"The bodhisattva of compassion practicing prajna paramita (Zazen) sees the five skandas as empty and thereby relieves all suffering"

So the practice is seeing the emptiness of the five skandas. Not as a preliminary to something else. Not in order to experience emptiness per se, or to experience something else. Not you seeing. The practice is seeing the emptiness of the five skandas. That's it.

That's the practice. The five skandas are form, sensation, perception, fabrication and consciousness. Form, this is my body. Sensation, my body is feeling something. The feeling is mine. Perception, that something I am feeling is sadness. Fabrication, I am feeling sad because.... Consciousness, ah there I go again.

Seen through emptiness, consciousness becomes compassionate vast space awareness. Fabrication is set aside and in that non doing is nirvana.  Perception is set aside and the world is released from our mind. Hence Prajna appears. This sensation, this body is part of an unbroken whole; the body of the whole world.


In Zen, the self is sometimes referred to as the ghost cave. We can see our practice as a kind of dynamic coming and going. From this place out into the illuminated universal and back again into the apparent personal, and so on, endlessly. The metaphor of cave, an opening in the mountain, is worth paying attention to. The self is not characterized as a prison, something we are trapped within. Or something to be annihilated. Rather, it is to be understood. It is a ghost cave because we do not understand it. The ghosts are restless because they do not understand themselves.

This cave is part of the Great Mountain of all things. It is our only way inside this mountain. Dynamic, compassionate awareness pacifies the mind. Pacifies the whole mountain.


The vast Prajnaparamta sutras are condensed into the Heart Sutra, and the essence of the Heart Sutra is in the first line, which is a description of our zazen:

"The bodhisattva of compassion, practicing prajna paramita, sees that the five skandas are empty and thereby relieves all suffering"

The most important thing is to see it isn't a person practicing prajna paramita (zazen). Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, is identified with the whole world. The person is the five skandas, and for our purposes, the skandas of mental formation and consciousness are the ones which matter; mental formation our ceaseless tendency to do something with our raw experience, and consciousness the awareness of that. Prajna - pre knowing - is the state prior to mental formation.

It isn't a sequence; when one arises, all arise.

We are storytelling creatures who want to be truth telling creatures. That is another sort of story. But we can be truth experiencers -


Rinzai said that there is a true person, entering and leaving through the gates of our face.

We often have the experience of our karma as being a kind of mask, stuck to our face, us mute behind it. And with the thoughts experienced when sitting, similarly it’s a kind of mask or screen. It's as if our craziness and our normality hovers in front of us, like a fog, like a mask. The temptation is to wish it to be something different. To become the face of compassion. The face of Buddha.

If we think in this way we are still entirely within our karma. But if we can drop our aversion, then there is the possibility of illumination. Sometimes the mask, sometimes the face.


Delusion and Enlightenment is the usual pairing in Zen, and in Buddhism generally, it's often Samsara and Nirvana.
Enlightenment/ Nirvana seem distinctly other, and difficult to reach, like trying to jump over a high barrier with your feet stuck in mud.

It's difficult to relate them to actual practice, and I wonder if a better pairing might be Samskara/ Nirvana.

Samskara appears everywhere, but due, possibly, to accidents of translation, it's often ignored. It's one of the five skandas for instance, variously - and unhelpfully - rendered as 'volition' 'willing' 'mental formation', among others.

But it's fundamental. It is our endless tendency to do something with our raw experience. Constructing desire, memory, a mind, a self, a world, endlessly.

Nirvana is just simply not doing that.  Just letting everything be. It's not a state, or a place, it's a non doing. It's here and now, not some place else, some other time.

Our practice is a wobbling between these two, and an illumination of that.

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