Heart Sutra

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The Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra or Heart Sutra or Essence of Wisdom Sutra (Sanskrit: प्रज्ञापारमिताहृदय Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya) (the word sutra is not present in known Sanskrit manuscripts[1]) is a well-known Mahāyāna Buddhist sutra that is very popular among Mahayana Buddhists both for its brevity and depth of meaning. Some even claim that it is the best known[2] and most popular of all Buddhist scriptures.[3][4]


[edit] Introduction

The Heart Sutra is a member of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā) class of Mahāyāna Buddhist literature, and along with the Diamond Sutra, is considered by many to be the primary representative of the genre. It consists of just fourteen shlokas or verses in Sanskrit and 260 Chinese characters in the most prevalent Chinese version, Taisho Tripitaka Vol. T08 No. 251, attributed to Xuanzang. This makes it one of the most highly abbreviated versions of the Perfection of Wisdom texts, which exist in various lengths up to 100,000 slokas. According to Buddhist scholar and author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in his commentary to the Heart Sutra:

The Essence of Wisdom Sutra (Heart Sutra) is much shorter than the other Perfection of Wisdom Sutras but it contains explicitly or implicitly the entire meaning of the longer Sutras.[5]

This sutra is classified by Edward Conze as belonging to the third of four periods in the development of the Perfection of Wisdom canon, although because it contains a mantra (sometimes called a dharani), it does overlap with the final tantric phase of development according to this scheme, and is included in the tantra section of at least some editions of the Kangyur.[6] Conze estimates the sutra's date of origin to be 350 CE; some others consider it to be two centuries older than that.[7] Recent scholarship is unable to verify any date earlier than the 7th century CE.[8]

The Chinese version is frequently chanted (in the local pronunciation) by the Chan (Zen/Seon/Thiền) sects during ceremonies in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam respectively. It is also significant to the Shingon Buddhist school in Japan, whose founder Kūkai wrote a commentary on it, and to the various Tibetan Buddhist schools, where it is studied extensively.

The sutra is in a small class of sutras not attributed to the Buddha. In some versions of the text, starting with that of Fayue dating to about 735[9], the Buddha confirms and praises the words of Avalokiteśvara, although this is not included in the preeminent Chinese version translated by Xuanzang. The Tibetan canon uses the longer version[10][1], although Tibetan translations without the framing text have been found at Dunhuang. The Chinese Buddhist canon includes both long and short versions, and both versions exist in Sanskrit.[1]

[edit] Origin and early translations

The Heart Sutra has generally been thought to have probably been composed in the first century CE in Kushan Empire territory, by a Sarvastivadin or ex-Sarvastivadin monk.[11] The earliest record of a copy of the sutra is a 200-250CE Chinese version attributed to the Yuezhi monk Zhi Qian.[3] It was supposedly translated again by Kumarajiva around 400CE, although John McRae and Jan Nattier have argued that this translation was created by someone else, much later, based on Kumarajiva's Large Sutra.[12] Zhi Qian's version, if it ever existed, was lost before the time of Xuanzang, who produced his own version in 649CE, which closely matches the one attributed to Kumarajiva.[13] Xuanzang's version is the first record of the title "Heart Sutra" (心經 xīnjīng) being used for the text,[14] and Fukui Fumimasa has argued that xinjing actually means dharani scripture.[15][16] According to Huili's biography, Xuanzang learned the sutra from an inhabitant of Szechuan, and subsequently chanted it during times of danger in his journey to the West.[17]

However, based on textual patterns in the Sanskrit and Chinese versions of the Heart Sutra and the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra, scholar Jan Nattier has suggested that the earliest (shortest) version of the Heart Sutra was probably first composed in China in Chinese language, and later re-translated into Sanskrit. She argues that the majority of the text was redacted from the Larger Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom, with the introduction and concluding passages composed by a Chinese author, and that the text was intended as a dharani rather than a sutra.[8][18][19][20] The Chinese version of the core (i.e. the short version) of the Heart Sutra matches a passage from the Large Sutra almost exactly, character by character; but the corresponding Sanskrit texts, while agreeing in meaning, differ in virtually every word.[21] Furthermore, Nattier argues that there is no evidence (such as a commentary would be) of a Sanskrit version before the 8th century CE[22], and she dates the first evidence (in the form of commentaries by Xuanzang's disciples Kuiji and Wonch'uk, and Dunhuang manuscripts) of Chinese versions to the 7th century CE. She considers attributions to earlier dates "extremely problematic". In any case, the corroborating evidence supports a Chinese version at least a century before a Sanskrit version.[23] This theory has gained support amongst some other prominent scholars of Buddhism, but is by no means universally accepted.[24]

[edit] Title

The Zhi Qian version is titled Po-jo po-lo-mi shen-chou i chuan[25] or Prajnaparamita Dharani[26]; the Kumarajiva version is titled Mo-ho po-jo po-lo-mi shen-chou i chuan[25] or Maha Prajnaparamita Mahavidya Dharani. Xuanzang's was the first version to use Hrdaya or "Heart" in the title.[27]

