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73 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dalai Lama on the Heart Sutra,
This review is from: Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Paperback)In its enigmatic 25 lines, the Heart Sutra is one of the most difficult of Buddhist Scriptures but also one of the most rewarding. It is a basic text of Mahayana Buddhism and recited daily in monasteries and by practicing Buddhists throughout the world.
There are many commentaries, ancient and modern, on this text, but I found this recent book by the Dalai Lama, "Essence of the Heart Sutra" an outstanding place for the beginner to start. The Dalai Lama's book also will reward study by those having great prior familarity with the text. The book is based on a series of lectures that the Dalai Lama gave at the Land of Medicine Buddhist center in California and at the Three Rivers Dharma in Pittsburg.
This work is much more than a commentary on the Heart Sutra. It is equally valuable as an introduction to Buddhism and as a compendium of the teachings of the Dalai Lama. It is instructive to see how the Dalai Lama weaves his broad material together into a coherent whole. Thus, in the first part of the book, the Dalai Lama offers broad-based comments on the spiritual dimension of life, of the relationship between Buddhism and other religions, and of the fundamentals of Buddhist teachings. It is inspiring to hear words of ecumenicism, tolerance, and willingness to learn from others. It is also important to read the Dalai Lama's exposition of the basic Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination, which is, in later sections of the book, tied masterfully to the interpretation of the Heart Sutra.
The second part of the book offers a translation and commentary on the Heart Sutra. Consistent with his opening chapters, the Dalai Lama stresses the continuity between this Mahayana text and its earlier predecessors in Theravada Buddhism. (Many other commentaries emphasize how the Heart Sutra departs from and differs from its predecessors.) In addition, in a few brief pages the Dalai Lama offers great insight into the fundamental teaching of emptiness --- that reality is "empty of intrinsic existence." He points out clearly that the Sutra does not teach that nothing exists -- a nihilistic doctrine. Instead, the Dalai Lama relates the teaching of the Sutra to the doctrine of Dependent Origination -- stressing the lack of independent existence, substantiality, and ego. He discusses different ways in which various Buddhist schools interpret the doctrine of emptiness -- including the "mind-only" school and two variants of the "middle-way" school. This material is difficult but important and not stressed in various other commentaries that I have read.
The final part of the Dalai' Lama's study discusses the Bodhisattva path of Mahayana Buddhism -- the decision to dedicate oneself to the welfare of others -- and relates it to the text of the Heart Sutra. There are teachings and practices here on learning to practice lovingkindness, also set forth in other writings of the Dalai Lama, but informed here by the discussion of emptiness and nonclinging in the Heart Sutra. This discussion, and the short epilogue, tie together the ecumenical material in the book with the elucidation and analysis of the Heart Sutra.
This book presents difficult, profound teachings in an accessible readable way. It is ideal for the beginning student or for those who want to explore the Heart Sutra to see what it might offer. It also presents an exposition of this text by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. For those who want to read further and compare and contrast other approaches to this inexhaustible text, I recommend Red Pine's study "The Heart Sutra" and Donald Lopez' "Elaborations of Emptiness", a detailed and difficult analysis of the Heart Sutra in light of its earliest Indian and Tibetan commentaries.
69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of the Heart,
By A Customer
This review is from: Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Hardcover)As a geographically-isolated Buddhist, I belong to a local Daoist study group. I chose the Heart Sutra to review for the study group, as a work appealing to both traditions. Having reviewed available commentaries to prepare for the presentation, I found the Dalai Lama's "Essence of the Heart Sutra" to be an exceptionally insightful treatise of this most deceptively simple, as well as shortest, of the major sutras. While he begins with the longer Tibetan version of the Heart Sutra, his analysis encompasses Tibetan, Mahayana and Theravada traditions. The book is a superlative scholarly work, written in clear language and well referenced, and should be required-reading to anyone wishing to step beyond apparent contradictions.
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Commentary on This Sutra and More,
This review is from: Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Hardcover)Hmmm, a remarkable book by a remarkable man on a remarkable sutra! The Heart Sutra is the essence of the Perfection of Wisdom class of sutras, which represent the "Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma". That is to say, the second main set of teachings by the Buddha. The First Turning was on the Four Noble Truths. The Third Turning was on Buddha Nature. But the Second Turning was on the nature of reality, emptiness -- in other words, the important stuff!
This is a hard literature, crystalized in the Heart Sutra, which is only a few pages but very dense (versions of it are available on-line). Here the Dalai Lama provides an excellent commentary on this difficult text by placing it within its entire Buddhist context. The result is that one is led step by step to the deepest understanding of this sutra, which is really the most profound element of the Buddha's teaching. Remarkably, then, this book can be grasped by the beginning student as well as much more experienced students. A crucial element in Buddhism is familiarization: going back over something again and again until it is understood very deeply, and then realized personally through meditation. So such approaches, that begin from the basics and move up to very profound topics, should not be seen as needless repetition, but as opportunities to really internalize the teachings.
