The Heart Sutra is an encapsulated dose of the space that all of training and practice are pointing us toward. You can carry it with you. As a matter of fact, many of the monks traveling across the Himalayas from India to China would carry the Heart Sutra as a kind of first-aid kit. If things are starting to get too tight, too convincing in their reality, the Heart Sutra can allow us to infuse space into our reality, into our body and mind. For a while, it seemed to me that a good analogy for the Heart Sutra would be a vacuum cleaner—sucking reality out of reality—but I really think it’s more like a cologne of emptiness. It infuses reality with a certain quality, or points to a certain quality that is already available to us in a much more gentle way than a vacuum. It reveals something about the very space that we’re residing within. This may be a useful way to think about practice in general. Too frequently, we think of practice as a dramatic cutting away of things. But practice does nothing but reveal you to yourself, reveal mind to itself, reveal space to itself.
The Buddha would say, again and again, “Things are not what they seem, nor are they otherwise.” People would push him, because that is a rather enigmatic statement that doesn’t really give one much to land on. When he was asked to speak about the nature of reality and awakened mind, he would point to the sky and say, “It’s like that. Appreciate the nature of the sky. That’s your mind.” In other words, experience mind not as something inside your head, but as the basis of everything you experience. It is the background for this earth, for this universe, for this thought.
“Clean and purify the ordinary bones.” Focus on the ordinary things and the ordinariness of your experience. This is not exotic. The ordinariness is what we’re cleaning and purifying in the meticulous attention, clarity, and openness that we practice bringing to our experience. The purpose is not to come up with some sort of concrete conclusion. It’s not a thing we’re looking for. It’s not an answer. It is to recognize that to the degree that we invest in a version of reality that is not real, we suffer. That’s why we look so closely: to see that. When we finally see it, we stop suffering.