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   A Sample of a Buddhist Scripture: "The Heart Sutra"

  Explained by: Joe Hing Kwok Chu

               Today almost all of the Buddhist scriptures have disappeared in India. Some of the reasons for the fall of Buddhism in India are the Muslim conquest of India and the  philosophy of the then Buddhist monks to accept the conquest as a cause and effect (karma) that could not be avoided.

         However, most of the scriptures have been preserved in China as translations in Chinese writings. The following  was an English translation of a short sutra from Tibetan language distributed by Vajrapani Monastery of Boulder Creek, California.


             "The Heart of the Blessed Mother, the Perfection of Wisdom"

           Thus have I heard: at one time, the Blessed One was dwelling on Vulture Peak in Rajagriha amidst a great gathering of monks and bodhisattvas. At that time, the Blessed One entered the samadhi of enumeration of dharmas known as Profound Illumination. Also at that time, the noble bodhisattva mahasattva Chenresig examined the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom and saw that the five skandhas are empty by nature.

          Then, through the inspiration of the Buddha, the venerable Shariputra asked the noble bodhisattva mahasattva Chenresig this:

         "A son of noble lineage who wishes to follow the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom, how should he learn?" The noble bodhisattva mahasattva Chenresig spoke these words to the son of Saradvati: "Shariputra, a son or daughter of noble lineage who wishes to follow the practice of the profound       perfection of wisdom, should immerse themselves thus: the five skandhas are pure. Form is empty. Emptiness is form.

         Form is no other than emptiness and emptiness is no other than form. In the same way, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousnesses are empty.

          "Shariputra, all dharmas are empty, without distinctions, unborn, unceasing, undefiled, yet not separate from defilement, neither decreasing nor increasing.        

               "Shariputra, since there is emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no impulses, no consciousnesses, no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas. There is no realm of eye, no realm of mind, no realm of mind-consciousness or anything in between. There is no ignorance, no extinction of

         ignorance, no old age and death, no extinction of old age and death or anything in between (the twelve links). Likewise, there is no suffering or its cause and cessation, and no path.

         No transcending awareness, no attainment nor  non-attainment.       

                   "Shariputra, bodhisattvas have no attainment.  Abiding in reliance on the perfection of wisdom, their minds have no obscurations and no fears. Having conquered false views, they pass beyond sorrow. All the Buddhas of the three times, become unsurpassingly enlightened, complete Buddhas by relying on the perfection of wisdom.

           "Thus, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom, the mantra of the great knowledge, the unsurpassed mantra, the mantra that equals one to the unequaled, the mantra which completely pacifies all suffering, because there is no deception, should be known as the truth.

       " He uttered the mantra of the perfection of wisdom:


         Shariputra, this is how a bodhisattva mahasattva should learn the perfection of wisdom.

        "Then the Blessed One arose from samadhi congratulating  the noble bodhisattva mahasattva Chenresig, saying: 'Well done, well done, son of the noble lineage. Thus it is and just as you have taught should the profound perfection of wisdom be practiced and Tathagatas will rejoice."

          When the Blessed One had said this, the venerable son of Saradvati, the noble bodhisattva mahasattva Chenresig, their retinues, gods, men, asuras, gandharvas, and the whole world was delighted and praised the words of the Blessed One. 

Notation by Joe Hing Kwok Chu:

    The Heart Sutra, also called Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra, or in Sanskrit, Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, is a basic scripture important to all Buddhist sects. The Heart Sutra is a concise summary of a longer sutra called Prajna Paramita Sutra, which consists of six hundred volumes (as translated by Hsuan Chuang during the seventh century). The Sanskrit origins of the name are as follows: “prajna” is wisdom.
The word “paramita” is derived from two words: “param,” (beyond) and “ita” (she who has gone). Thus, the phrase “prajna paramita” means "beyond wisdom" or "super wisdom.” The word "heart" is a direct translation of the Sanskrit word "hridaya" which has various meanings: (1) the heart organ of the body, (2) the best, the dearest and the most secret, and (3) the core. The name Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra therefore means "The core, the best, the dearest, and the most secret part of the Prajna Paramita Sutra.” In Tantric Buddhism, the name Prajna Paramita is personified by a female deity: the Mother Buddha or Buddha's Mother. Thus, in the translation, the title is: "The Heart of the Blessed Mother, the Perfect Wisdom."