Xuanzang's was also the first version to call the text a sutra. No extant Sanskrit copies use this word, though it has become standard usage in Chinese and Tibetan, as well as English.[28]

Some citations of Zhi Qian's and Kumarajiva's versions prepend moho (which would be maha in Sanskrit) to the title. Some Tibetan editions add bhagavati, meaning "bountiful", an epithet of Prajnaparamita as goddess.[29]

According to Tibetan tradition, the translation of the title of the Sutra into English is: "Essence of the perfection of wisdom, the Blessed Mother." In the Tibetan text the title is given first in Sanskrit and then in Tibetan:

Sanskrit: Bhagavatiprajnaparamitahrdaya

Tibetan (using phonetics): Chom dan da ma sher rab kyi pa rol tu jin pai nying po[30]

[edit] The text

Various commentators divide this text in different numbers of sections. Briefly, the sutra describes the experience of liberation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara, as a result of insight gained while engaged in deep meditation to awaken the faculty of prajña (wisdom). The insight refers to the fundamental emptiness of all phenomena, the five aggregates of human existence (skandhas) — form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), volitions (samskārā), perceptions (saṁjñā), and consciousness (vijñāna).

The specific sequence of concepts listed in lines 12-20 ("...in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, ... no attainment and no non-attainment" is the same sequence used in the Sarvastivadin Samyukt Agama; this sequence differs in the texts of other sects. On this basis, Red Pine has argued that the Heart Sutra is specifically a response to Sarvastivada teachings that dharmas are real.[31] Lines 12-13 enumerate the five skandhas. Lines 14-15 list the twelve ayatanas or abodes.[32] Line 16 makes a reference to the eighteen dhatus or elements of consciousness, using a conventional shorthand of naming only the first (eye) and last (conceptual consciousness) of the elements.[33] Lines 17-18 assert the emptiness of the Twelve Nidānas, the traditional twelve links of dependent origination.[34] Line 19 refers to the Four Noble Truths.

Avalokiteśvara addresses Śariputra, who was, according to the scriptures and texts of the Sarvastivada and other early Buddhist schools, the promulgator of abhidharma, having been singled out by the Buddha to receive those teachings.[35] Avalokiteśvara famously states that, "Form is empty (Śūnyatā). Emptiness is form." and declares the other skandhas to be equally empty — that is, empty of an independent essence. Avalokiteśvara then goes through some of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings such as the Four Noble Truths and explains that in emptiness none of these labels apply. This is interpreted according to the concept of smaran as saying that teachings, while accurate descriptions of conventional truth, are mere statements about reality — they are not reality itself — and that they are therefore not applicable to the ultimate truth that is by definition beyond our comprehending. Thus the bodhisattva, as the archetypal Mahāyāna Buddhist, relies on the perfection of wisdom, defined in the larger Perfection of Wisdom sutra to be the wisdom that perceives reality directly without conceptual attachment. This perfection of wisdom is condensed in the mantra with which the sutra concludes.

It is unusual for Avalokiteśvara to play any role, let alone the central one, in a Prajñāpāramitā text. Most early Prajñāpāramitā texts involve Subhuti, who is absent from both versions of the Heart Sutra, and the Buddha, who is only present in the longer version.[36] This could be considered evidence that the framing text is Chinese in origin.[8]

[edit] Mantra

This mantra, chanted throughout the Mahāyāna Buddhist world, appears in transliterated Sanskrit even in the Chinese version, as pronunciation of mantras is held to be important if they are to function properly. The mantra goes:

Devanāgarī Romanization Pronunciation Translation
गते गते Gate gate [gəteː gəteː] Gone, gone
पारगते Pāragate [pɑːɾə gəteː] Gone beyond
पारसंगते Pārasaṃgate [pɑːɾəsəŋ gəteː] Gone completely beyond
बोधि स्वाहा Bodhi svāhā [boːdɦɪ sʋɑːhɑː] Praise to awakening.

(The translation can only be loose since, as with many mantras, the Sanskrit does not appear to be completely grammatical)

The text itself describes the mantra as "Mahāmantro, mahā-vidyā mantro, ‘nuttara mantro samasama-mantrah", which Conze translates as "The great mantra, the mantra of great knowledge, the utmost mantra, the unequalled mantra, the allayer of all suffering." These words are also used of the Buddha, and so the text seems to be equating the mantra with the Buddha. Although the translation is acceptable, the case ending in Sanskrit mantra is the feminine vocative, so gate is addressed to a feminine person/figure. A more accurate translation is "Oh she who is gone!" In this respect, the mantra appears to be keeping with the common tantric practice (a practice supported by the texts themselves) of anthropomorphizing the Perfection of Wisdom as the "Mother of Buddhas."

