What better place to study the Heart Sutra?

Leaving Stanford ,meandering along the narrow Walker Bay coast road, the complexity and intricacy of daily life falls away behind you.

 The drive to Bodhi Khaya is dazzling.  The dirt road through the milk wood forest and fynbos is winding, undulating -urging you to slow down.  The strong smell of Cape fynbos and the sour odour of milk woods is thick in the air.  You ‘drop down’ onto Bodhi Khaya almost unexpectedly; a sudden dip down in the road and there it is, below you.   Very green and secluded, Bodhi Khaya is a beautiful old farm dating back to 1791.  Now converted to a retreat centre, it is a sanctuary, a peaceful haven to rest and reflect.

 What better place to study the Heart Sutra?

What better place?

Buddhist monk, Gen Kelsang Sangdak, who is the Resident Teacher at Mahasiddha Kadampa Buddhist Centre in Durban and the National Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition in South Africa lead the retreat.

The Buddhist text , the Heart Sutra,  is the distillation of all teachings on Emptiness. “Form is empty, emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness”

 Understanding the fundamental truth of the Buddhist teachings on emptiness is an incredibly profound subject.   There are no forms (things) that are not empty; and there is no emptiness that exists in and of itself.

 The word “emptiness” is a Buddhist philosophical term that in this context has nothing to do with “nothingness”, but is a way of describing how things exist from an ultimate point of view, to find their true nature or ultimate way of existing.

The challenge is always how to use teachings in daily life.  To understand the Heart Sutra is  wonderful -to know fully that no thing, including us, our mind or our existence, has any solid substance  or permanence, that nothing in this world is independent but rather interconnected – in a constant state of change.  But how to maintain the concentration on emptiness?

After thinking about the Heart Sutra and how to use it whilst preparing this blog, I came to a personal realization that our mind should not only be grounded in emptiness but also in compassion.

 We all try so hard to achieve a perfect life, practicing  the Heart Sutra, getting the kids to school in time, cooking perfect scrambled eggs, making important decisions, focusing on compassion.  Sometimes we get it right, sometimes it all goes wrong!  Accepting ourselves we can also see that, even when something goes wrong and we know what we have done is wrong, if we have the right intention and some understanding of the true nature of things, a ‘wrong’ can also just be a fleeting moment  with no permanent nor independent existence.  Accepting ourselves in those ‘wrong’ moments, it will be so much easier to have love and compassion for others.

Gen Sangdak has returned to Durban. Those interested, have the opportunity to continue learning with resident teacher, Gen Pagpa.   http://www.meditateincapetown.org

Maja Heynecke


Homeward Bound At Bodhi Khaya

I follow the path beside the lily ponds. A grey heron, disturbed, lifts off in silent flight. The sun is warm, still casting long shadows. I round the corner of the “Farm Loop”  and hear a cough. a solitary bark, it’s very close. I wait, expecting the clatter and chatter of baboons but nothing stirs. An image, a recollection of a ‘spoor’ on yesterday’s walk, which I had pondered. Could it be? Yes, it could. A leopard, master of stealth and camouflage, watching me. I stand in awe then quietly take my leave. Dressed in sage green I hope I look like a helichrysum blowing up the hill.

 A watery, bubbling call from the shallow ravine. A ‘Transvaal’ sound before the rain, a “bottle bird”, the Burchell’s coucal, flutters into view and perches on a naked branch. It calls more stridently and is answered from below. A conversation continues. The Cape sugar bird loops in and out of the proteas trailing its long wispy tail, a cisticola ‘zits and tseeps’ beside me and the swallows swoop above.

The road is bright with flowers. Scabiosa in their gentle violet-blue, the colour of my grandmother’s eyes, magenta lachenalia, pelargoniums delicate and white, and tiny wild lobelia.

Pincushions make a fiery splash amongst the mountain’s grays and yellows and greens. I feel sad that they get picked and isolated in a vase, their majesty and drama lost, like a thread pulled from a tapestry and set aside.

 I see the sea, the coast, the dunes, beneath a vast expanse of sky.

 Onward and upward. White rocks tossed and strewn by some great force.

Then in the stillness, a tiny steenbok heads towards me, nibbling fresh shoots, oblivious of my presence. But now she stops and sniffs the air. I stand stock still and hope she won’t turn tail and bolt.

Ears twitch, she knows I’m there, she looks, and looks again, and slowly  walks away.

 The ‘Fynbos Trail’ is beckoning me…just one more corner, another view, but I am not equiped to walk all day.

 I’m ‘homeward bound’, down into the valley to the containment  of the white walled buildings, the centre of gentle activity and generosity of spirit. It’s a welcome place to come back to.

 Thank you, Bodhi Khaya and all who live and work there.

 Di Steward visited Bodhi Khaya for a self-retreat during November 2011