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The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra has inspired, beguiled, and exasperated Buddhist practitioners and scholars for centuries. As one of the fundamental teachings of what later became Mahayana Buddhism, it is a window into a tradition that offers clear insights into the immediacy of the moment, and that elucidates the moment’s timelessness. In these teachings, we will encounter the themes of compassion, courage, and the roles of stillness and insight in everyday practice.

The Heart Sutra is of unclear provenance, but is generally accepted as part of the teachings known as the Perfection of Wisdom. It has been translated into English and other languages many, many times. This six week class will explore three contemporary English translations. The class will also explore commentary on the text and its themes by Zen Masters Dogen and Miaoshin, and contemporary teachers Harada, Okumura, Tanahashi, and Halifax. It will also explore the roots of these teachings, as they are described in the early Buddhist Nikayas and in commentaries on other early Mahayana literature.



The class syllabus is below. Reflection questions, additional optional reading assignments, and weekly pre-recorded lectures will be added as we proceed. The optional group discussion meetings will take place on Tuesdays from 5:00 pm to 6:15 pm Pacific time, from May 14th to June 18th. We will be utilizing Zoom video technology, which is similar to Skype.

The class is offered free of charge. Everyone is welcome, regardless of practice experience.

To register, contact the Instructor, Ven. Dhammadipa at [hey.konin] at [gmail.com] If you are registering as a student of Shogaku Zen Institute, please mention that in your email.

Donations for general support of the monastery, and of Ven. Dhammadipa can be made here.

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Week 1: Emergence of the Mahayana and bodhisattva ideal

The bodhisattva vow eclipses all other vows,

like the sun rising in the morning,

outshining all of the stars in the sky.

- Dhammadipa

Required Readings:The Other Shore” by Thich Nhat Hanh, pages 1 to 25 and three translations of the Heart Sutra. These will be our primary texts for the duration of the class.

Optional Supplemental Reading: “The Heart Sutra Explained” by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., pages 5 - 8

Optional Supplemental Reading: “Dawn of the Bodhisattva Path” by Gil Fronsdal, pages 29 - 46

Reflection Questions: Who or what is your role model for practice? How has that shaped your experience of your self?


Week 2: The Heart Sutra as a Moment of Realization

“This Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds…taking on a variety of different forms, goes about among the lands saving living beings.”

~ Lotus Sutra

Required Readings: “The Other Shore” by Thich Nhat Hanh, pages 27 - 36 and “The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya” by Bhikkhu Bodhi, pages 914 - 918 and 951 - 953

Optional Supplemental Reading: “The Heart Sutra: A Comprehensive Guide…” by Kazuaki Tanahashi, pages 3 to the top of 15

Optional Supplemental Reading: Chapter 25 of the “Lotus Sutra in any translation

Reflection Questions: What does compassion mean to you and how do you experience it in your everyday life?

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Week 3: There are Not Two Truths, Sariputra

“The five aggregates are…five instances of wisdom. Reflection is wisdom itself…and there are further four instances of wisdom that are constantly practiced in everyday life; they are walking, standing, sitting and lying down.”

~ Zen Master Eihei Dogen, Shobogenzo “Maka Hannya Haramitsu”

Required Reading: “The Other Shore” pages 37 - 53

Optional Supplemental Reading: “Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo Book 1” by Nishijima and Cross, “Maka Hannya Haramitsu”, pages 21 - 26

Optional Supplemental Reading: “Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives…” by Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, chapter on Sariputra, pages 1 - 66

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Week 4: Does the World Arise?

“Rooted in interest are all things; Born of attention are all things.

Arising from contact…Converging on feelings…

Headed by concentration…Dominated by mindfulness…

Surmounted by wisdom…Yielding deliverance…

Merging in the Deathless…Terminating in Nibbana are all things.”

- Shakyamuni Buddha, The Numerical Discourses 10.58

Required Reading: “The Other Shore” pages 54 - 90

Optional supplemental reading: “All Things Are Complete” by Sekkei Harada, Hosshinji Newsletter, Fall 2008 ( Scanned document will be posted soon)

Optional supplemental reading: The Island: An Anthology…” by Ajahn Passano and Ajahn Amaro, pages 55 - 58

Optional supplemental reading: Dependent Origination” by Piyadassi Thera, pages 3 through the top of 6

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Week 5: The Fearless Mind

“If the viewpoint of the ego-self does not intervene, dharma and dharma will merge with one another.”

- Sekkei Harada Roshi

Required Reading: “The Other Shore” pages 91 - 109

Optional Supplemental Reading: “Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies…” by Grace Schireson, story of Zen Master Miaoshin pages 19 and 20

Optional Supplemental Reading: “Points to Watch in Buddhist Practice” by Eihei Dogen, particularly section 4 - Selfless Practice of the Way (scanned document to be posted)


Week 6: Svaha!

“To negate the five skandhas is to see emptiness…and yet if we see only in this way, we may become nihilistic…we will not live with compassionate hearts.”

-Shohaku Okumura Roshi

Required Reading: “The Other Shore” pages 110 - 129

Optional Supplemental Reading: “The Hidden Lamp: Stories from 25 Centuries of Awakened Women” edited by Florence Caplow and Susan Moon, pages 48 - 50