This activity uses material from Theme 1 A, B and C including the Heart Sutra, the Vinaya and also evaluation of Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. It focuses on the skill of evaluation. The tasks illustrate the different levels of evaluation from strong to weak examples.
It could be argued that the teachings about reality found in the Heart Sutra and Nagarjuna, are in fact the Buddhist perspective of reality. This is because the Heart Sutra is grounded in the basic teachings of anicca and anatta, but these teachings are expressed in a more philosophical form of ‘emptiness teaching’ – the sunyatavada. Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists accept the notion of emptiness or a lack of own-being (svabhava) in relation to existence. This is no different to the teachings of anicca and anatta. Therefore, if anicca and anatta are accepted as representative of reality then the statement is true.
In addition, the three lakshanas are known as the ‘marks’ or ‘characteristics’ of existence and therefore their very nature is to indicate what ‘reality’ really is! In Buddhism, this involves accepting an empirical view of the ‘self’ or ‘essence’ or ‘units’ as mere conventions but that the analysis of reality is subtler. Indeed, some may point out parallels in modern science. For instance, in the 20th century, modern physicists rejected the idea of ‘emptiness’ as a description based upon their discovery of atomic particles, but then later with the discovery of ‘quarks’ confirmed that reality may not be quite what we think it is. Since then scientists such as Fritjof Capra and Brian Greene have pointed out the parallels in science and Asian thought.
However, there are some who may not appreciate the full implications of the term ‘emptiness’ and see it as too abstract and conceptual. In addition, there are those practising Buddhism who may prefer to use a more conventional analysis of reality and prefer to follow more ‘concrete’ guidance found in the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and practices such as dana and metta bhavana. For Tibetan Buddhists the use of mandalas and malas, or for Pure Land Buddhists simply reciting the nembutsu and other more mundane practices, could be argued to be more realistic for the majority of Buddhists. After all, an analysis and true realisation of everything as empty is looking at reality from quite an advanced level and is difficult to handle. Even the wise and learned King Milinda found it difficult to grasp the notion of anatta!
However, there does seem to be a point at which the comparison and appeal to science reaches its limits; science and Buddhism can seem to be compatible in terms of their perceptions of reality to a point. Taken as a whole, the Mahayana Sutras portray a universe of demons, kings, asuras, devas, celestial bodhisattvas, multiple realms, which is not representative of reality as understood in the scientific paradigm.
However, if such imagery is rationalised and not taken at face value, that is metaphysical truths, then such concepts can be seen to be analogically consistent with reality from a scientific perspective. Indeed, the Sutras can be readily demythologised, for instance, to see bodhisattvas representing the working of compassion in the universe.
Alternatively, if one accepts the metaphysical nature of Mahayana teachings, it could be that the Mahayana Sutras simply describe a spiritual reality which exists but which is outside of the limits of empirical research?
Whatever the case, there are strong arguments that suggest ‘reality’ is not as we may first think from both Buddhism and science. It does appear, however, that trying to pinpoint the precise nature of this reality is problematic.
This is a wide-ranging discussion showing a clear understanding of the debate about the significance of Heart Sutra. Of the three answers, this is the best. The arguments are discussed and assessed rather than just being stated. There is a clear path of reasoning though to the final conclusion about the statement reference to ‘reality’ is subjective to some extent. The knowledge base has been very well selected. This does not mean the answer is perfect but it is mature, original and it makes some very perceptive points. Possibly, more discussion about different perspectives on reality could have developed the conclusion further.
The Heart Sutra is a famous Buddhist scripture used by monks in Buddhism. It was written thousands of years ago and contains advanced wisdom and insight into the Four Noble Truths. It is called the Heart Sutra because it is the most important Buddhist teaching ever.
The teachings it contains are very much about emptiness. There is nothing that really exists and so Buddhists do not therefore have to follow the Eightfold Path but instead take bodhisattva vows.
The Heart Sutra outlines the importance of the bodhisattva vows and stages and perfections. It is usually meditated on because it is so odd to read out loud, but this encourages and inspires Buddhists to take the path of the bodhisattva.
Back to emptiness, there is a belief that emptiness makes everything possible and so Mahayana is very different from Theravada. This is why the Heart Sutra is significant because it separates the two types of Buddhists.
Having said that, Theravada Buddhists also accept anatta and emptiness but they do not really make a big thing about it. It is what Mahayana Buddhists do with the emptiness teaching in the Heart Sutra that makes it more important. This is why it is a focus of meditation every day.
This is a weak attempt at evaluation. It starts with a few vague sentences trying to define the Heart Sutra. The answer is all over the place really and very superficial.
There is a partial attempt at a conclusion in the last line. Again, it is not developed.
This is more of an AO1 skill answer than an AO2. It consists of reciting some arguments and explaining some concepts but it doesn’t have a direct enough focus on evaluation or the question.
A good argument is that the teachings about reality found in the Heart Sutra, are in fact representative of reality because they agree with what the Buddha taught. For example, the notion of emptiness is really the same as anatta – non-self or an absence of own being (svabhava) as the Heart Sutra explains. Indeed, many Buddhists use a more conventional analysis of reality whilst simultaneously acknowledging that everything is empty.
However, it could be argued that an analysis and true realisation of everything as empty is quite an advanced level and that following the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and meditating are more realistic for the Buddhists.
In terms of whether the teachings are ‘credible’, from a scientific perspective the discovery of ‘quarks’ in physics confirmed that reality may not be quite what we think it is. Indeed, Brian Greene and his books argue that that this may appear strange but it is firmly grounded in science: ‘all of the parallel universe proposals that we will take seriously emerge unbidden from the mathematics of theories developed to explain conventional data and observations’. Therefore, the Heart Sutra’s explanation that emptiness creates infinite possibilities such as Pure Lands or Buddha Fields, is consistent with a scientific understanding of reality and the notion of multiverses. As Nagarjuna states: ‘All is possible when emptiness is possible. Nothing is possible when emptiness is impossible’.
Some may argue that some concept of origination with regard to the universe is required. However, the objection is flawed if both science and philosophy indicate that the notion of emptiness eradicates the need for this.
In conclusion, it appears that the notion of emptiness found in the Heart Sutra are in fact realistic enough to be philosophically credible but not really that practical. The teachings appear to suit the more advanced practitioner of Buddhism but not your average Buddhist.
This is a fair attempt at an evaluation (only just). Despite recognising that there are different angles to the debate, the argument does limit itself by not exploring the points raised in more depth. For example, the basics of the first debate are about it being too philosophical and not practical; however, much more could be said e.g. it is actually recited everyday by many Buddhists. The points about science and the need for a first cause are good points; the former really needs some form of evaluation/commentary at the end to make sense of it. The conclusion does follow from the argument, but really all it does it restate the first proposed argument.
Read the following and identify whether the example illustrates a strong or weak evaluation. Examine how you might improve the answer by identifying any weaknesses in the response. Then, click on the text to see if you agree with the comments.