The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra by Mu Soeng

By Mu Soeng

Shape is vacancy; vacancy is form.

This is the daring and exciting statement of the center Sutra, a textual content of seminal significance to the Buddhist culture made much more interesting by way of its deep resonance with the slicing edges of quantum physics and cognitive technological know-how. In spare and approachable language, the guts of the Universe deftly explores this gem of worldwide spiritual literature from numerous perspectives--historical, non secular, linguistic, and scientific--each helping interdependently light up the opposite.

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Example text

The image often associated with this articulation is that of the great ocean, its vastness, and its seeming lack of confinement. The notion of boundlessness may also find some resonance in an understanding of quantum energy as a sea of churning energy which is not bound by any Commentary ✦ 45 seeming order, hierarchical system, or prescriptive rules or protocols. Quantum energy organizes its wave-particle equation through the participation of the observer; similarly, insight into boundlessness organizes itself through the nonclinging awareness of the observer.

A common mistake about consciousness is to misunderstand it (in secular terms) as some sort of engine that drives the car, or (in religious terms) a soul or permanent self that remains unchanged and autonomous despite all the changes in the corporeal form. In both (mis)understandings, there is an assumption of something substantial that remains unchanged in time and space. The Buddha taught that consciousness arises only out of conditions; without the presence of such conditions there is no consciousness.

In a certain sense this theory is akin to the Newtonian particle theory in physics. Early Mahayana thinkers attacked this notion and accused the Abhidharmists of being attached to a subtle notion of “self ” in the dharmas, of being substantialists, and thus unable to truly understand the Buddha’s teachings. These Mahayana thinkers buttressed their arguments with new developments in linguistics and mathematics at the time. Panini (ca. fourth century BCE), the great founder of Sanskrit grammar, had introduced the concept of zero which became a lynchpin of applying mathematics to linguistics.

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