One can also interpret the mantra as the progressive steps along the five paths of the Bodhisattva, through the two preparatory stages (the path of accumulation and preparation — Gate, gate), through the first bhumi (path of insight — Pāragate), through the second to seventh bhumi (path of meditation — Pārasamgate), and through the eight to tenth bhumi (stage of no more learning — Bodhi svāhā). As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains in Heart of Wisdom:

This mantra, retained in the original Sanskrit, explains in very condensed form the practice of the five Mahayana paths, which we attain and complete in dependence upon the perfection of wisdom.[37]

The current Dalai Lama explains the mantra in a discourse on the Heart Sutra both as an instruction for practice and as a device for measuring one's own level of spiritual attainment, and translates it as go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment. In the discourse, he gives a similar explanation to the four stages (the four go's) as in the previous paragraph.

Unlike Greek, Sanskrit distinguishes between 'para' (across, as in Greek and our derivations) and 'pāra', which means across to the other side. The preposition 'sam' equates to the Greek 'συν', with (which here we can reasonably expand to together with). In fact this meaning has been known in western Sanskrit dictionaries at least since Monier Monier-Williams: he gave "saṃgata" as "come together , met , encountered , joined , united AV. &c. &c. ; allied with , friendly to" and many other phrases that imply joining together. So, "Gone across to the other side, together with" or even "Met upon the far shore" would be an absolutely literal and very Mahayana translation of 'Pārasamgate'. This may be understood as referring to liberating all beings, or to the bringing of one's entire world over onto the previously realised higher plane of energy, and as identical in meaning to the Zen saying "First there is a mountain [our initial condition of perception], then there is no mountain [pāragate], then there is [pārasamgate]". "Bodhi svāhā" - "Enlightenment, awaken!".

[edit] Musical interpretations

American composer Lou Harrison set Esperanto language texts translated from the Heart Sutra to music in his 1973 cantata La Koro Sutro.

The Band Akron/Family set the English version to music entitled Gone Beyond on their album, Meek Warrior.

Peter Rowan incorporated a musical setting of the Heart Sutra in the chorus of "Vulture Peak" on his 2001 album Reggaebilly.

Malaysian new age musical arranger Imee Ooi also performs electronic versions of Buddhist sutras, notably the Heart Sutra, in Sanskrit, and Mandarin.

Chloe Goodchild, British singer and composer, completed a version of the Heart Sutra on her album "Fierce Wisdom"

Henry Marshall recorded this mantra on his album Mantras II (1995)

American Hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan has included the Heart Sutra in their album the 8 Diagrams. It was performed in Mandarin by Shifu Shi Yan Ming in the last track titled "Life Changes" as a tribute to the late Old Dirty Bastard. [38]

The Buddhist Audio Visual Production Centre (佛教視聽製作中心) produced the Heart Sutra (1995) audio CD many Hong Kong singers solo the Heart Sutra theme composed by Andrew Lam Man Chung (林敏聰) to raise money to rebuild the Chi Lin Nunnery[39]

Many Hong Kong singers choral sing the Andrew Lam composed Heart Sutra song in a 1999_Chichi earthquake fund raising program (香港演藝界921傳心傳意大行動) as in buddhist religious practise mean transter good karma.

Chinese singer Faye Wong recorded a recitation of the sutra with music by Zhang Yadong. The Fayue version of the sutra was used; this recitation was part of her 2001 Loving Kindness and Wisdom Buddhist album.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b c Nattier 1992, pg. 200
  2. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 16
  3. ^ a b Pine 2004, pg. 18
  4. ^ Nattier 1992, pg. 153
  5. ^ Heart of Wisdom: An Explanation of the Heart Sutra, Tharpa Publications (4th. ed., 2001), page 2, ISBN 978-0-948006-77-7
  6. ^ Conze 1960
  7. ^ Lopez 1988, pg. 5
  8. ^ a b c Nattier 1992
  9. ^ Pine 2004 pg. 26
  10. ^ http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Tibetan_Version_of_the_Heart_Sutra_(English)
  11. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 21
  12. ^ Nattier 1992, pp. 184-9
  13. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 22-26
  14. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 8
  15. ^ Fukui 1987
  16. ^ Nattier 1992, pp. 175-6
  17. ^ Nattier 1992, pp. 179-80
  18. ^ Buswell 2003, page 314
  19. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 23
  20. ^ "The Heart Sutra - Indian or Chinese?". 2007-09-17. http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2007/09/heart-stra-indian-or-chinese.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-14. 
  21. ^ Nattier 1992, pp. 159, 167
  22. ^ Nattier 1992, pg. 173
  23. ^ Nattier 1992, pp. 173-4
  24. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 25
  25. ^ a b Nattier 1992, pg. 183
  26. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 20
  27. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 36
  28. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 39
  29. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 35
  30. ^ # Heart of Wisdom: An Explanation of the Heart Sutra, Tharpa Publications (4th. ed., 2001), page 3, ISBN 978-0-948006-77-7
  31. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 9
  32. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 100
  33. ^ Pine 2004, pp. 105-6
  34. ^ Pine 2004, pg. 109
  35. ^ Pine 2004, pp. 11-12, 15
  36. ^ Nattier 1992, pg. 156
  37. ^ Heart of Wisdom by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, page 125. Tharpa Publications (4th. ed., 2001) ISBN 978-0-948006-77-7
  38. ^ theworsthorse blog entry
  39. ^ 佛學多媒體資料庫

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