One translation of Hannya Shin Gyo — the Heart Sutra – has Avalokiteshvara (Kannon) responding to an enquiry of Sariputra by saying “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form; form is not different from emptiness, nor emptiness different from form,” and that “mind is emptiness, emptiness is mind; emptiness is not different from mind, nor mind different from emptiness.” To which, intending elucidation, H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama asked: “Empty of what?” responding, “Empty of ‘self’.”
Presumably, “self” means the essence of an individual person, perhaps what our Christian brothers call a “soul.” Upon reflection, it is easily realized that the human form — composed of assorted molecules which, upon death of the individual, rapidly begin to break down and dissipate — cannot be such a “self.” Further analysis discloses that mind seems to consist largely of memories (many incorrect), a “stream of consciousness” (the independent existence of which the Heart Sutra appears to deny), and a largely hypothetical ability to reason, or at least to bring some sense of order to the mind’s components and the external world. Whether these could survive destruction of the brain — the supposed “seat of consciousness” — is debatable. Toshiyori does not presume to know more than the Buddhadharma which states that there is no self. Could there be a “soul” if there is no self?
If there is no self, what is re-born? There are at least two possible answers. The Dalai Lama has written that “no self” means only no permanent, unchanging self. This seems to imply that individuals are continuous chains of cause and effect, stretching from the supposed beginning of life in the universe to its theoretical end; it is in accord with the Buddhist view that impermanence is the only certainty, but it also serves to preserve the illusion of duality. See, also, Vol. XV, Leaf 34 (July, 2011)
Alternatively, writing in The Higher Buddhism, Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn) seemed to imply that nothing is “re-born.” Rather, it is the karma we have forged in the course of all the days of our lives which manifests itself upon our demise. From Thch Nhat Hanh’s analogy — likening the self to a wave which, upon breaking, is found to have been nothing more than a movement within the sea — Toshiyori derives the impression that he might lean toward such an interpretation. Be that as it may, it is not clear how a being — the hypothetical product of human karma — could contain memories of previous lives which it never actually experienced. Yet, Dr. Ian Stevenson showed that people do, indeed, have memories of previous lives, many of which he painstakingly documented. See his Cases of the Reincarnation Type, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1975 et al.
A reading of Hannya Shin Gyo casts doubt upon the absolute and permanent nature of karma itself: “There [are] no…karma-formations. Nor is there the extinction of…karma-formations.” In other words, if there is no self, how could there be any karma to manifest itself?
But the view that rebirth of persons is an illusion seems utterly ruinous to the Buddha’s teachings. What could be gained by striving to uphold the precepts, of struggling to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, of taking the demanding Bodhisattva vows if there is no self whatever, and nothing to be reborn (whether in Samsara, Sukhavati, or even in the Hot Hells)? What could be lost if we were simply to forget the precepts, stray from the Noble Eightfold Path, and decline the Bodhisattva vows? Were there absolutely no self, it would appear foolish not to emulate our Washington Overlords in “Let [ting] the good times roll.”
Accordingly, it is Toshiyori’s view that the Heart Sutra means only that there is no individual self, separate from the Bodhi mind; that persons exist as distinct aspects of the one mind. Ergo, it is the role of “Buddhism” (whether Shingon Mikkyo, Tendai, Zen, or even Jodo Shinshu) to AWAKEN the practitioner to his/her true nature and relationship to all other sentient beings.
To Toshiyori, it appears that parts of the Buddha’s teaching may have been lost in the course of repeated translation. Just as we do not know what followers of the Abrahamic religions mean when they talk about “soul,” so too is it unclear precisely what Sakyamuni meant when he spoke about the non-existence of “self.”
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It may be that, sometimes, translations are deliberately “slanted” in a direction favored by the translator. The early history of Reiki in the West was marked by Mrs. Takata’s well-intentioned fabrications. It is entirely possible that the Usui Reiki Ryoho would never have gained a foothold in America had Mrs. Hawayo Takata not represented “doctor” Usui as a devout Christian! But, Toshiyori was disappointed on reading Frank Arjava Petter’s otherwise commendable This is Reiki (Lotus Press, Twin Lakes WI, 2012) to find that he had repeatedly translated the Kanji “Rei” as “soul.” Rev. Tyuzi Hasimoto — who, like Usui sensei, was of the Jodo Shinshu school — consistently rendered this Kanji as “spirit.” As shown, above, Buddhists have sufficient difficulty with “self” to consider the possibility of “soul.” Toshiyori wonders if Herr Petter (whose religious convictions we do not know) could have been unaware that by translating Rei as “soul,” he was both pandering to Christian readers and turning away Buddhists?
Toshiyori does not know whether or not the majority of contemporary Japanese believe they possess “souls.” It appears, however, that they may have scant understanding of the Buddhadharma. See Rev. Hasimoto’s assessment in his last poem, Vol. XV, Leaf 1 of The Organ for the Universal Buddhist League (February, 2010).
Moreover, it is unfortunate that — in Part Three of This is Reiki – Herr Petter’s research into the history of Buddhism in Japan stopped short of referencing Shingon Kaji, which Rev. Seicho Asahi called “the same (i.e., engaging the identical energy) as Reiki.” Let us hope that, at some future date, Herr Petter will once again “take pen in hand” to consider how the Kaji and Reki methods could be combined to produce greater results than either practice alone.
Someone asked the meaning of the Sanskrit mantra “Om ha-ha-ha vismaye svaha.” This is the mantra of Jizo (Ksitigarbha), the Bodhisattva of children and travelers; especially of travelers between worlds. In English, this might be rendered as “Aum. Oh, wondrous one, so thou art!” Often chanted following the death of a child, it is intended to invoke the loving guidance of Jizo for the deceased infant.