Thanks James. Good words. Loving the Heart Sutra is inconceivably deep.
The word “skandha” is often translated as aggregate or heap, but I think the more accurate translation is “shoulder,” where the arm branches off, or “crotch,” as in the crotch of the tree where branches part. The skandha is that part of the stem or trunk where the branches begin, or a large branch or bough that stems therefrom. The five skandhas are the five shoulders or crotches of the five main branches of the tree of a person. The terms heaps or aggregates creates the image of separate entities piled into heaps, as if counting all the pieces and bits that make up a person and putting them down into one of the five categories. However, this image is too artificial and contrived for the organic interconnectedness of what the psychological paradigm of the skandas is pointing toward, which is the holistic living limbs of the psyche of the person. The five are not heaps of bits, they are the five living branches of the tree of life. The appearance of many bits and pieces are actually the living manifold twigs and leaves on these five branches, not disconnected items piled up like lifeless gravel.
I’m confused about what is meant by “The traditional list is form or matter, sensations or feeling, mental formations or impulses, and consciousness, discernment.” Is that four or five? It looks like four to me: (1) form or matter [1st rupa], (2) sensations or feeling [2nd vedana], (3) mental formations or impulses [4th samskara], and (4) consciousness, discernment [5th vijnana]. It seems the 3rd skandha of perception or samjna is missing from the list.
"Manjusri's most dynamic attribute is his sword, the vajra sword of discriminating wisdom or insight. The sword cuts through ignorance and the entanglements of conceptual views. It cuts away ego and self-created obstacles. Sometimes the sword is in flames, which can represent light or transformation. It can cut things in two, but it can also cut into one, by cutting the self-other dichotomy. It is said the sword can both give and take life."I mostly like Red Pine's translation, but I feel compelled to pick two nits. First, the use of the word "memory" for the 4th skandha is very problematic, not so much because of the technical application of the terminology, if the word memory is used in its widest possible connotation, but because of the common usage of the English word memory, which is very much more limited and narrow than the 4th skandha's "samskara," which literally means “putting together,” “making complete,” “correctly together” etc. Memory is commonly conceived of as information that is encoded, stored, and retrieved, thus nominalizing it as data rather than seeing it as the active living function of mind’s organic patterning in fields that make self-consciousness possible. Memory is commonly used with the file cabinet or computer analogy of encoding, storage, and retrieval, and to the extent this limited view is what the word is conjuring up, then it is wrong to use “memory” for samskara.
The 4th skandha is the most psychologically challenging of the 5 skandhas to understand. Carl Jung coined the term “complex” in his attempt to describe this very function of the psyche, while in other contexts he simply called it the function of "thinking." In the context of Jungian archetypal psychology, the 4th skandha includes all the complex mental formations that at one end of the spectrum are the individual complexes upon which we base our idea of impulses and our self-image of personal volition, and at the other end are all the mental formations we call the archetypes of the collective unconscious that act upon us a the deepest levels and upon which our worldviews are established. If we remember (pun intended) that “memory” is the mental activity and function, not just the data, that includes entirely all the mental formations and complexes, both individual and collective, that make up our self-identity and worldview then the word memory is not an invalid translation.
While the statement, “there is no part of us that is outside the phenomenal world,” is not incorrect, it is problematic as it may be easily misunderstood. The problem, as I see it, is that most people begin from the stand point that there is a “phenomenal world” that is outside us, and conceive of the “inside of us” as outside the outside of us. So to point out that there is no “part” of us that is separate from the phenomenal world is correct if we mean that everything that is identifiable as a “part” of anything is exactly a thing of the phenomenal world, even all the parts that we think of as "inside us." But this does not address the deception of a "phenomenal world," as it is the emptiness of those parts themselves that is the second fold of the two-fold emptiness of self (atman) and things (dharmas), and I fear that, while many people will acknowledge that the “parts” of us are not outside the phenomenal world, they will still conceive of those parts as existing inside a “phenomenal world,” rather than becoming free of the whole conceptual apparatus of “outside and inside” and of “phenomenal world.”
The "phenomenal world" is not outside or separate from mind. The phenomenal world is mind. Mind is the phenomenal world. That is, while "it" is not a “part" and "it" is not "outside,” there is "that one who is shining brilliantly," who is neither outside nor inside the phenomenal world, and who is listening right now to the Heart Sutra. That one is the emptiness of the Heart Sutra.