Saturday, February 19, 2011

the Heart Sutra (English/Chinese/Korean)

In the Mahayana tradition, there is a short (but sweet) Sūtra known in Sanskrit as Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya, the Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom, or simply, the Heart Sūtra.

Heart is meant more as "core", as in the core of perfect wisdom, but "heart" does have a nice ring to it! To fully understand the Heart Sūtra is to perfect transcendent wisdom. For this reason, there's not really much I have to say about it here, but rather, I would just really like to share it. For those of us not deeply immersed in Prajñāpāramitā, may reading it manage to fill our bowls, even if only one small drop at a time. If you'd like to know more, Wikipedia has some good information on the Heart Sutra, as well as links to further info and discussions, here.

As I became more immersed in Korean Buddhism, I learned that the Heart Sūtra was what I'd most likely been hearing when I visited temples in the evening and was intrigued by the chanting coming from within the halls. Eventually I discovered these thin, colourful, paper books for sale in the temple bookshops that had the sutras in Chinese and Korean characters. With the help of the little booklet, I was soon able to follow along with the monk and fellow practitioners chanting during evening ceremony. I realized, though, there was little point in chanting in Korean, not knowing the meaning in English.

I found a nice translation from the Rochester Zen Center;

The Bodhisattva of compassion
from the depths of prajna wisdom
saw the emptiness of all five skandhas
and sundered the bonds that caused him suffering.

Know then:
Form here is only emptiness,
emptiness only form.
Form is no other than emptiness,
emptiness no other than form.


Feeling, thought, and choice, consciousness itself,
are the same as this.
Dharmas here are empty, all are the primal void.

None are born or die.
Nor are they stained or pure,
Nor do they wax or wane.
So in emptiness no form, no feeling,
thought, or choice
nor is there consciousness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue,
body mind: no color, sound, smell, taste, touch,
or what the mind takes hold of, nor even act of sensing.
No ignorance or end of it
nor all that comes of ignorance:
no withering, no death, no end of them.

Nor is there pain
or cause of pain or cease in pain
or noble path to lead from pain,
Not even wisdom to attain,
attainment too is emptiness.

So know that the Bodhisattva
holding nothing whatever
but dwelling in prajna wisdom
is freed of delusive hindrance,
rid of the fear bred by it,
and reaches clearest Nirvana.

All Buddhas of past and present,
Buddhas of future time
through faith in
Prajnaparamita wisdom
come to full enlightenment.

Know, then, the Great dharani,
the Radiant, Peerless mantra,
the Supreme
Unfailing mantra,
the Prajna Paramita,
whose words allay all pain.
This is the highest wisdom
true beyond all doubt,
know and proclaim its truth:

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!

(Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment.)

And here is the Chinese and Korean version of the Chinese. In Korea, it is chanted in Chinese, but with a Korean accent. I've added the Korean one that I transliterated into English, for anyone else in Korea, or close to a Korean temple, who would like to try to follow along at a temple, someday;

Ma ha ban ya ba ra mil da shim gyeong

觀自在菩薩 行深般若波羅蜜多時 照見 五蘊皆空 度一切苦厄
관자재보살 행심반야바라밀다시 조견 오온개공 도일체고액
Kwan jajae Bosal haeng shim ban ya ba ra mil da shi joh gyeon oh ohn gae gohng doh il chae goh aek

舍利子 色不異空 空不異色 色卽是空 空卽是色 受想行識 亦復如是
사리자 색불이공 공불이색 색즉시공 공즉시색 수상행식 역부여시
sa ri ja saek bul yi gong gong bul yi saek saek jeuk shi gohng gohng jeuk shi saek su sang haeng shik yeok bu yo shi

舍利子 是諸法空相 不生不滅 不垢不淨 不增不減
사리자 시제법공상 불생불멸 불구부정 부증불감
sa ri ja shi jea beob gohng sang bul saeng bul myeol bul gu bu jeong bu jeung bul gam

是故 空中無色 無受想行識 無眼耳鼻舌身意 無色聲香味觸法
시고 공중무색 무수상행식 무안이비설신의 무색성향미촉법
shi goh gohng jung mu saek mu su sang haeng shik mu an yi bi seol shin eui mu saek seong hyang mi chohk beob

無眼界 乃至 無意識界 無無明 亦無無明盡 乃至 無老死 亦無老死盡
무안계 내지 무의식계 무무명 역무무명진 내지 무노사 역무노사진
mu an-gyae nae ji mu eui shik kyae mu mu myeong yeok mu mu myeong jin nae ji mu noh sa yeok mu noh sa jin

