterate woodcutter who suddenly attained Enlightenment upon hearing the Diamond Sutra. He became the Sixth Patriarch in the Ch’an tradition. All Ch’an/Zen lineages descend from him. He is regarded as the creator of the Sudden Enlightenment philosophy. He embodies the fact that anyone can attain Enlightenment, regardless of education, class, or lineage.

His collection of talks is called the Altar Sutra, Liùzǔ Tánjīng. The title is often translated as either ‘the Platform Sutra’ or simply, ‘The Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch’. I think Altar Sutra is a more accurate title, but it is debatable and has been debated at length. Sometimes it’s simply called the Sutra of Huineng.

It is the only Chinese Buddhist text that has been given the title Sutra.

I’m going to write my own line by line commentary of this Sutra, as time permits.

My version differs from most. I have placed Huineng’s autobiography at the end and his wonderful teachings at the beginning.

It’s not that the Master’s story isn’t important. Of course it is. But, I think, far too often we get caught up in hero worship and we pay attention to the story instead of the teachings. The story matters, but the teachings are what we need to remember.