The Heart of Understanding, by Thich Nhat Hanh

1111 Words5 Pages
In The Heart of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh’s uses simple but powerful words and real world examples to illustrate the profound Buddhist philosophy from the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, an important representative of Mahayana Buddhist literature. The Mahayana school of Buddhist teachings emphasizes the doctrine of Sunyata- emptiness. The doctrine of emptiness, one of the most important Mahayana innovations, focuses on the relational aspect of existence. Thich Nhat Hanh coins and introduces a new word- interbeing to explain the state of emptiness. This idea of interbeing not only illustrates emptiness well but also provides understanding of other fundamental Buddhist ideas such as No-Self, impermanence and non-duality. The word interbeing explains the concept of emptiness through the idea of changeable and interdependent existence. The prefix “inter-” defines the changeable and interdependent nature of things and the verb “to be or being” means existence. According to the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.” Emptiness does not mean that things do not exist but rather it means that things cannot exist by themselves alone. Thich Nhat Hanh uses an interesting example of paper to explain changeable and interdependent existence of things. Paper cannot exist without the trees from which it is made. Trees cannot exist or grow without rainwater which comes from clouds. Every aspect of existence is interrelated to each other. Paper and trees, trees and rain, rain and clouds are all manifestations of interbeing with each other. “Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form” can be understood as being empty of a separate and independent self. In addition, Thich Nhat Hanh puts a positive spin on emptiness... ... middle of paper ... ...e notion of interbeing provides a full picture of understanding connecting different Buddhist ideas such as emptiness, no-self and impermanence together using just one simple word. As Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the role of Buddhism as a liberating vehicle for the mass of its practitioners, the “heart” of the understanding of the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra is emancipation from fear. Through the eyes of interbeing and skillful practice of penetration can one attain the “heart of the understanding.” From the non-duality and interbeing view, one should see that full understanding is constituted of “non-understanding elements.” Understanding cannot exisits alone. Understanding and non-understanding are interbeing and the two are equal. Understanding cannot be created or destroyed. Finally, the “heart” of understanding is emptiness, and emptiness is understanding.
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