Essence of the Heart Sutra

Chapter 1 – The Quest for Inner Development

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The Quest for Inner Development

TIME IS ALWAYS moving forward. With each passing moment, beginning from the instant of our birth, we come closer to the end, to our death. That is our nature, and the nature of the universe. As spiritually minded people, it is essential for us to constantly check and examine ourselves, to see how we are living every moment of our lives. In my own case, the major portion of my life is already gone. But, although I am a lazy practitioner of Buddhism, I can see that each year there is some progress in my life. Above all, I try to be a genuine follower of Buddha Shakyamuni and a good Buddhist monk. Of course, even Buddhist monks make mistakes in our lives and practices, but I think I have made some contribution to this world we share, especially to the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture.

In spiritual matters, we should not allow ourselves to be too easily content, because truly there is no limit to our spiritual potential. All of us—any of us—can develop infinitely; and any of us can attain buddhahood. The mind we possess right now, though it may presently be full of ignorance and suffering, can eventually become the mind of an enlightened being, of a buddha. Where our material possessions are concerned, finding contentment makes sense. But 4 since there is no limit to our spiritual potential and there is a limit to the span of our life, we must make every effort to utilize what little time we have as well as we possibly can with this precious human lifetime.

In being human, we are all the same. On that level, none of us are strangers. There are no fundamental differences between any of us. You experience many emotions; some emotions help you, others hinder you. The same is true for me. Within our ever-changing experiences, all of us are constantly experiencing different emotions—sometimes anger, sometimes jealousy, sometimes love, sometimes fear. You experience many thoughts; you have the potential to analyze, to investigate the long-term and short-term prospects for your life. The same is true of me. Within our ever-changing experiences, we all constantly experience different perceptions—color, odor, taste, feel, sound, even awareness itself. These things function similarly in each of us.

Of course it is also possible to find differences among human beings. We each have individual experiences not shared by everyone. For instance, you may have great skill with computers, while I have none. Likewise, since I have no mathematical training, I may have great difficulty with certain things that come quite easily to you. But these kinds of differences in individual experience are minor. You and I may hold different beliefs—about the universe, about reality, about religion. And even within a belief, within a faith tradition, for instance, there are all sorts of differences between people. But such differences in belief, just like differences in experience, are minor compared to our common humanity. The essential thing is that we are all the same in being human—thinking, feeling, and 5 being aware. We all share this one planet, and we are all members of one big human family.

And I think too that some human experiences are universal. For instance, when someone smiles at you, you feel happy. In the exact same way, I feel happy when you smile at me. Both you and I seek out what we think is good for us, and we avoid what we think will harm us. This is basic human nature.

In the realm of the external material world, we are aware of what is good for us and what harms us. Then, on the basis of this careful analysis and clear knowledge, we try to create a joyful life, a successful life, the happy life that we all know is our birthright. Similarly, in the vast realm of our thoughts and emotions, we need careful analysis to develop clear awareness of what is harmful and what is helpful. So we must work to increase the positive elements of our minds and weaken the force of the negative elements. The positive elements enhance our happiness; the negative elements undermine it. Thus, a clear understanding of our inner world is of the utmost importance.

Since happiness cannot be achieved through material conditions alone, we need other means by which we can fulfill our aspirations. All the world religions offer means for fulfilling these aspirations, but I also believe that such means can be developed independent of any religion or any belief. What is required is recognizing the immense potential we have as human beings and learning to utilize it. In fact, today, even in modern science, there is a growing recognition of the relationship between the body and the mind and an emerging understanding of how our mental attitudes impact our physical health and well-being.


One very important faculty that we human beings have at our disposal to help find happiness and overcome suffering is our intelligence. Our intelligence can help us overcome suffering and find happiness, but our intelligence can also cause problems. Using our intelligence, we build homes and grow food, but through our intelligence we also create anxiety and fear. Our intelligence gives us the ability to remember the past, and it allows us to envision possibilities for the future—both good ones and bad. We cannot truly overcome unhappiness by physical comfort alone; ultimately, the unhappiness created by human intelligence can only be alleviated by intelligence itself. Therefore, using our intelligence appropriately is essential.

To do this, we must conjoin our intelligence to a warm, open heart. We must bring to our rationality a sense of compassion, of caring for one another, of sharing. These mental qualities transform our intelligence into a powerful positive force. The mind becomes broader and more spacious, and even when unfortunate incidents happen, the effect on our composure is minimal. We are able to care about the well-being of others and not just ourselves. In fact, as human beings, we are by nature social animals, and our happiness and even survival depend upon our interaction and cooperation. So when positive emotions guide intelligence, it become constructive. The warm, compassionate heart is the basis for peace of mind, without which the mind will always be uncomfortable and disturbed.

Anger and hatred, they destroy our inner peace. Compassion, forgiveness, a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, contentment, self-discipline, these are the basis of peace—both external peace and inner mental peace. Only through strengthening these inner good qualities can a genuine, lasting peace develop. This is what I 7 mean by spiritual development. I sometimes also describe this as inner disarmament. In fact, in all levels of our existence—family life, social life, working life, and political life—inner disarmament is, above all, what humanity needs.

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