Are we isolated beings in a universe of independent objects? To most people this seems too obvious to merit examination, and although the answer is everywhere it remains an Open Secret. In 72 short essays Wei Wu Wei takes up this subject using his favorite pointers - noumenon/phenomenon, subject/object and presence/absence. “Are you still thinking, looking, living, as from an imaginary phenomenal center? As long as you do that you can never recognize your freedom..” He calls on the Buddha, Bodhidharma and the old Taoists, quoting Shih T’ou, “I Am Not, but the Universe is myself .”
Most of the essays here are short, but one of the longest explores the Buddhist Heart Sutra. You may recognize the famous “Form is not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. So it is with feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness.” Wei Wu Wei provides significant new insight into this beautiful mystical statement, and re-translates the text.
This book was first published in 1965, and Wei Wu Wei inscribes it with typical modesty:
III. The Burden of the Heart Sutra - I
A Chinese Master said to me, "All sutras are to teach people to 'empty.' . . . You cannot understand how to 'empty' before you understand the Heart Sutra." "To empty" is a Chinese way of saying "to see non-objectively whereby all things whatsoever, both objects and their subject, are devoid of any nature of their own," or "to rid 'seeing' of both subject and objects, whereby the mind remains in its eternal purity."
Let me say it again in another form of words:
The question is not what things are or are not - as usually seems to be assumed to the subject of this sutra, but how things are perceived by a bodhisattva (who sees as he should see).
The aim of the sutra, as appears evident on analysis, is to induce people to see correctly, instead of arguing about objects seen.
It is the seeing, and only the seeing, that matters: the emptiness or non-emptiness of the objects themselves is incidental, since that in any case depends exclusively on the seeing of them.
Hitherto interpretations of the Heart Sutra have tended to be concerned almost entirely with what objects are or are not, but it is evident that this is not the aim of the sutra, and that this preoccupation conceals its true message...
In short: the burden of the Heart Sutra is not the nature of objects as such, but the seeing of them - which is what they are, and the only nature they have...
IV: The Monkey’s Banana
“There is no difference between the ignorant and the enlightened.” - Huang Po
Do you think that the Sage Kuan Yu is enlightened?
If you yourself are - yes.
But I have no such pretension!
I do not know that.
Why do you ask?
If he has - then he is not.
Because then there would be a self to have such a pretension.
But must he not know?
If there is a self to know, then he cannot know that.
But he must have a self to be enlightened!
No self has ever been enlightened...
Then even the Buddha was never enlightened?
Not even the Buddha. I think he said it quite often, but few people pay much attention to what he said - however often they read what is attributed to him.
He said he had not attained anything.
Quite so; nor has anybody else - any other body, if you prefer.
But surely the attainment is what he denied, not the enlightened state?
That also, but that is secondary; alone it would be expressing it inadequately - which he is unlikely to have done.
How is it inadequate?
My dear fellow! That interpretation assumes an autonomous individual self attaining or not attaining a “state of mind.” The doctrine attributed to the Buddha points out that there is neither an autonomous individual “self” nor any “state” or other conceptual condition whatsoever.