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PMZC Winter 2023 Class Syllabus: The Heart Sutra

Description: In this class, we will study the foundational elements of the Buddha Way as expressed in the Great Wisdom Beyond Wisdom Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is one of the fundamental texts in Zen Buddhism, chanted daily at many services around the world. Central to the Emptiness Teachings in Mahayana Buddhism, it is also one of the most puzzling of all Buddhist texts, presenting a series of negative assertions that appear to negate the Buddha’s teachings altogether. With study and practice, gradually we will come to understand the sutra as a profound guide to the practice and awakening at the heart of the Bodhistattva Way.

On this journey, we recognize, study, and gradually transform the presence of dukka or suffering in human life. In the practice of zazen and the study of the sutra, we also discover that this transformation happens both in the moment and gradually over time, as we deepen our practice and realize experiential understanding. As in earlier classes, we actively engage the practice-based elements of gratitude, faith, and compassion in ending that suffering and dis-satisfaction. And, in studying and practicing with the Heart Sutra, we actively let go clinging to self, embracing emptiness and complete inter-dependence.

We will study and practice with Red Pine’s book The Heart Sutra (2005); supplemental texts include The Other Shore (2017), also known as The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh and The Heart Sutra: A Comprehensive Guide (2015) by Kazuaki Tanahashi. Each week, after zazen, we will investigate the teachings and puzzling methodology of the Heart Sutra, investigating practices and insight together during our evening class session. Week by week, we can reflect on and investigate the components of the sutra, contextualizing it both historically and at the center of daily zazen. Each of us incorporates the practice and study of zazen as it opens into experiential realization of emptiness, the deepening understanding into emptiness of self, and the deepening of compassion in our moment-by-moment practice. 

Meeting and studying the presence of dukka or suffering plunges practitioners into three inter-related aspects: their difficulties to awakening to fundamental truth in this life; the challenges that facing directly presents; and the profound openings that direct, active practice of compassion manifests. Studying the sufferings of the self, we inhabit and become intimate with them. Turning towards practice, we concentrate, practice, and deepen our vows by active practices in the emptiness of all dharmas, all beings.


This 6-week class at Prairie Mountain Zen Center will be online via Zoom for any interested practitioners. Reverend Chikyo Ryunin Ewan Magie will offer the class on Thursday evenings after zazen for 6 weeks starting January 26, 2023. Zazen begins at 6:30 and the class runs from 7-8pm. Each week there will be brief presentation followed by group sharing to keep classes interactive. And the class atmosphere involves respectful use of Right Speech, judicious selection in personal sharing. It is not a confessional or tell-all group.


Texts: The Heart Sutra  by Red Pine (2005)


Supplemental Texts: 

Everyday Zen Study Guide (


The Other Shore by Thich Nhat Hanh (2017)

The Heart Sutra: A Comprehensive Guide (2015) by Kazuaki Tanahashi

Week 1: Avalokiteshvara Sees Emptiness: the path in and to prajna paramita.


Week 2: Shariputra Receives Instruction – form is emptiness, emptiness form.


Week 3: All Dharmas are Marked by Emptiness – no beginning, no ending.


Week 4: Emptiness of Body-Heart-Mind – dependent origination & zazen.


Week 5: Nothing to Attain – a bodhisattva this very moment.


Week 6: The Other Shore – the end of suffering


Concluding Remark: Incorporating both The Other Shore by Thich Nhat Hanh, and reflecting a bit on The Heart Sutra: A Comprehensive Guide by Kaz Tanahashi as well as the essay by Shohaku Okamura in Living By Vow (2012) into our zazen enhances our understanding of Zen practice in relation to our suffering and struggles in the long spiritual journey. Ideally, we practice them together to enhance our moment-to-moment awareness and deepen both wisdom and compassion. Each of us can engage these practices both in the zendo and in daily life as a way to deepen our experience of Zen practice. Learning by ourselves and with others helps nurture the Bodhisattva spirit within each of us, manifesting wisdom and compassion amongst all beings in the ten directions. 

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