The style of His Holiness's language is always conversational, easy to read, and humorous. This is no exception. The book is also beautiful and a pleasure to read. Most important, it is a crucial teaching that can help transform our lives.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No thoughts, no book, no review...,
This review is from: Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Hardcover)This book is surprisingly simple but before you know it the Dalai Lama has led you up a complex stairwell of esoteric wisdom. It is so amazing how this Living Buddha can sound so down to earth. It's almost like listening to the guy next door talk about life's problems and suddenly you're on a mountaintop in Nepal, draped in a saffron robe, contemplating the Unmanifested Nature of Reality. If you're studying meditation or you want to get a taste of the Blissful state you need go no further than the Essence of the Heart Sutra. Shariputra has asked an important question, "How should any noble son or noble daughter who wishes to engage in the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom train?" The answer seems like a non-answer. "No form, no feelings, no perceptions, no impulses, no consciousness. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind." I can see the modern western man asking, "Yeah but what can emptiness do for me?" That's just the point. There is no me. And on top of that, there are no things out there in the so-called real world to attach yourself to. "No color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind..." This is the perfect antidote for our material based culture made clear by the highest of all Lamas who claims to be a simple monk. How much would you pay for all of this? But wait there's more. For an added bonus the appendix has an essential translation of the Heart Sutra mantra by Jamyang Gawai Lodro. For those who are not comfortable just chanting foreign sounding words you can read what it means in plain English. Buy it now! This book will lead you on the path to priceless wisdom.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply marvelous!,
This review is from: Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Paperback)His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book on Heart Sutra is a piece of interesting teaching/analysis for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. As THE Dalai Lama, His Holiness on the one hand speaks with classic Buddhist fluency (in method as well as when referring to important Buddhist classics). On the other hand, as a person who has been well connected to and well versed with Western religions and many of their respected leaders, he can communicate well with western audience that consists predominately of Christians
The gist of Heart Sutra is on Essence and Form (The Essence being nothingness but not emptiness).
Some preliminary understanding related to Chapter two is important for a better understanding of the whole book, as I analysed below:
In Chapter two, DL did a comparative analysis of Buddhism vis-à-vis other religions in terms of morality and metaphysics (as well as some practical comparisons, like he said Buddhist monasteries should learn from Christian Chapters to contribute more socially like building schools and hospitals; and that some Christians having been using more meditations in pursue of their spirituality). Basically he said all religions are at one in terms of morality (like he said he agreed with fellow Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu that religious leaders should come together to help in time of natural disasters).
Again on Chapter two, on the area of Buddhist's analysis of Essence and Form, he explained that this is the great dividing line between Buddhism and most other religions that believe in the existence of an absolute Being or Beings (normally referred to as God (s)). In the final Buddhist's analysis (of metaphysical in nature), God as an Essence will be analyzed away, i.e. that is no God. As a corollary, DL compared such an in-depth analysis of this fundamental Buddhist concept as like going to graduate school, and shall be attempted only by Buddhists during further pursue of their spirituality. What DL meant is that one cannot BOTH believe in God(s) and believe in the emptiness of Essence (in the final analysis, God as an absolute Essence does not exist), a fundamental conflict of two belief systems.
With the above in perspective, we can understand why the book was organized into three sections. The first section is called Buddhism in Context, give a short comparison on religions (as per above) together with a framework of Buddhist practice and metaphysical system. Putting his Buddhists and non-Buddhists (assuming Christians) readers into different receptive modes.
The second section deals directly with Heart Sutra and is directly relevant to devoted Buddhists. And here DL did a great job in teaching us a comprehensible metaphysical system of Buddhism built upon the Heart Sutra with Essence = Nothingness as its core construct. It is interesting to note that logically (or scientifically) speaking the Heart Sutra is very simple: Behind every Form (including concrete Buddhist practices, as examples of Form), there is its Essence and which is Nothingness (not emptiness). DL also noticed this simple Negation (negation of form and unchanging essence). He explained that this Negation hides the greatest wisdom. But as with all metaphysics, one cannot arrive at a definite proof of one's initial metaphysical propositions. For religions that believe in the existence of absolute Being (or Beings), FAITH fills the missing gap. Buddhism is in an interesting situation, without the authority of a God, a Buddhist has to seek his own Enlightenment. Here, the path to seek a solution for a Buddhist is meditation (assuming that the Buddhist has already practiced Buddhist morality and exercised his logical (conscious) faculty to understand the supporting metaphysical arguments behind). Through deep meditation, a Buddhist can experience by himself (or herself) the meaning of Form, Essence and Nothingness. DL explored the important of meditation in other books of his. Interested readers can refer to How to Practice : The Way to a Meaningful Life.
Look at it from the light of the above, from another perspective of analysis, it seems that the very common Buddhist practice of recitation of the Heart Sutra around the Buddhist world serves as an act of reminder of an important Buddhist teaching (because the Heart Sutra is devoid of metaphysical arguments), though I won't go so far as to say that it is a reaffirmation of one's Buddhist FAITH.
The final section "The way of Bodhisattva", DL teaches that the next step in a Buddhist's spiritual development is to become a Bodhisattva. The Sutra path towards which however has not been discussed in depth here. Needless to say the Tantric path of Deity Yoga will be another story, subject to study or practice to pursue, depending on one's religious affiliation and/or devotion.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful introduction to Buddhist thought,
This review is from: Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Paperback)The Dalai Lama does an excellent job of explaining the place of the Heart Sutra within Buddhist thought and of explicating the Sutra itself. Even the rather challenging concept of shunyata (emptiness, voidness of inherent existence) is rendered straightforwardly and clearly. Not just a good commentary on the Heart Sutra, but also a good book to start with if you want to know more about Buddhism.
I might suggest reading this book after, say, Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. If you find this book useful and want to know more about shunyata in particulary (VERY important in Mahayana Buddhism), I would suggest going on to Mu Soeng's commentary on the Diamond Sutra (in spite of a few minor flaws) and then to Jay Garfield's translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way.
This book is a keeper.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic,
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Closest to its Original,
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best commentaries on the Heart Sutra,
I also appreciate the commentary The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra by Thich Nhat Hanh. Although his is more analytically simple, and he and HHDL are from very different backgrounds, it is very rewarding to compare the similarities.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get to the heart of Buddhism,
The last chapter explains the way of the Bodhisattva (saint) which is to show loving-kindness to all beings by cultivating an image of everyone being your mother or Buddha or someone very close to you. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Buddha and Jesus are in complete agreement.
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Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings by Geshe Thupten Jinpa Ph.D.