The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra, by Mu Soeng. This thin volume from fellow Wisdom author and resident scholar at the Barre Institute for Buddhist Studies is thick in wisdom. As the title suggests it explores the Heart Sutra, placing it in context and then line-by-line commentary. It also uses the Heart Sutra as the platform for a clear and compelling account of Buddhist psychology, philosophy, and wisdom. Fans of the Heart Sutra will find the commentary fascinating and provocative. People unfamiliar to the Heart Sutra will be amazed at the parallels between the Buddha’s insights 2500 years ago and the findings of 20th century quantum physics. While not offered as self-help, this scholarly treatise offers such help to the astute reader. It goes to the core of the Buddha’s teaching, his fundamental insight regarding the nature of self and reality. Mu Soeng says, “To see oneself truly and authentically, as an event — an ever changing process — rather than a thing-in-itself, is the greatest act of re-imaging.” The metaphor we use to understand what it means to be a self makes all the difference. If the metaphor is a solid thing than we are vulnerable to dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction). If the metaphor is a process there are no edges in which to create dukkha and therefore no suffering or pervasive dissatisfaction in life.
When we relate to self as a solid entity, we understand this moment or a segment of our lives in terms of a past moment. This past moment, or more accurately, our memory of this past moment has been selected and is therefore incomplete, it is also biased by beliefs, rules, and preconceptions. In this way, the previous moment serves as a metaphor for the future moment. The past distortion gets propagated into the future thereby interfering with our ability to experience this moment with more clarity as a “new” experience. We miss the opportunity to experience this moment unladen with the burden of past experience and its concepts, beliefs, and rules.
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