         The phrase Prajna Paramita means the various things:

         1. Beyond wisdom, profound wisdom, perfection of wisdom.

         2. Name of a longer sutra that consists of forty- two books, composed in India between 100 B.C. and 600 B.C, where the Heart sutra, composed about the fourth century, is considered as a simplified or summary version of it.1.2  The large Prajna Paramita Sutra was translated into Chinese Han language by Hsuan Chuang into six hundred volumes, and also translated by Kumarajiva into twenty-seven books called Da Pin Prajna Paramita, and ten books called Xiao Pin Prajna Paramita.

         3. The name of the Heart Sutra. The full name is Prajna  Paramita Heart Sutra.

         4. Name of a mantra: "Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha."

         5. Name of a deity: Mother Buddha, which is the personification of "Prajna Paramita".


             The above English version of the Heart Sutra was a translation of the Tibetan text.    


             The Heart Sutra has been translated into Chinese Han language  by various scholars. Among the more popular ones are those translated by Monk Xuan Zhuang (596-664) during the Tang dynasty and the one translated by Monk Kumarajiva during the early fifth century, during the Sao-Chin (Later Chin) dynasty.

         Kumarajiva was born in Asia Minor in the then Kingdom of Qui Ci (龜茲), now part of China called Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan), a province north of Tibet.  At seven years old he started to travel with his aunt to different kingdoms to study Buddhism. He came to China proper in 395 A.D. and to Luo Yang, the then Capital of the Kingdom of Soa Chin of China in 401 A.D. at the invitation of a Chinese emperor. He was provided several buildings and three thousand assistants to translate Buddhist scriptures. The famous scriptures like the Lotus Sutra, Prajna Paramita Sutra, Diamond Sutra, and Heart Sutra and others were translated. The characteristics of the translations were that the works were beautiful and easy to read.

              The original Sanskrit Heart Sutra has two versions: the longer version and the shorter version. The above is the longer version. The shorter version is the popular version read in China, translated by Xuan Zhuang during the Tang Dynasty. It does not have the beginning part and the ending part like the longer version.

              It is the format of Buddhist sutras to begin with "Thus I have heard." The "I" usually refers to Ananda who headed the committee to record the philosophy of Buddha.  The Heart Sutra was recorded during the fourth century, eight centuries after the time of Ananda, hence, the sentence "Thus I have heard" is just a format of the writing. The shorter version like the one translated by Xuan-Zhuang (596-664) does not begin with "Thus I have heard." It starts from "Bodhisattva

         Avalokitesvara, while practising the advanced Prajna Paramita....".

          Rajagriha, the town where the event took place, is situated in a region now called Bihar.

             The philosophy of emptiness is expressed in the question  and answer between Shariputra  and Bodhisattva Chenresig.

        Shariputra was the name of a senior disciple of Buddha  Sakyamuni and son of Saradvati.  "Chenresig" are sometimes translated as "Chenrigse" or "Chenrezi". "Avalokitesvara or  Chenresig" is also known variously as "Guan Yin, Guan Shi Yin and Guan Zhi Zai" in Chinese Han region taking the form  as a female deity.  Avalokitesvara is the original Sanskrit  name of Chenresig. The name "Avalokitesvara" consists of two Sanskrit words: Avalokita and Isvara. Avalokita means to look down upon and examine. Isvara means the one who is able e.g. king or deity. Thus Avalokitesvara mean a deity that looks at and examines the suffering of the mundane world. The Chenresig of Tibetan or the Guan Yin or Guan Shi Yin of Han language for Avalokitesvara was based on the translation of the meaning of the Sanskrit name.

