The Heart Sutra

 

The 25 Sloka compacting of the MahaPrajñāpāramithā is the Hridaya Sutra [‘Heart Sutra] the daily invocation in every Zendo. Intentionally bite-sized, it is to be read and interpreted only as supplement to the Vajrachedika for its very tight phrasing can seriously miscue the entrant.

No Sutra in the entire canon is more direct, in-your-face, unflinching in its declaration than the Heart Sutra. And very few Sutras have been more insistently spun into a mystic outer-space than the Heart Sutra. Given its brevity I’ve listed it in its entirety below.

Much of it has to do with the introduction of a derivative term Shūnyathā and the truncated interpretation of the ancient expression Namarupa [Rupa] in the verses. Shūnyathā is to Shūnyam in rough analogue as Tathātā is to the pivotal expression Tát [‘That’], a distinction long predating the creation of Shūnyam.

I’ll get to it in detail during the discussion on Classical Logic from where both the English words ‘Emptiness’ [for Shūnyathā] and ‘Form’ [for Namarupa] originate. 

 


THE SUTRA OF THE HEART OF TRANSCENDENT KNOWLEDGE [‘HEART SUTRA’]

Thus have I heard

Once the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajagriha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great gathering of the sangha of monks and a great gathering of the sangha of bodhisattvas.

At that time the Blessed One entered the samadhi that expresses the dharma called profound illumination, and at the same time noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, while practicing the profound prajñaparamita, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

Then, through the power of the Buddha, venerable Shariputra said to noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, “How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound prajñaparamita?”

Addressed in this way, noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva said to venerable Shariputra, “O, Shariputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajñaparamita should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase.

Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas; no eye dhatu up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment.

Therefore, Shariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajñaparamita. Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvana. All the buddhas of the three times, by means of prajñaparamita, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment.

Therefore, the great mantra of prajñaparamita, the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequalled mantra, the mantra that calms all suffering, should be known as truth, since there is no deception. The prajñaparamita mantra is said in this way:

OM GATE GATE PĀRAGATE PĀRASAMGATE BODHI SVĀHĀ

Thus, Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound prajñaparamita.”

Then the Blessed One arose from that samadhi and praised noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, saying, “Good, good, O son of noble family; thus it is, O son of noble family, thus it is. One should practice the profound prajñaparamita just as you have taught and all the tathagatas will rejoice.”

When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Shariputra and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.


Translated into English by the Nalanda Translation Committee, with reference to several Sanskrit editions.

© 1975, 1980 Nalanda Translation Committee. All rights reserved.