Question: Hi Teacher Shen, Amituofo. Did you watch ‘Journey to the West’ last week? I know you said that we should not learn Dharma from TV drama serials but there was a part which was rather interesting. When 唐三藏 (Master Xuanzang) left 女儿国 (Country of Women), he told Bajie (Pigsy) to recite the Heart Sutra. However, Bajie could not remember the sutra and ran away. As Wujing (Sandy) did not know the sutra well, he asked Wukong (Monkey King) to recite it instead. However, Wukong said, ‘Ever since I understood the true meaning and essence of the Sutra, I have stopped reciting it. Since I have already grasped the meaning, why do I need to recite it? (我还念来干嘛?)’ Somehow he seems to make some sense? So just nianfo (mindfulness of Buddha) enough?
Answer: Haha, looks like I did right by reminding all not to learn Dharma from dramas. It’s a love-hate relationship… Such dramas somehow keep the Dharma in public consciousness, which is good in invoking curiosity to learn more, but they do tend to portray the Dharma inaccurately…
Technically, if Wukong realised the meaning of the Heart Sutra perfectly already, he would already be a Buddha, as the Sutra is about the Perfection of wisdom. As such, it makes sense to use the Sutra to guide one to perfect wisdom as long as not yet a Buddha. The Heart Sutra does eventually teach the letting go of itself (its truths) at the end – but this is so only for those who have become fully enlightened. Till then, it makes sense to hang on the the raft, to use it as a vehicle to reach the shore of enlightenment.
It’s not an absolute must to recite the Heart Sutra. It helps to ‘open wisdom’ (kai zhihui). But even if one’s wisdom does not fully blossom in this life, as long as Pure Land is reached via nianfo practice, all in good time there! And as it is difficult to realise perfect wisdom in this lifetime, and since life can end abruptly, nianfo does take higher priority in this sense. Amituofo