and death); no suffering, no origination of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path; no understanding, no attainment.78 This sentence begins with the confirmation that the five skandhas are all empty. They cannot exist by themselves. Each one has to inter-be with all the other skandhas. 79 The next part speaks of the twelve interdependent origins (pratitya samutpada), which begin with ignorance and end with old age and death. The meaning in the sutra is that none of these twelve can exist by itself. It can only rely on the being of the others in order for it to be. Therefore, all of them are empty, and because they are empty, they really exist. The same principle applies to the Four Noble Truths: no suffering, no origination of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path. The last item on the list is no understanding, no attainment.Understanding (Prajña) is the essence of a Buddha. “No understanding” means understanding has no separate existence. Understanding is made of non-understanding elements, just as Buddha is made of non-Buddha elements. 80 I want to tell you a story about Buddha and Mara. One day the Buddha was Page 19 of 25 An excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh.The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajñaparamita Heart Sutra. New York: Parallax Press, 1988.
in his cave, and Ananda, who was the Buddha’s assistant, was standing outside near the door. Suddenly Ananda saw Mara coming. He was surprised. He didn’t want that, and he wished Mara would get lost. But Mara walked straight to Ananda and asked him to announce his visit to the Buddha. 81 Ananda said, “Why have you come here? Don’t you remember that in olden times you were defeated by the Buddha under the Bodhi tree? Aren’t you ashamed to come here? Go away! The Buddha will not see you. You are evil. You are his enemy.” 82 When Mara heard this he began to laugh and laugh. “ Did you say that your teacher told you that he has enemies?” That made Ananda very embarrassed. He knew that his teacher had not said that he has enemies. So Ananda was defeated and had to go in and announce the visit of Mara, hoping that the Buddha would say, “Go and tell him that I am not here. Tell him that I am in a meeting.” 83 But the Buddha was very excited when he heard that Mara, such a very old friend, had come to visit him. “Is that true? Is he really here?” the Buddha said, and he went out in person to greet Mara. Ananda was very distressed. The Buddha went right up to Mara, bowed to him, and took his hands in his in the warmest way. The Buddha said, “Hello! How are you? How have you been? Is everything all right?” 84 Mara didn’t say anything. So the Buddha brought him into the cave, prepared a seat for him to sit down, and told Ananda to go and make herb tea for both of them. “I can make tea for my master one hundred times a day, but making tea for Mara is not a joy,” Ananda thought to himself. But since this was the order of his master, how could he refuse? So Ananda went to