             For those who have seen the images of Guan Yin would have noticed that Guan Yin appears to be a female deity. But in  this version of the Heart Sutra, the pronoun "he" is being  used to denote Chenresig and also he was addressed as "the son of noble lineage." It is because in the original Sanskrit scriptures and in Tibetan translations, also in the Chinese Han translations, Chenresig or Avalokitesvara or Guan Yin (Guan Yin) is shown as a  male deity.

            Originally Avalokitesvara was a female deity from Asia Minor  introduced into India, a predominantly male society, where she became a male deity.

              A bodhisattva is a sentient being who has already achieved  enlightenment but chooses to stay in this mundane world to help others to relieve their sufferings. Bodhi means enlightenment or wisdom. Sattva means being. Maha means great. Thus Mahasattva means great being. "Son of noble lineage" is a polite way of address in Sanskrit.

           The "five skandhas" (groups) refer to the physical and mental elements that determine the characteristics of a person. They are: form (rupa), feeling (vedana), perception (samjna), impulse (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana).

         The Bodhisattva Chenresig told Shariputra that the five skandhas are just emptiness. Emptiness refers to the nature or characteristics of the five skandhas, etc., which exist temporarily and not permanently.

             "Suffering, cause, cessation, and path" is called the Four Noble Truths. In Buddhism, it is deemed that sufferings of human beings stem from cravings or desires (cause). To  get rid of sufferings, it is necessary to get rid of cravings  or desires (causation); and to get rid of causes, it is necessary to follow the right path (eightfold path).

           "Eyes, ears, nose, body, tongue, and mind" are the "six roots."   "Form, sound, smell, taste, touch and dharma" are the "six contaminations" which are the result of the six roots.

            The twelve links are also emptiness; thus, they do not exist. The twelve links refer to ignorance, feeling, perception, impulse, consciousness, form, avarice, possessiveness, contamination, birth, six roots ( eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind), old age and death.  ("Ignorance" in the twelve links, in the Han language translation sometimes also  refers to "admiration of the opposite sex or falling in love. Ignorance here means lack of knowledge.)   

             Avalokitesvara uttered the mantra of perfect wisdom  (Prajna Paramita): "Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha."

             A mantra is the speech of a deity or a magical incantation for creating certain metaphysical effects. In the mantra of perfect wisdom, "gate" means "gone;" "para" means "beyond;"   "sam" means "altogether;" "bodhi" means "enlightenment;" and "svaha" is an interjection or an exclaimation. Svaha is a  term of blessing used traditionally by the Brahmin priests in their rituals. It is an ecstatic shout of joy, expressive of a feeling of complete relief. In the Tantric system the word svaha is reserved for mantras addressed to feminine deities.

             Thus, the mantra "Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate,  bodhi svaha." can be translated as: "Gone, gone, gone beyond, together gone beyond. Oh what an enlightenment! All Hail!"

         Usually mantras are not translated because of the sound effect of the original language. The vibrations from the sound  create certain beneficial effects for the mind and body.

          In the above mantra, the word "bodhisvaha" is pronounced  as "bodhi so ha." The "V" is pronounced as between a "V" and a "W."

         The word "Bodhisattva" should be pronounced as "bodi sat tua."  Some scholars erroneously think that it was an established practice in the past that when deciphering  names from Sanskrit into Latin during translation, that the letter "u" was written as "v."

         Actually the original Sanskrit writing was not "tua" but   "tv". The  combination of the  letters "tv" is pronounced as "twa" in a low tone.

       "Asuras" is a Sanskrit word which means demons that are against goodness. "Gandharvas" refers to the deities who are  in charge of music for the Buddha. "Tathagatha" is the title of a buddha, literally meaning  "as if has come (or gone: tatha agatha)."

                    ==========   End of Annotation  by Joe Hing Kwok Chu =========


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