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Defined by Emptiness: The Heart SutraTurning the Wheel of the Law: The Lotus SutraThe Heart of Compassion: The Lotus Sutra

Heart and Lotus Sutras/ Defined by Emptiness: The Heart Sutra

Meditation and Reading taken from The Heart Sutra, translated by Edward Conze
All other text is by Cynthia Stewart

For a historical introduction to this sacred text, see Leader Resource 1 - Historical Introduction -
Today's Themes

Emptiness and form – two words, two concepts, but not two different things, the Heart Sutra tells us. We wish to make distinctions and differentiations so that we may categorize the world and make it understandable, but this Sutra calls us to a remembrance that this categorization is nothing more than our concept – not the same thing as truth at all. If we can recognize form and emptiness as the same thing then eventually we will recognize that neither is grounded in reality. Words ultimately fail in this attempt to go beyond the known and the thought and only glimpsed – and “go beyond” is exactly what we are called to do.

Although the meditation usually comes before the reading, I suggest placing it directly following the reading this time. This makes sense in terms of the way that the Heart Sutra is structured, but it also makes sense in terms of leading the congregants through the paradoxes of the Sutra to the point of “going beyond”.

In Buddhist teaching, Avalokita is a bodhisattva who embodies compassion, while Sariputra (or Shariputra) was one of the Buddha’s earliest disciples.

Here is a transliteration of the mantra, which can be found at http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Heart_Sutra

gate       gate       paragate           parasamgate             bodhi    svaha
gah-tay  gah-tay  pah-ra-gah-tay  pah-ra-sahm-gah-tay  bo-dee  swah-hah


Call To Worship

We begin in form and end in emptiness –
or do we begin in emptiness and end in form?
Do we being, and do we end?
Who is “we”?
What is “I”?
Is there form, or emptiness, or we, or I?

We question because we must. The questioning may lead us where we never intended to go, but we cannot cease to ask.

When we gather here in community we bring our questions with us – light, simple, deep or profound. We bring the questions because the questions are our form, and our emptiness. 

In questioning and in community, let us be here now.


A mantra is a sound or phrase which helps bring about spiritual transformation. The Heart Sutra ends with a mantra:
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

The Dalai Lama has translated it in this way:
Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment

Let us repeat this mantra together 5 times.


Avalokita, the Holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the Wisdom which has gone beyond.

He looked down from on high, He beheld but five heaps, and He saw that in their own-being they were empty.

Here, O Sariputra,

form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form;

emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form,

the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

Here, O Sariputra,

all dharmas are marked with emptiness;

they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.

Therefore, O Sariputra,

in emptiness there is no form nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness;

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind ; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind ; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to :

No mind-consciousness element; there is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path.

There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.

                        Heart Sutra
                        (Edward Conze translation)


With the form you have taken, go out into the world.

With the emptiness that lies within it, go deep into the mystery.

Within the many lines and threads that come together to form who you are, find the lines and threads that lead to truth.

Within the truth that encompasses all, find the compassion to share it with others.