I have a mash-up religion. I was raised Catholic, practiced Buddhism and Yoga for many years, and feel connected to spirit, God, The Universe, whatever you call what can’t really name or understand. So I will chant many prayers and mantras to myself, The Hail Mary, the Mantra of Lakshmi, and the Heart Sutra are three of my favorites. I’m not really into the dogma, just the practice. Just the letting go, feeling safe.
The message of the Heart Sutra mantra is “Gone, gone, all the way gone, over to the other side, enlightenment, Hallelujah.” There are so many translations of it. The essence is that of letting go and finding peace and enlightenment. A mystery: how we suffer, why we suffer, how we can alleviate suffering, what’s it all for?
One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Pema Chodron, explains it a lot better than I can. She says it like this:
THE HEART SUTRA
A teaching on the Sutra of the Heart of Transcendent Knowledge
It’s in this process of muddling along — it’s in all the falling down — that the courage and the kindness and the compassion and the strength really comes. And the flexible mind.
Then he [Rinpoche] goes on and he talks about the mantra. And the mantra is: OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA.
In other words, a way to practice the profound prajnaparamita is actually to say this mantra — as well as the on-going practice of continually letting go, or letting be, training in a flexible, open,ready mind. But also, one can chant this mantra.
By the way, there’s a lot of teaching on the prajnaparamita, and I’m not going to go into all of that. Some of them are very, very long — twenty thousand lines and so forth. But the pith of it, the heart of it, is in this sutra. That’s why it’s called the Heart Sutra because it’s like the pith of all these teachings on prajnaparamita.
Then it’s said that the pith, or the heart, of the Heart Sutra is the mantra. That everything that is said in this whole sutra is actually reiterated and encapsulated in the mantra.
Rinpoche’s translation is: OM, GONE (GATE is gone), GONE, (then PARAGATE) GONE BEYOND, (PARASAMGATE) GONE COMPLETELY BEYOND, (BODHI) AWAKE, (SVAHA) SO BE IT. So: OM, GONE, GONE, GONE BEYOND, GONE COMPLETELY BEYOND, AWAKE, SO BE IT.
There’s lots of translations of this, and one is: OM, TRANSCENDING, EVER TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING OF TRANSCENDING, SUCHNESS, SO BE IT.
What is wonderful about this mantra is that it is not a description of some fruition. It’s actually a description of a journey that we are all on. We are all on this journey of going, going, going beyond going even beyond.
No matter where we are, we can move on to the next beyond. Do you see? It’s not a description of: I made it! It’s like this! It’s a description of: OM, groundless, even more groundless, can it get moregroundless than this, Oh my gosh, it’s ultimately groundless, there’s no ground!, and then BODHI could be translated as Aiiiiiiiii….. [or…. Ahhhhhhhhh…] So be it. [laughter]