The following is an adaptation of the English translation of the Maha Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutta, aka the Heart Sutra, which comes from sacred Buddhist texts. It is connected to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who goes by different names depending on language and country (Chenrezig, Avolokitesvara, Guanyin). The Heart Sutra can be a personal meditation and/or a group meditation that is chanted.
Below is my adaptation, followed by a video of the mantra chanted by the Dalai Lama. That is followed by notes containing definitions for Buddhist terms and concepts. Following that, you will find videos of the Heart Sutra being chanted in English, and finally, a short video of Thich Nhat Hanh explaining the Buddhist understanding of emptiness.
This is a beautiful and powerful meditation practice that seeks to instill a profound sense of compassion, wisdom, freedom, and wholeness.
Complete Wisdom of the Heart
Adapted from English translations, by CS Sherin, WildClover.org
The Bodhisattva of Compassion, while practicing deeply the Complete Wisdom (about the true nature of reality: impermanence, suffering, non-self, emptiness) — realizes that the five types of clinging and craving (skandhas) are all equally empty (sunyata) — and is filled with compassion and freed from all suffering and distress.
Even the wisest on the path benefit from hearing: form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Form and formlessness are neither separate or individual. Everything, when seen as independent and separate, is empty. This is also true of feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness.
Even the wisest on the path benefit from hearing: all wise teachings (dharma) are marked with emptiness. They are mental concepts, not life or being. They neither appear or disappear, are neither tainted or pure, neither increase or decrease. Form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness; eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind, color, sound, smell, taste, touch, and objects and subjects of thought are all equally empty. They are empty, except as interdependent with all that is. It is the same with mind-consciousness and ignorance; and extinction of mind-consciousness and ignorance. It is the same with old age and death; and extinction of old age and death. All are equally empty. It is the same with awakening, origination, stopping, the path, cognition, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, being, non-being, purity and impurity, attainment and nothing to attain — all are equally empty.
The Bodhisattva depends on Complete Wisdom, and then the mind is freed from hindrances. Without any obstacles — the Bodhisattva is free from fear and delusion, and the Bodhisattva dwells in a state of nirvana. In Nirvana, the Bodhisattva realizes lasting joy and freedom that is the unchanging essence and true nature of reality. In a state of nirvana, the Bodhisattva walks the path of presence and compassion.
In the three worlds (desire, form, and formlessness), all Buddhas depend on the practice of Complete Wisdom (regarding the true nature of reality) and, in so doing, realizes the most complete and ultimate awakening and understanding possible — Buddhahood (Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi). Therefore, know that the Complete Wisdom of the Heart mantra is the great transcendent mantra, is the 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 perfected 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, Paragate, Parasamgate Bodhi. Svaha.~ Pranja Paramita Hrdaya
Complete Wisdom of the Heart mantra by CS Sherin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Main sources for the following information: Wikipedia, etymology dictionary, and dictionaries. Where dates or schools of thought are mentioned, the source is Wikipedia.
Dharma: Sankrit for cosmic law and order, phenomena, and the teachings of Buddha.
Bodhi: Sanskrit “to awaken” “awakening with understanding” “to understand”.
Svaha: marks the end of a mantra. Literally translated as “good, virtuous” and “to call”; literal translation: “well said” or “blessed/good words”, Tibetan translation: “So be it”. An expression or exclamation of joy, release, and blessing. Like the Hawaiian word “aloha”, there is not really a sufficient word for this in English. Pronunciation varies: “so-ha”, “sva-ha”, and “so-wah-kah”.
Paramita: Sanskrit for “perfected” or “completeness”.
Prajna: Sanskrit for “wisdom” —regarding true nature of reality, is implied. Aspects of the true nature of reality include: anicca (impermanence) dukkha (suffering/unhappiness), anatta (non-self) and sunyata (emptiness, voidness — unchanging essence that is a quality of all phenomena).
The Two Truths: the Heart Sutra is the Two Truths way, which say that the teachings — the Four Noble Truths/8-fold path/Dharma — are accurate descriptions of conventional truth, yet they are mere statements about reality, not reality itself. Therefore, they are not applicable to the ultimate truth, that is, by definition, beyond mental understanding. So, the Bodhisattva path relies on the perfection of wisdom (Complete Wisdom), which perceives reality directly without conceptual attachment, thereby transcending/transforming into a state of Nirvana, resolved and in touch with the true nature of reality.
