Approaching the Heart Sutra in Terms of Time


Even though the Heart Sutra is the shortest sutra with 260 Chinese characters (translated by Master Xuanzang during Tang Dynasty), it contain the essence of Buddha’s teaching. In this video, Master Sheng Yen explained the Heart Sutra in terms of time

From the Heart Sutra- 无无明,亦无无明尽,乃至无老死,亦无老死尽- There is no ignorance and no ending of ignorance. And no ending of aging and death. This is actually about the 12 links of dependent arising. 

Our self in terms of space is made of the 18 realms (six senses, six sense objects, and six types of consciousness that of vision, hearing, olfaction(smell) , taste, touch and mind-consciousness. (十八界)The 18 realms represent the way the mind perceives and divides the world and prevent us from seeing the true nature of thing(unity and equality of thing).  

In terms of time, it involves the 12 links of dependent arising which explains the process of rebirth cycle. They are ignorance  intentional action ⇾ consciousness ⇾ mind and form six senses ⇾ contact⇾ feeling cravinggraspingbeingbirthold age and death. The 18 realms are combinational and changing in terms of space and that there isn’t an unchanging and eternal self to them. 

As I read and contemplate the Heart Sutra, I have a better understanding of Buddha meant by non-self.  There is no permanent self but one consciousness changes with the change of five aggregates. 

The five aggregates (五蕴分别是色Form、受Feeling/Sensation、想Conception/thinking蕴 Volition/action、识蕴 Consciousness actually reflect space and time and space as an integral unity. 

The ignorance from life to life brings about volition 行 and consciousness lifetime after lifetime and therefore there is consciousness识 going through rebirths one life after another. After consciousness enters the womb, ” name and form“. begins and thus another life is started. 


One way is to view our present life as a process of the 12 links from birth to death. If one hasn’t gain liberation, one will always undergo samsara in the future. 

One who has gained liberation will be able to end the continuation of the cycle of birth and death though his past is without beginning. 

The suffering of sentient beings who cling to life, will go on and continue until one gains liberation. 

The three periods of present life can be explained in terms of the 12 elements: ignorance, volition, consciousness, name and form , six senses organs, contact, craving, grasping, existence, birth, aging and death. 

Our present life begins on entering the womb. One enter the womb because of spiritual ignorance. Then there is volition which comes after spiritual ignorance. 

This volition, the same as the volition of the five aggregates refer to the changing of mental states, the continuity of mental activities the changing of consciousness and the continuity of consciousness.  

Once we enter the womb because of ignorance, volition starts immediately. Attachment to the self is already there and has started.

After volition and consciousness, comes name  and form 色. Name refers to karmic force or a person’s eighth consciousness. The seeds accumulated through karmic force are referred to as the name. Form refers to the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm. The union of the two is called “form” which is already material something inherited from the parents as an embryo. By the stage of name and form after entering the womb as the foetus will come into being. 

And then comes contact. It is said that the foetus can hear after five or six months. Also it has sense of touch and begins to swallow amniotic fluid and pass it as urine.

And the next is sensation 受. After birth, feeling will start followed by likes and dislikes which is craving 爱. Through referred to as craving, it actually includes likes and dislikes. 

Grasping 取means the desire for good things. For example, a foetus will want to eat and so does a newborn baby. 

So craving conditions grasping which then condition existence 有。In the process of craving and grasping, we create karma 业.and then existence follows on from that. Existence of causes for the future. The force that forms the cause for the future will than be in existence. With its existence, consciousness will form. And this consciousness will enter the womb for the next life. 

By creating karma, one will receive the karmic result and has to receive the karmic result from birth to death. This is the 12 links of conditioned arising in a lifetime. 

18 realms (十八界)眼界(eye)、耳界 (ear)、鼻(nose)、舌界 (tongue)、身(form)、意(consciousness),作为认识对象的六境(色、声、香、味、触、法界)和由此生起的六识(眼识、耳识、鼻识、舌识、身识、意识界.

The 12 links of dependent arising can apply to the complete circle of a life, starting from the consciousness entering the womb until death.

Craving and grasping foster our attachment, and therefore forms the karmic force that will bring us to our next life in the circle of birth, aging, and death.


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