68. The Far Shore

(With thanks to David Taylor)

At the end of the Heart Sutra, there’s a mantra:

Gya tei gya tei

Hara gya tei

Hara so gya tei

Bo ji so wa ka

This is simply a Chinese/Japanese inflection of the original Sanskrit which is

Gate gate



Bodhi svāhā

The ‘ga’ in gate, pāragate and pārasaṃgate is the same ‘ga’ as in ‘Tathāgata‘, ‘Thus-come’ or ‘Thus-gone’, by which we mean the Buddha. So, ga means both come and gone.

‘Para’ has various meanings, including ‘beyond’ and ‘the opposite shore'(of a river)

‘Sam’ means ‘with’, ‘together with’

So, the mantra is often translated as

Gone, gone

Altogether gone

To the far shore

So the suggestion is that we leave this shore, cross the river, and reach the far shore of nirvana. But, in this interpretation, the metaphor is confused, because both this shore and the river are identified with samsara.

But if we re-render ‘gone’ as ‘come’, then a different possibility emerges, of the far shore arriving. Thus, it isn’t that we cross over the water of samsara to reach the far shore of nirvana, leaving this shore behind, but rather that both shores are manifested.

And this suggests Zazen, coming at the end of the sutra, which started with an explicit exchange between Śāriputra and Avalokiteśvara about Zazen ( which significantly, is the practice of the latter, not the former). When we sit, we don’t abandon our particularity, our form, our karmic existence ( this shore), but equally, we manifest the self that is not separate from all things ( the far shore)

And both these shores make manifest the river of our true life, held by both.