Perfect Wisdom of the Heart aka Heart Sutra origins: the Mahayana “Great Vehicle” schools of Buddhism. Medieval India “Holy Mother of all Buddhas Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom” 8th cent. CE (700s). Long version studied by Tibetan Buddhist schools. Seen as daughter sutra of Prajnaparamita genre in Vajrayana tradition, passed down from Tibet. Earliest dated text: stone stele dated 661 CE at Yunju temple, part of the Fangshan Stone Sutra. Earliest undated: palm leaf manuscript found at the Joryu-ji temple, Sanskrit manuscript, dated to 7-8 cent (600s-700s) CE at Tokyo National Museum.
Buddhist context of meaning for “empty”: The word for emptiness is Sunyata, literally translated 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, attachment, reactions, clinging and craving. A middle way avoids the extremes of both rejection of the body, senses, being; and attachment to non-being etc. In the Buddhist Madhyamaka and Tibetan schools: empty is equivalent to saying that anything that is dependent on anything else is empty. There is no one separate thing in essence. In the Buddhist Hua Yen school: Everything is connected and interdependent. One thing contains all other things, 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. They are not considered individual or separate entities. 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/transformed within the full understanding and awakening to the 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 “heaps, collections, groupings”. The “aggregates” in Buddhism. The aggregates refer to the 5 kinds and groups of clinging (Panchaupadanakkhanda). The 5 body-mind parts that result in craving and clinging. The 5 parts of human existence: form (rupa), feeling (vedana), volition (sankhara), perception (samjna), and consciousness (vijnana). Suffering is ended by letting go of attachment to and rejection of these skandhas. The nature of all of the skandhas is innately empty of independent existence. The letting go of attachment and negative reactions to the skandhas is not a neutral stance, it is a resolve to live and dwell in a state according to the true nature of reality, which is not deluded or distorted by clinging and craving, and is not in bondage to cyclic ignorance, forgetting, and suffering.
Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi: Siddhartha Guatama, Buddha, achieved complete and full awakening and understanding — known as samyahsambodhi “Perfect Buddhahood” or anuttara-samyak-sambodhi “highest, utmost, or ultimate” “perfect or complete” “awakening” with wisdom and understanding.
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. Buddhism is founded on the life and teachings of the Buddha. It is thought that he lived and taught mostly in NE ancient India sometime circa 6-4 centuries BCE. Gautama taught the “Middle Way”— neither severe asceticism nor excess and indulgence. The Buddhist Middle Way also refers to a practice that avoids extremes through neither attaching to, or rejecting aspects of reality, such as: being/non-being and permanence/impermanence.
Core of earliest Buddha teachings/practices: Dhyana…the Buddha’s way to release/detach 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” and the Four Noble Truths are later additions, a later development in Buddhism.
Dhyana: (Sanskrit) is translated as a training of the mind, meditation; withdrawing the mind from automatic responses to sense-impressions, leading to a state of perfect calm and awareness. This the core practice of the earliest Buddhism — direct from Buddha. Buddha depended on and taught dhyana to detach and release. Meditations may include observing: the breath, the body and activities; loving-kindness, contemplation of the wheel of life/12-fold chain, mantras/chanting, and letting go/release of attachments. The observation of meditation avoids fighting or fixating on any one thought, feeling, or action. The observation allows for acceptance and space for what is, while also strengthening a deeper part of being that is connected to compassion and wellness of the present moment.
Nirvana: Sanskrit for “blown out” like a flame. It is the blowing out of the flame of base desires, which leads to freedom and release from bondage…a state of freedom, ultimate happiness, and liberation from a closed loop circle of repeating cycles of birth, forgetting, ignorance, life, suffering, death, and rebirth. Buddhist context: Nirvana is the realization of emptiness (sunyata), which is the end of karmic cycles by stilling the fires that make it continue. Nirvana is the unchanging and eternal essence of ultimate reality. There is then no need to attach to or reject a concept of self or soul or non-self. There is also an absolute absence of fear. There is complete joy, along with active compassion for others.
Bodhisattva: or Bodhisatta, is a person who is resolved in becoming a Buddha, having experienced bodhicitta (a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment, motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings and life, and a loss of attachment to illusions of attachment and wanting. A desire to replace others suffering with bliss. A motivation that leads to the path of being a Bodhisattva.) Buddhahood is for the benefit of all sentient beings and life. Various traditions within Buddhism believe in specific Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas appear across traditions, but due to language barriers, may be seen as separate beings. For example, Tibetan Buddhists believe in various forms of Chenrezig; who is Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit, Guanyin in China, Gwan-eum in Korea, Quan Am in Vietnam, and Kannon in Japan.