The Heart Sutra

The following is an adaptation of the English translation of the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutta, aka the Heart Sutra, which comes from sacred Buddhist texts.

I adapted the Heart Sutra from English translations in order to help my own comprehension and practice. I did this with careful research, great care and respect. (For a more traditional English version, see the second to last video at the bottom of this page. That version was how I was first introduced to Buddhism, by my art mentor and friend. He had been a Buddhist monk in China, and later in life had a family in the USA, and still kept the practice at a personal level. At his memorial service we all chanted that version of the Heart Sutra in his memory.)

The Heart Sutra is connected to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who goes by different names depending on the language and country (Chenrezig, Avolokitesvara, Guanyin). The Heart Sutra can be a personal meditation and/or a group meditation that is chanted.

Following the Heart Sutra on this page, is a video of the mantra chanted by the Dalai Lama (on a loop). That is followed by notes containing definitions for Buddhist terms and concepts. Following that, you will find videos of the traditional Heart Sutra being chanted in English, and finally, a short video of Thich Nhat Hanh explaining the Buddhist understanding of emptiness. Understanding the Buddhist meaning of emptiness is integral to practicing this meditation. 🙂

This is a beautiful and powerful meditation practice that seeks to instill a profound sense of compassion, wisdom, freedom, and wholeness.

Heart-shaped, polished rose quartz. Photo by C.S. Sherin


The Heart of Complete/Transcendant Wisdom

Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya

Adapted from English translations, by C.S. Sherin

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, while practicing deeply the Complete Wisdom (about the true nature of reality: impermanence, suffering, non-self, emptiness) — becomes enlightened about the five aggregates (skandhas): form, sensation, thoughts/words, desires/habits, and consciousness–are all equally empty (sunyata), and is permanently freed from all suffering and illness.

Even the wisest on the path benefit from hearing: form and emptiness are a part of each other–form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Everything, when seen as independent and separate, is empty. This is also true of feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness (the five aggregates).

Even the wisest on the path benefit from hearing: all wise teachings (dharmas) are empty. They are mental concepts, not life or being. They neither appear or disappear, they are neither impure or pure, they neither grow or shrink. Form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness; eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind, color, sound, smell, taste, touch, and objects and subjects of thought and teaching are all equally empty. They are empty, except as interdependent with all that is. It is the same with the existence and ending of: ignorance, old age, and death. All are equally empty. It is the same with: suffering and the end of suffering, accumulating possessions and no possessions, attainment and nothing to attain, belief and non-belief, a path and no path — all are equally empty.

With nothing to possess, crave or cling to–Bodhisattvas depend on the practice of The Heart of Transcendent Wisdom. In this way, the Bodhisattva’s mind is freed from hindrances. Without any obstacles — the Bodhisattva is free from fear, illusion, and delusion, and dwells in a state of Nirvana.

In the three worlds (desire, form, and formlessness), all Buddhas depend on the practice of The Heart of Complete Wisdom (regarding the true nature of reality) and, in so doing, realize the most complete, enduring, and ultimate awakening and understanding possible — Buddhahood (Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi). Therefore, know that the Complete Wisdom of the Heart mantra is a great transcendent mantra, is a great radiant mantra — is the utmost, ultimate mantra — able to relieve all suffering. This mantra is true, and free from error. So then, proclaim the Transcendent Wisdom, proclaim the mantra that says:

Gone, Gone, Everyone Gone, Everyone Gone to the Other Shore of Awakening. Blessed words — so be it.
(repeat 4x or more)

Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi, svāhā.

~ Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya
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Complete Wisdom of the Heart mantra adaptation by C.S. Sherin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  

The Dalai Lama recites the Heart Sutra mantra: “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate bodhi. Svaha.”

Notes

Sources: Wikipedia, encyclopedias, etymology dictionary, and dictionaries. Where dates or schools of thought are mentioned, the source is Wikipedia. For complete information on the Heart Sutra, visit: encyclopediaofbuddhism.org/wiki/Heart_Sutra AND encyclopediaofbuddhism.org/wiki/Prajnaparamita

Dharma is Sankrit for cosmic law and order, phenomena, and the teachings of Buddha.

