I went to the local Karma Kagyu center last Friday to a lecture by one of traveling teachers, Karol Sleczek. It turned out that it was not a lecture strictly speaking but rather guided reading of the Heart Sutra in Michael Roache‘s translation. We were trying to understand what the original author of the sutra tried to tell us, his readers, without referring to any outside concepts, materials, historical backgrounds of any kind etc. We were just reading the text and analyzing the message it conveys just based on what was in it.

It sounds easy, but it’s not. It is really hard to concentrate just on this, rather short text, while forgetting for example all I know about historical context of these words or pitfalls of translations. It is not easy to resist the temptation of commenting the sutra in my mind instead of reading it. That is concentrating on what I think I think about it rather than on understanding what the author tries to say to me. Karol’s systematic approach and attitude helped a lot, since he constantly identified and rejected any ideas about the meaning we came up with that couldn’t be defended on the basis of what was written in the text.

It was a very important and interesting evening for me. Although I’m sure that the true meaning of this sutra can’t be understood thorough this kind of analysis, it certainly added a lot to my intuitive, deep trust towards this text which somehow I felt always since hearing it for the first time. And the method of “just reading” that I learned can be applied to other texts as well. And not only Buddhist ones.

This was also a very intense intellectual experience. I went in with a mild headache, but during the lecture it was gone as I had to concentrate so much that the body forgot of its little grumps.

Karol has a very sharp, precise mind and lots of training in this type of thing, as he is not only a Karma Kagyu traveling teacher with lots of practice but also holds a doctorate in philosophy. I’ve heard his lectures from tapes before, but the real experience is even better. A true intellectual feast.

He is also a very mean discussant, unsympathetic and with little patience for those with less intellectual ability who were not keeping the pace. If someone said something he thought was not correct he would blast at them as part of the reply, often with some personal remarks (like “So you think you are so educated, huh?” or “With this type of thinking you can just go and have a few beers”). But you can learn from that too, by observing why it hits you.

All in all – great stuff.