無苦集滅道 無智亦無得 以無所得故
무고집멸도 무지역무득 이무소득고
mu go jib myeol doh mu ji yeok mu deuk yi mu soh deuk goh

菩提薩埵 依般若波羅蜜多故 心無罣礙 無罣礙故 無有恐怖 遠離顚倒夢想 究竟涅槃
보리살타 의반야바라밀다고 심무가애 무가애고 무유공포 원리전도몽상 구경열반
bo ri sal ta eui ban ya ba ra mil da go shim mu ga ae mu ga ae goh mu yu gohng poh weon li jeon doh mohng sang gu gyeong yeol ban

三世諸佛 依般若波羅蜜多故 得阿耨多羅三藐三菩提
삼세제불 의반야바라밀다고 득아뇩다라삼막삼보리
sam seh jeh bulr eui ban ya ba ra mil da goh deuk ah nyohk da ra sam myak sam bo ri

故知 般若波羅蜜多 是大神呪 是大明呪 是無上呪 是無等等呪
고지 반야바라밀다 시대신주 시대명주 시무상주 시무등등주
goh ji ban ya ba ra mil da shi dae shin ju shi dae myeong ju shi mu sang ju shi mu deung deung ju

能除 一切苦 眞實不虛 故說 般若波羅蜜多呪
능제 일체고 진실불허 고설 반야바라밀다주
neung jeh il cheh goh jin shil bulr heo goh seol ban ya ba ra mil da ju

jeuk seol ju weol

揭諦揭諦 波羅揭諦 波羅僧揭諦 菩提娑婆訶
揭諦揭諦 波羅揭諦 波羅僧揭諦 菩提娑婆訶
揭諦揭諦 波羅揭諦 波羅僧揭諦 菩提娑婆訶

아제아제 바라아제 바라승아제 모지사바하
아제아제 바라아제 바라승아제 모지사바하
아제아제 바라아제 바라승아제 모지사바하

a jeh a jeh ba ra a jeh ba ra sung a jeh mo ji sa ba ha
a jeh a jeh ba ra a jeh ba ra sung a jeh mo ji sa ba ha
a jeh a jeh ba ra a jeh ba ra sung a jeh mo ji sa ba ha




  1. Great post! Very useful, and a brilliant image too. Plus - we chanted this very same Rochester Zen Center version of the Heart Sutra this morning in the opening ceremony of out Bangkok one-day workshop with Chong Go Sunim!

    The workshop, by the way, was magnificent. A really great day, inspiring and beautiful. You would have loved it. But I know you were there in spirit as it were, and this post just goes to prove it!

    Thank you Joseph, and with palms together,


  2. PS - and in the closing ceremony we used the Great Compassionate Dharani from the Thousand hands of Compassion, which was very nice indeed and really complimented (and extended?) the Heart Sutra at the start.


  3. Chanted it earlier this morning (the Sino-Korean version)!

  4. Sounds really nice!
    I hope I get to hear more on Wake Up and Laugh!

  5. Wow!
    Seems like we were all on the same wave length today!

    Actually, to save time, I copied the Gwan Um School's Sino-Korean (in English) version, then changed the spelling a bit to match the way i felt it is pronounced here. (I hope that wasn't insincere of me!)

  6. I am not a practitioner of Buddhism, nor do I feel that I should be. Actually, I lack the capability. But I can say for sure that the Heart Sutra is the most powerful summation of what is finally true about existence that I, as a non-practitioner, have been able to find. It presents itself to me beyond my asking, and it never fails to instantly arrest my thought process and demand that I relinquish everything.

    I am working on it.

  7. Thanks, Willie.

    Buddhism isn't about labels, anyway. Just doing what's right!

  8. Yes I love the Heart Sutra. Vietnamese temples recite it also very often. One time I was staying at a Vietnamese Temple, and they were reciting the Heart Sutra before teachings, and about 85% of the lay community knew it by heart and was reciting it. In the Tibetan tradition, it's also recited at the beginning to remove intereferences.

    Within the Tibetan tradition, Heart Sutra, like you said, represents a condensed version of the longer 100,000 verses Prajnaparamita, 25,000 and so forth. The wisdom teachings are presented as the explicit meaning of the Prajnaparamita, while the implicit meaning is the method aspect of the entire path to enlightenment. Various long and intricate commentaries alone on the method practice have been written, namely Ornament for Clear Realization and 70 Topics. I'm sure all of that is contained within the Heart Sutra itself, which is amazing I think

    I think if you even want to condense it further, everything within the entire path to enlightenment can be found within the mantra

    Tayata Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha