The Great Heart Sutra of the Transcendental Wisdom to Reach the Other Shore
A Figurative Translation
A Bodhisattva named Avalokitesvara, meditating deeply on prajna-paramita,
perceived that the Five Skandhas are all equally empty, and thus overcame all
suffering and calamity.
Speaking to Sariputra, she said: Form is not other than emptiness; emptiness is not other than form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. The other four skandhas — sensation, perception, formations, and consciousness — are also thus.
Listen, Sariputra: in transcendental reality all dharmas are marked with emptiness: thus things are neither born nor destroyed; neither pure nor impure; neither increasing or decreasing.
In ultimate reality, the Five Skandhas do not apply: thus, there is no form, sensation, perception, formations, nor consciousness.
In ultimate reality, the Eighteen Dhatus do not apply: thus, there is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind; there are no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, or thoughts; there is no vision, audition, olfaction, gustation, tactition, or perception.
In ultimate reality, the Twelve Nidanas do not apply: thus, there is no ignorance, activity, consciousness, or modality, no senses, contact, perception, or desire, no attachment, becoming, birth, or age-death, and no ending of any of these.
In ultimate reality, the Four Noble Truths do not apply: thus there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinction of suffering, and no Eightfold Noble Path out of suffering.
In ultimate reality, the Eightfold Noble Path does not apply: thus, there is no Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration, nor Right Contemplation.
In ultimate reality, the Six Paramitas do not apply: thus there is no charity, discipline, tolerance, perseverance, meditation, or wisdom.
Thanks to prajna-paramita, Bodhisattvas understand that there can be no new attainment of enlightenment because originally there was only enlightenment. Thus, the mind of a Bodhisattva has no obstructions. Without obstructions, she has no fear. Free from delusion and illusion, she is able to reach the ultimate enlightenment called nirvana.
All of the Buddhas of the past, present, and future have relied on prajna-paramita to reach the supreme perfect enlightenment known as anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
Thus know that this Heart Sutra is a great divine mantra, a mantra of great clarity, an unsurpassed mantra, a mantra that has no equal. It can eliminate all suffering. This is the incorruptible truth, without falsehood. If you wish to chant a mantra of prajna-paramita, recite thus:
ga-te ga-te para ga-te para sam ga-te bodhi svaha.
anuttara samyak sambodhi – (Chinese: 阿耨多羅三藐三菩提): the perfect, unsurpassed enlightenment of a Buddha.
Avalokitesvara – (Chinese: 觀 世 音 Guan Shi Yin or 觀 自 在 Guan Zi Zai); The Bodhisattva of compassion. Known as “Guan Yin” in Chinese, and “Kannon” in Japanese. In India, Avalokitesvara was depicted as male, but in China, she is usually depicted as female. The changing gender of Avolitesvara points to the non-duality of cosmic reality, where there is no gender.
Bodhisattva – (Chinese: 菩 薩 Pu Sa); a highly developed spiritual being who has taken a vow to help all sentient beings to reach enlightenment. In Sanskrit, the word means “awake existence”.
Buddha – (Chinese: Fo 佛): any being who has become fully enlightened. In Buddhism, there are countless Buddhas of different ages and realms. The Buddha of our age is the historical Buddha named Siddhartha Gautama, who lived c. 563-482 BCE.
dharma – (Chinese: zhu fa 諸 法); in the context of the sutra, dharma means “things” or “phenomena”, but in the larger context of Buddhism it often refers to “the teachings of the Buddha”.
dhatus — The Eighteen Dhatus, or Eighteen Realms, arise because of and through the five skandhas. These realms can be divided into three groups of six: the six sense organs; the six sense objects, and the six sense consciousnesses. Each sense organs operates on an object, and thus creates a specific consciousness. The 6 sense consciousnesses arise because of the interaction between the six sense organs and their sense objects.
The 6 Sense Organs:
The 6 Sense Objects:
The 6 Sense Consciousness:
Visual sense, or vision
Sense of hearing, or audition
Sense of smell or olfaction
Sense of taste, or gustation
Sense of touch, or tactition
Eightfold Noble Path (Sanskrit: arya stanga margah; Chinese: Bāzhèngdào 八 正 道 ): the 4th of the Four Noble Truths, and the way to end the suffering in samsara. It is a practical way to live which involves understanding the dharma (the Buddha’s teachings), developing moral purity, and practicing meditation.
Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: Catvāri āryasatyāni; Chinese: Sìshèngdì, 四聖帝)
The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha): living in samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth) is suffering.
The Origin of Suffering (Samudaya): the cause of suffering is desire.
The Extinction of Suffering (Nirodha): to eliminate suffering, one must eliminate desire.
The Path out of Suffering (Magga): follow the Eightfold Noble Path
ga-te ga-te para ga-te para same ga-te bodhi svaha: a Sanksrit mantra that can be loosely translated as: “Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment, ah!”
Heart Sutra: (Sanskrit: Prajñāpāramitā Hrdaya Sutra; Chinese: 般若波羅密多心經 Bo re bo luo mi duo Xin Jing): one of the most popular sutras in Zen Buddhism revered for both its brevity and profundity. It belongs to a group of sutras known as the Wisdom Sutras. The version here is the most popular, and comes from the Chinese translation by Xuan Zang (596-664 CE).
mantra: a mystical syllable, phrase, or poem chanted in many religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. The most famous Buddhist mantra is “Om Mani Padme Hum”. In the context of the Heart Sutra, we have two mantras: the sutra itself, and the “ga-te” mantra at the end.
nidanas: the Twelve Nidanas, or the Twelve Links, is a Buddhist doctrine that explains how suffering is perpetuated through samsara (the cycle of birth and death). Each step in the twelve “links” is a consequence of the previous one.
Activity or action
Modality or Name-and-Form
The Six Senses
Perception or Sensation
Old Age & Death
nirvana (涅盤): the ultimate goal of Buddhism. The word literally means “no wind”, and describes an enlightened state of permanence, tranquility, and bliss.
paramitas: The Six Paramitas, or perfections of wisdom. In Buddhism, these are virtues that should be cultivated. In Mahayana Buddhism, The Six Paramitas are:
Charity, generosity, giving of oneself (Dana, 布施波羅密)
Discipline, morality, proper conduct (Sila : 持戒波羅密)
Tolerance, forbearance, acceptance (Ksanti : 忍辱波羅密)
Perseverance, diligence, effort (Virya : 精進波羅密)
Meditation, contemplation (Dhyana : 禪定波羅密)
Wisdom (Prajna : 智慧波羅密)
prajna-paramita (Chinese: 般若波羅密多): prajna means wisdom or understanding based on direct experience; the three characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism are compassion (karuna), wisdom (prajna), and emptiness (sunyata), all three of which are emphasized in the first line of the sutra. Prajna-paramita refers to the the transcendental wisdom leading to perfect enlightenment.
Sariputra (Chinese: She Li Zi 舍利子); a disciple of the historical Buddha.
skandhas (Chinese: wu yun五蕴); the five skandhas, or aggregates, that make up human existence:
form or matter (se色 )
sensation or feeling (shou受 )
perception or cognition (xiang想 )
mental formations (xing行 )
consciousness (shi 識)