A. Holding on to the meaning of the Sutras means keeping the words without perfect understanding, in other words keeping food undigested in the stomach. Letting go of it means to ignore and forget it. For better understanding, let’s take the following as an example.
Buddha had a student who was notorious for having killed many people and even tried to kill Buddha before becoming a monk. One day this monk happened to visit one of Buddha’s lay students, when his wife was having a hard time being in labour. The layman said to the monk, “Please relieve my wife of this terrible suffering with your power.” The monk responded, “I still don’t have such divine power. I will go and ask my master, Buddha for this favour for your wife.” Upon returning to Buddha, the monk explained the situation and asked him what he should do. Buddha answered, “You go back to the house, and tell her that you have never killed anyone.” The monk did as he was told to, and then, on hearing his words, she was relieved of her suffering.
This metaphor implies that everything is empty.
When Buddha said to his disciple, “Tell her that you have never killed anyone”, he meant that whatever bad and cruel things, or whatever good and beautiful things we may do, they are all empty, so the young monk’s murder was also empty. He likened her childbirth to the young monk’s murder. The woman in labour, on hearing what the monk said, realised the truth that the suffering she was going through was also empty, just as the murders the monk committed were empty.
We should understand what the Sutras say, in the same way that the woman in labour understood Buddha’s remark passed on by his student. The moment she heard Buddha’s message, she made it part of herself. If she had ignored, let go of the message or remembered it only as a meaningful saying, or held on to the meaning of it, she couldn’t have been relieved of her suffering.
Master: “What did Buddha tell his student to say to the woman in labour?”
Student: “He told him to say, ‘I’ve never killed anyone’.”
Master: “Why did Buddha tell him to say so?”
Student: “Because He wanted to teach her that everything is empty.”
Master: “You are still holding on to the meaning of Buddha’s teaching.”
Student: “Then, what did He say?”
Master: “He didn’t say anything, and his student didn’t go to her house.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway