In the Heart Sutra, there is a direct connection between becoming aware of the emptiness of all five skandhas and being free of all suffering and doubt. Even in my translation, when I add the phrase, based on the Chinese, “Thus being at one with all things, experiencing things directly without the intervention of thought,” the question is still begged, “Is there an automatic connection between awareness of emptiness and experiencing things directly?”
The answer is no. There is another awareness that must be had to complete the chain from awareness of emptiness to being free of doubt and suffering.
In the Buddha’s Discourse on the Not-Self Characteristics, he says of each of the 5 skandhas, consciousness for example, “Consciousness is not self. If consciousness were self, it would not lead to affliction.” Therefore one should regard it as “This is not mine, this is not what I am, this is not my self.”
In other words, since feelings and perceptions, especially our obsession with them, bring nothing but suffering, they are not our feelings, since our self would not cause us suffering. They are instead feelings that have been placed on us by our culture and our experience.
Having that awareness, the Buddha went on to say, allows one to view feelings and perceptions with dispassion. Becoming dispassionate, obsession/craving fade away. We have the ability to let go, to walk away from these feelings and perceptions. And with this, our heart is liberated and suffering and doubt cease.
I had read this passage in The Life of the Buddha many times before, but it was only recently that I read it and was stopped in my tracks. I know from my 12-step work that an essential part of freeing oneself is recognizing the suffering caused by ones cravings. Indeed, that is the first step in my post, “12 Steps on the Buddhist Path.”
The real wisdom of the Buddha, though, is in teaching that our true self would never cause us such suffering, and therefore these feelings and perceptions are not us. These are not our feelings. And so we are empowered to walk away from them.