Bodhi is Sanskrit for “to awaken,” “awakening with understanding,” and “to understand.”

White water lily. Photo by C.S. Sherin

Svaha is a word used to mark the end of a mantra. The literal translations of svaha are: “good, virtuous,” “to call,” well said,” and “blessed/good words.” The Tibetan translation is: “So be it.” Svaha is an expression or exclamation of joy, release, and blessing. Like the Hawaiian word “aloha,” there is not really a sufficient word for the meaning in English. Pronunciation for this word varies. The Tibetan pronunciation is: “so-ha.” Other pronunciations include: “s-va-ha,” and “so-wah-kah.”

Paramita is Sanskrit for “perfected,” “transcendent,” and “completeness.”

Prajna is Sanskrit for “wisdom” (–regarding the true nature of reality–is implied). Aspects of the Buddhist concept for the “true nature of reality” include: anicca (impermanence) dukkha (suffering/unhappiness), anatta (non-self) and sunyata (emptiness, voidness).

The Two Truths: the Heart Sutta is known as the Two Truths Way. The Buddhist Two Truths Way states that the teachings — the Four Noble Truths, 8-fold path, and Dharma — are accurate descriptions/teachings, yet they are only statements about reality, not reality itself. Therefore, teachings aren’t applicable to the ultimate truth (absent of distortion/illusion/obstacles/delusions etc), which is, by definition, beyond mental understanding. Therefore, the Bodhisattva path relies on the perfection of or transcendent wisdom (Complete Wisdom), which perceives reality directly, unfettered and deep in the practices on the path of a Bodhisattva.

A polished heart-shaped stone. Photo by C.S. Sherin

Buddhist context of meaning for “empty”: The word for emptiness is Sunyata, and literally translates as “emptiness, voidness.” However, the Buddhist concept of sunyata isn’t literal, it is understood as: an unchanging essence of emptiness and non-being — a quality of all phenomena — with three different contexts of meaning. It can be: 1. A part of reality. 2. A meditative state or observation of experience. 3. A type of awareness, release, letting go/detachment from base desires, reactions, clinging and craving. (The Buddhist Middle Way avoids the extremes of both rejection of the body, senses, and being; and attachment to them). In the Buddhist Madhyamaka and Tibetan schools: empty is anything that is dependent on anything else, yet is being seen and treated as separate, is empty. There is no one separate thing/being, in essence. In the Buddhist Hua Yen school: Everything is understood to be connected and interdependent. One thing contains all other things, and all exist as one. Reality is a cosmos of infinite realms within and upon realms. Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh: upholds emptiness as a marker of interdependence, which he calls “interbeing.” For all that exists: being = inter-being. He explains that there is no separation between suffering and enlightenment, or between cause and effect. Cause and effect are understood to co-arise (samutpada) — everything is a result of multiple conditions. A cause is an effect, at the same time that an effect is a cause. This is a work and practice where duality is transcended and transformed within the full understanding/awakening to the “true nature of reality.”
See the following quote for context:

“Because Bodhisattvas are free from fear, they can help many people. Non-fear is the greatest gift we can offer to those we love….If we have practiced and have touched the ultimate dimension of reality….we don’t need to run away from our afflictions….We see that afflictions and enlightenment are one….when we have a true mind, the afflictions are no longer there….We are no longer afraid of birth and death because we have touched the nature of interbeing.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh: “Enlightenment” pg. 102. Compiled and edited by Melvin McLeod, Boston & London: Shambala Publications (2012).

Skandhas: are known as “heaps, collections, groupings.” They are called “aggregates” in English. The aggregates refer to the 5 kinds and groups of clinging (Panchaupadanakkhanda). They are the 5 parts of human existence: form (rupa), feeling (vedana), volition (sankhara), perception (samjna), and consciousness (vijnana). Suffering is ended by letting go of both attachment to, and rejection of these skandhas. The nature of all of the skandhas is emptiness. Meaning, all of our experience in this life is changing and interdependent –and is nothing/empty– when seen as independent and separate. The letting go of attachment and negative reactions related to the skandhas is not a neutral stance — it is a resolve to live and dwell in a state (of Nirvana), which isn’t deluded or distorted by clinging and craving, and isn’t in bondage to cyclic ignorance, forgetting, and suffering. Even the desire to attain Buddhahood is seen as an emptiness. The deep practice that leads to the resolve and presence of a Bodhisattva is described by the Dalai Lama as “warm-heartedness.”

Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi: Siddhartha Guatama, The Buddha, achieved complete and ongoing awakening and understanding — known as samyahsambodhi — “Perfect Buddhahood” — or anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, which is translated as “highest, utmost, or ultimate,” “perfect or complete,” and “awakening” (implied to be with wisdom/understanding). This is a permanent state of enlightenment, a state of Nirvana.

Guatama Buddha, born as Siddhartha Guatama, was a sage, philosopher, teacher, and spiritual leader. He was and is considered to have achieved a rare state of being — an ongoing and permanent enlightenment. Buddha became enlightened while meditating under a Bodhi (fig) tree. Buddhism is founded on the life and teachings of the Buddha. It is thought that he lived and taught mostly in NE ancient India (circa 6-4 centuries BCE). Gautama taught the “Middle Way”— which is neither severe asceticism nor excess and indulgence. The Buddhist Middle Way also refers to a practice that avoids extremes through neither attaching to, or reacting to/rejecting aspects of reality, such as: being/non-being and permanence/impermanence. The core of earliest Buddha teachings/practices is Dhyana…this was the Buddha’s way to Buddhahood, through meditative practices. Nirvana was a common term for the desired goal of Dhyana, but the original description of the Buddha’s path and approach is The Middle Way. Liberating insight, the Four Noble Truths, and other teachings are later additions to Buddhism. There are no written records about Guatama Buddha from his lifetime, or even centuries after. Emperor Ashoka’s pilgrimage to the Buddha’s birthplace (Lumbini, present-day Nepal) was documented during his reign circa 269-232 BCE.

Dhyana is Sanskrit for “a training of the mind” and “meditation.” Dhyana is the core practice of the earliest Buddhism — direct from Buddha. Buddha depended on and taught dhyana. Meditation was taught as the way to begin dwelling in Nirvana/liberation. Pali Canon, the earliest Buddhist Canon, contains many teachings from the Buddha about dhyana. Early texts teach dhyana as a full-body wakefulness that helps the mind to be freed, calm, and strong — in a new way. The ability to peacefully and compassionately observe and learn are benefits of the practice. Meditation takes many forms, and may include: observation of the mind, breath, body and activities. Meditation may also include: loving-kindness and contemplation of the wheel of life and 12-fold chain; mantras/chanting, and letting go/release of attachments.

Nirvana is Sanskrit for “blown out” — like a flame. It is meant as the blowing out of a flame that represents base desires which may result in freedom from: ill-will, negative thought patterns, distortion, clinging, craving, and cyclic (birth/death/rebirth) bondage to ignorance, forgetting, and/or suffering. Blowing out this flame leads to freedom and release from bondage. Nirvana is the realization of emptiness (sunyata), which is the end of karmic cycles. Nirvana is the unchanging and eternal essence of reality. Then, there is no need to attach to or reject a concept of self or non-self. It is an ongoing experience of complete wisdom, joy, and active compassion that is achieved through a deep/profound and ongoing practice.

Bodhisattva or Bodhisatta, is a person who is resolved to become a Buddha. This is because the person has experienced bodhicitta (a mindful dedication to awakening that is motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings–all life. It is a desire to replace the suffering of others with bliss. It is a motivation that leads to the path of being a Bodhisattva.) Mahayana Buddhism encourages everyone to seek to become bodhisattvas. Various traditions within Buddhism believe in specific Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas appear across traditions, but due to language barriers, may be seen as separate beings. For example, Avalokiteśvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Depending on the culture, this bodhisattva is male or female. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokitesvara is a female: Guanyin (Gwan-eum in Korea, and Quan Am in Vietnam). In Cambodia, he is Lokesvarak, and in Japan he is Kanzeon or Kannon. The Tibetan Buddhist female counterpart to Avalokitesvara is the Bodhisattva Tara — born from a lake formed from his tear drop. There are many versions of Bodhisattva Tara as well.


Chanting the Heart Sutra (standard English translation)

Emptiness is not nothing, teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh