Heart Sutra is one of the key sutras in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Sutras are ancient texts, which constitute Buddhist holy writings. The YouTube video “The Heart Sutra” showcases Monks of Fu Yan Buddhist Seminary of Taiwan chanting this sutra. The uploader is “bodhimonastery”, whose channel is dedicated to Buddhist Bodhi Monastery in the US state of New Jersey. Understanding the main message of Heart Sutra is essential in ascertaining the value of Buddhist teachings in modern life.
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The type of event is the chanting session. It takes place in what appears to be a temple room with large stone-made Buddhist statues. Within this session, a group of equally dressed Taiwanese monks pray and sing the verses from Heart Sutra. The chanting is melodic and rhythmic, creating the impression of synchronizing with the beating of a heart. The overall atmosphere is calm, meditative, and definitely ethereal.
The sutra is chanted in Chinese, but the general message is the same regardless of the language or even the version of the verses. Pulm Village offered a translation of Heart Sutra in English (New Heart Sutra translation by Thich Nhat Hanh). This sutra follows a bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara addressing the Buddha disciple Śariputra. He speaks about the emptiness in human existence and the impossibility of knowing the ultimate truth. Accepting one’s limited understanding is the pathway to achieving Nirvana.
One of the aspects of this sutra that is worthy of note is that it exists in two versions. Another YouTube video, “How To Chant The Heart Sutra Mantra : Force For Good with Robert A.F. Thurman”, shows a Buddhist author Robert A.F. Thurman give a talk about Heart Sutra. At the start of the lecture, the professor recites this sutra with the audience, but it is shorter than the classic version chanted by the Taiwanese monks. In essence, they both communicate the same idea, achieving a similar effect even though the length, the language, and the context are different.
The first concept that has helped me understand Heart Suntra is suggested by professor Thurman. The main theme of the sutra is emptiness, yet, it should not be understood literally. Emptiness does not mean the lack of meaning and the irrelevance of the search for it. It means embracing the unknown and the infinite nature of the universe and accepting human inability to grasp it mentally.
The second idea was also discussed by professor Thurman. It revolved around the search for meaning when there is none to be found. The vastness of reality propels people to attribute importance to the issue of no significance. The professor uses the analogy of a person looking into a mirror and thinking that their reflection is a real person. This explanation has helped me understand Heart Sutra and not overthink seemingly complex concepts.
Altogether, watching the monks chant Heart Sutra has put me into a meditative state of mind, compelling me to contemplate and reflect on the nature of life. Applying professor Thurman’s insight into the Buddhist understanding of emptiness has led me to view most of the world, especially Western societies as too hasty and overrating many superficial things in life. Probably, the most powerful lesson is that just like there are phenomena beyond human understanding, there are also activities and experiences, which hold no real value. Heart Sutra shows the Buddhist way of having a life, which is harmonic with the universe.
“New Heart Sutra translation by Thich Nhat Hanh.” Plum Village. Web.
“The Heart Sutra.” YouTube. Web.