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The Heart Sutra: An Introduction

Author: Yeshe Chodon
Published on: March 1, 2001

The text below is taken from this web site written by a teacher from Pusok Temple in Korea.

Heart of the Prajna-Paramita Sutra, also called Heart Sutra, is the shortest and the most popular sutra in Buddhism. If the six hundred volumes of the Maha Projna Sutra can be summarized by the Diamond Sutra in around 5000 words, then the Diamond Sutra can be summarized by the Heart Sutra in around 250 words.

The Heart Sutra is regarded as the summation of the wisdom of Buddha. It explains perfectly the teaching of non-attachment, which is basically the doctrine of emptiness.

I choose the Heart Sutra as this month's topic because it is such an essential Buddhist teaching. The Heart Sutra is a fundamental text in all Schools of Zen Buddhism. It is chanted daily in monasteries and Zen Centers around the World. It is also read and chanted by most of the Mahayana schools. In its prevalence, it is the equivalent of the Christian Lord's Prayer."So highly revered is this sutra that even the sound of it is believed to bring wisdom to those who hear it. The Heart Sutra crosses all boundaries and traditions."

However, it is a timely topic as well, because His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama will offer teachings in San Jose, CA on May 17, 18, 19 on the topic of the Heart. Sutra. Visit http://www.medicinebuddha.org/ for details on this event. Tickets are still available as of Feb. 17, 2001.

I attempt only to make the reader aware of the existence and significance of this Sutra and to list some sources for the text of the Sutra ( in many different languages) and sources of qualified commentary.

Text of the Sutra

There is an astonishing amount of bandwidth throughout the Web devoted to the Heart Sutra. The links in this article are just the beginning.

The Heart Sutra Home Pageis a good starting place because it provides many Heart Sutra Links and versions of the text in Tibetan, (PDF File, gifs, Word Document), English, Spanish, Sanskrit, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese.

Next you might want to visit http://www.dmcclanahan.com/hsutra.htm
Introduction to Heart of the Prajna-Paramita Sutra where the above quoted explanation appears again, and from where you can link to a version of the Sutra translated from the Chinese along with line-by-line commentary.

is a web site simply called Heart Sutra. Again, there is a brief explanation followed by the text of the Sutra. The Sutra, appears paradoxical at first: "form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form" can be daunting. But we come to see that this is a distillation of Buddhism so succinct and complete that indeed little can be added, and it is the study of the Sutra itself, with the help of a qualified teacher, that will bring about new understanding.

http://www.darkzen.com/zenmar/heart.html uses a Q and A format to illustrate main points of the Sutra. All rights are reserved, so I urge readers to visit this site.

Is an attracvtive web site featuring teachings of Geshe Michael Roach. The Sutra is presented in Tibetan characters with phonetics in English letters. The Tibetan characters are a SLOW load, but here we have a syllabus by which the concepts in the sutra are broken down for us. You can download MP3 files of Geshe Roach's teachings. But be aware they take a few hours apiece.


The book recommended for study in preparation for His Holiness' teachings on the Heart Sutra is: Mirror of Wisdom by Venerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen. It is available through Land of the Medicine Buddha. Visit http://www.medicinebuddha.org/registration.html and look for instructions to order the book toward the bottom of the registration form.

Profound Wisdom of the Heart Sutra: And Other Teachings by Bokar Rinpoche is a book available through Amazon.com. There is a good review on Amazon's web site which throws more light on the importance and meaning of the sutra.

Editorial Reviews -- Book Description
The reader of this book will discover three different and complementary teachings. First of all, a literal translation of the Heart Sutra followed by a commentary.

Perhaps the best known piece of literature expounding the Buddha's teachings, the Heart Sutra is read and chanted by most of the Mahayana schools (Great Vehicle). Within the teachings of Prajnaparamita (the Mother of all Buddhas), it is defined as the heart or essence of these teachings, as suggested by its title.

When we enter the path of Prajnaparamita, we soon discover that our biggest problem is that we see reality through the distortions created by our own mind. How can we approach outer and inner phenomena in a better way? This is precisely the subject of the Heart Sutra. Of course, this is not easy. Bokar Rinpoche offers a thorough explanation of the text in order to open and broaden our understanding. His teachings go further allowing us to taste the ultimate realization of Transcendent Wisdom, and showing us the nonreality of phenomena.

History of the Sutra

http://www.buddhanet.net/hartcom.htm PRAJNAPARAMITA HRDAYA SUTRA Translated by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang of the Tang Dynasty With Commentary by Grand Master Tan Hsu takes a glance at history of the Heart Sutra.

The Prajna literature is very extensive; it covers approximately twenty years of the Buddha's teaching career. The seven translations of the sutra display minor differences but the essential meaning was respected in each case. There is no major difference between the seven of them. According to the Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva's translation, this sutra was spoken by the Buddha.

The secrets of the Heart Sutra are revealed by experience, like Zen. Many masters do not seem to consider it necessary to expound upon the historical sources of this text, although they are certainly familiar with them.

But being a Western-trained left-brained linear thinker, I am increasingly curious about the history of this text. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/india/indiasbook.html is the Internet Indian History Sourcebook which provides exhaustive history of India and the thought conceived in India, conveniently organized by chronology. Buddhism is under the heading: "the Formation of Religious Traditions". But the links to the Heart Sutra, are links to the text, not to any chronological explanation of this text. I mention it here just to direct readers to this impressive storehouse of information.

The Heart Sutra by Dr. Peter Della Santina provides the scholarly overview I seek. This is a comprehensive, yet accessible and readable article. For example:

It is generally accepted by modern scholars that the Perfection of Wisdom discourses date to the beginning of the common era, and that they were among the first Buddhist texts translated into Chinese in the second century C.E. On the basis of this and additional evidence from India, we can confidently say that the Perfection of Wisdom literature is among the oldest available to us from any of the Buddhist traditions.

Dr. Della Santina further puts the teachings in the Sutra into the larger context of Buddhist teachings:

Emptiness is not a view. Emptiness is, in fact, a therapeutic device.... It is a corrective for the exclusively analytical view, which leaves us with a residual belief in the real existence of the elements of experience. Emptiness is a device that enables us to transcend this pluralistic belief in the independent existence of things

This is an extremely valuable article, but is best appreciated after gaining some background in the fundamentals of Buddhism.

Finally, but hardly least, His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama will give teachings on the Heart Sutra in San Jose for four hours each day, May 17, 18 and 19, 2001. Visit http://www.snowlionpub.com/pages/N52_10.html for details on this event which is sponsored by the Land of the Medicine Buddha.

Many hundreds of Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists are expected to attend along with persons from other cultures and traditions.

From my experience, the international appeal of the Dalai Lama makes his teachings especially exciting. There is a sense of spiritual union across so many national boundaries.

Details on this event and registration for the teachings at http://www.medicinebuddha.org/ Land of the Medicine Buddha which is the organization sponsoring His Holiness' upcoming USA tour. (A painfully slow load due to so many images, but an attractive web site with valuable information.) http://www.medicinebuddha.org/registration.html is the page for registration. As of Feb. 27, 2001, fixed seating is still available.

http://www.snowlionpub.com/pages/dlevents.html is His Holiness' worldwide schedule.

Peace to all!