The Heart Sutra is a – probably Chinese – attempt to condense and to get to the heart of the prajnaparamita sutras; a vast body of literature that started to be composed in India around the first century BC.
In these sutras, there’s a repetitive emphasis on three elements: prajna ( intuitive wisdom), compassion and skillful means. ‘Prajna’ (wisdom) is the ability to see the emptiness, the boundlessness and the lack of separation of all things. ‘Compassion’ is the feeling with all beings.
The temptation, when we hear these three terms, is to think that they’re attributes of the person. This ‘person’ acquires the capacity to see emptiness and, seeing emptiness, this ‘person’ then develops compassion in their heart and then this ‘person’ acts towards other beings in the most efficaciously compassionate way using skillful means.
However, to think of these three qualities as qualities of the individual is to fall into exactly the same kind of spiritual narcissism that plagues meditation today.
Prajna doesn’t mean me seeing the emptiness of all other things. It means seeing the emptiness of all things, including this ‘person’. The wall of identity which surrounds this person and separates them from other beings is dismantled.
With those walls absent, what is there but fellow feeling?
And skillful means, because it’s not a personal quality; because it’s a universal quality, can be seen as one facet of this infinitely faceted diamond of all beings; each facet expressing the whole diamond.