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Thread: "No Path, No Understanding, No Attainment"

  1. #1

    "No Path, No Understanding, No Attainment"


    In Thich Nhat Hanh's translation of the Heart Sutra, The Heart of Understanding, the line above is part of the sutra:

    no suffering, no origination of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path; no understanding, no attainment....
    Although I've recited this sutra (from this book) off and on for years, I never really noticed this line until now. I was thinking that this seems a like a pretty good definition of Shikanataza. Am I way off here?

  2. #2
    Hi Doug,

    Our version expresses, "No Path, No Wisdom and No Gain", which is all the same, English renderings of Chinese-Japanese renderings of old Sanskrit renderings of what ultimately cannot be expressed in words.

    Just do not think that "no path; no understanding, no attainment" means that there is no path, nothing to understand and nothing to attain! It ain't no 'either/or' proposition. This radical "non-attaining" is something Wondrous Attained, "non-understanding" lets one Subtly Understand this lifeselfworld right through words or no words, "no path" is the step by step Path to Here All Along, Yet Determined in Every Step.

    Furthermore, we learn this "non-attaining" and "no place to go" right amid and as a world with things to get done, places to go and people to see, all At Once As One. This "no place to go" does not mean we can or should sit on our rears all day! We get up and go, cause there are things in need of doing and fixing, food to grow, kids to feed and work to be done!

    We attain this "non-understanding" that shines right through this whole world of opinions, categories and confusion, even as we must have opinions and make categories and judgments to function and live in the world.

    ALL such is Shikantaza!

    Let me link to one of my old riffs on this ...

    "Shikantaza" Zen practice is a radical, to the marrow, dropping of the self's demands that something needs to be attained to make this world "right", that something must be added or removed from our lives to make life complete, that something is defective and needs to be changed., that we need to get some place to find our "True Home".

    HOWEVER, radically dropping, to the marrow all need to attain, add, remove, or change in order to make life right and complete --IS-- A WONDROUS ATTAINMENT, ADDITION and CHANGE TO LIFE! Dropping all need to "get somewhere" is truly finally GETTING SOMEWHERE! The True Home is here and everywhere! Abandoning all need in life's race to cross some finish line over a distant hill, is simply arriving at the finish line which is our every step!

    ALL THAT, even as we continue to move forward, make choices, have preferences ... LIVE! Moving forward, yet as still and unmoving as a mountain or a stone ... having choices and preferences while choices and preferences are fully dropped, and we drop all demands to get somewhere ... living passionately, yet not a prisoner of passions ... at once, the still mountains walking, the stone women dancing ...

    We fix what needs to be fixed .. in this world, in our life ... all without thought of something to repair. We clean what needs to be cleaned ... the messes and disasters and filthy oil spills, the greed anger and ignorance in our own lives that creates ugliness, separation and harm for us and all those around us ... yet there is no "clean" or "dirty".


    more here ...
    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-15-2014 at 08:48 AM.

  3. #3

  4. #4
    Thanks much. It's clear as mud to me, but I figure it'll make sense in time.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by jphiled View Post
    Thanks much. It's clear as mud to me, but I figure it'll make sense in time.
    Clear as mud is where the lotus flower grows And time seems to be exactly what it needs to bloom.


  6. #6
    Hi Doug,

    I have a very nice relationship with the Heart Sutra. I have been chanting for years every morning before zazen and I can say it is a text that lives, breathes and has it's own intelligence. It decides when you are ready to learn and shows you stuff that was hidden from you.

    Sometimes my mind wonders and I just repeat words. Sometimes I am one with the words. Sometimes it decides I am ready to learn something and lets me see teachings I never seen before.

    You just stick with it. In time you'll bump into more teachings.


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  7. #7
    Thanks Kyonin. I've found that true with almost any sutra that has some kind of meaning for you and that you recite long enough. In addition to the Heart Sutra, I also sometimes recite the Amitabha Sutra (think of it as the "Heart Sutra" for Pure Land Buddhists) and have had those "ah ha" moments or moments where you're just mouthing the words. Every once in a while, I'll find a good gem in the Lotus Sutra too, which I guess was a sutra that Dogen was also interested in, though I know little of Dogen's relationship with the Lotus.

  8. #8
    I am reading the book Sapiens at the moment and wondering whether or not our (non-)enlightenment is not really just an effort to return to a time before language took us away from the cosmos. Language was/is a wedge between us and nature. And yet here we are, using language to find our way back home!

  9. #9
    Wonderful teaching Jundo!

    Thanks again.

    ~ Please remember that I am very fallible.


  10. #10
    Can I ask if, when people recite the Heart Sutra, they recite the whole sutra or selected parts of it?

  11. #11
    Hi Diarmuid,

    Well, the "Heart" Sutra is an encapsulation of the "Heart" of all the much longer "Perfection of Wisdom" Sutras which offer the same Teachings with many more words. (The longest is in 100,000 lines and consists of 12 volumes, the version in 25,000 lines is in 3 volumes, and on down. A lot of words for something "empty", huh! )

    And then there are two main versions of the Heart Sutra. We usually chant the shorter version. Sometimes we dance to the beats of this longer version Heart Sutra ...
    which is the longer Heart Sutra here ...

    Yet, all is just the letter "A", and all is not even in need of that.

    Gassho, J

  12. #12
    Yeah, in general Mahayana Buddhist sutras can be difficult to read because the writing style in those days was very bombastic and dramatic, while sutras from the Pali Canon (Theravada Buddhism) can be droning and repetitive because they were often used for oral recitation. Reading a chapter from Mahayana sutras like the Lotus Sutra or Earth-Store Bodhisattva Sutra can be a bit daunting if you aren't familiar with the language. It's nothing like Western religious literature. But the Heart Sutra gets past all the poetic language and gets to the "heart" of Mahayana teachings. For this reason, many people recite it, not just Zen Buddhists. Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned that many "boat people" who escaped from Vietnam carried no possessions but a copy of the Heart Sutra.

    Interesting, the sutra is thought to have been composed in China (and later brought back to India). If so, I guess someone in China was similarly put off by the lengthy Perfection of Wisdom sutras and wanted to distill it into something easier.

  13. #13
    Have you looked at Edward Conze' translation and commentary on the Heart Sutra? I've found it very helpful and is translated from the Sanskrit.


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