New meetup: "The Heart Sutra"

From: Steven
Sent on: Saturday, January 21, 2012 2:08 PM

Hello friends,

At our next book group meeting we will be discussing "The Heart Sutra", a well known Mahayana Buddhist sutra.

From Wikipedia;

The Heart Sutra is a Mahayana Buddhist sutra. Its Sanskrit name Prajñaparamita Hrdaya literally translates to "Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom." The Heart Sutra is often cited as the best known and most popular of all Buddhist scriptures.

The Heart Sutra is a member of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñaparamita) group of Mahayana Buddhist literature, and along with the Diamond Sutra, is perhaps the most prominent representative of the genre.

The Heart Sutra is made up of 14 shlokas in Sanskrit; a shloka is composed of 32 syllables. In Chinese, it is 260 Chinese characters, while in English it is composed of sixteen sentences. This makes it one of the shortest of the Perfection of Wisdom texts, which exist in various lengths up to 100,000 shlokas. 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."

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. Conze estimates the sutra's date of origin to be 350 CE; some others consider it to be two centuries older than that. Recent scholarship is unable to verify any date earlier than the 7th century CE. The Chinese version is frequently chanted (in the local pronunciation) by the Chan (Zen/Seon/Thien) school during ceremonies in China, Japan, Korea, andVietnam respectively. It is also significant to the Shingon Buddhist school in Japan, whose founder K?kai wrote a commentary on it, and to the variousTibetan 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, the Buddha confirms and praises the words of Avalokitesvara, although this is not included in the preeminent Chinese version translated by Xuanzang. TheTibetan canon uses the longer version, 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.


This sutra has been translated many times through the course of history and has reached us through several languages and Buddhist traditions.  In Thich Nhat Hanh's book "The Heart of Understanding" he delivers this translation;


The Heart Sutra 

The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the five skandhas (aggregates) and found them equally empty.  After this penetration, he overcame all pain.

"Listen, Shariputra, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, form does not differ from emptiness, and emptiness does not differ from form.  The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formation, and consciousness."

"Hear, Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed, neither defiled, nor immaculate, neither increasing nor decreasing.  Therefore, in emptiness, there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor mental formations, nor consciousness; no eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind; no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realms of elements (from eyes to mind-consciousness); no interdependent origins and no extinction of them (from ignorance to old age and death); no suffering, no origination of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path, no understanding, no attainment."

"Because there is no attainment, the bodhisattvas, supported by the Perfection of Understanding, find no obstacles for their minds.  Having no obstacles, they overcome fear, liberating themselves forever from illusion and realizing perfect Nirvana.  All Buddhas in the past, present and future, thanks to this Perfect Understanding, arrive at full, right and universal Enligtenment."

"Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding is a great mantra, is the highest mantra, is the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of suffering, the incorruptible truth.  A mantra of Prajnaparamita should therefore be proclaimed. This is the mantra; Gate gate paragate parasamgate Bodhisattva."


The above account of the sutra has been given in its short form.  For a longer version, see the Tibetan to english translation at our message board here; "The Heart Sutra".

If you wish to discuss this Buddhist sutra with our group, please join us at our next meeting on Sunday the 29th of January!   You can RSVP here.  I will be posting the book voting page for our next book soon. If you wish to submit a candidate for a book, please let me know soon!



For additional reading or commentary see "Essence of the Heart Sutra; The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings".




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