Heart Sutra

Translation and Commentary

Author : Red Pine

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Heart Sutra

Book Details

  • Publisher : Shoemaker & Hoard
  • Published : 2005
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 202
  • Size : 178 x 128mm
  • Category :
    Mahayana Buddhism: General
  • Catalogue No : 14388
  • ISBN 13 : 9781593760823
  • ISBN 10 : 1593760825

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Synopsis

New paperback edition. For this new work on the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, renowned translator Red Pine has utilized Sanskrit and Chinese versions, refining the teachings of the ancient masters together with his own contemporary commentary to offer a profound word-for-word explication.

The short text of the Heart Sutra is Buddhism in a nutshell. Its full title, Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra, or the Sutra of the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom, explains that this sutra contains the essence of the Buddha's teaching, the core of perfect enlightenment.

"A meticulous line-by-line interpretation that will radically deepen readers' understanding of not only the sutra but also Buddhism's underlying structure." Booklist.

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Introduction

THE Heart Sutra is Buddhism in a nutshell. It covers more of the Buddha's teachings in a shorter span than any other scripture, and it does so without being superficial or commonplace. Although the author is unknown, he was clearly someone with a deep knowledge of the Dharma and an ability to summarize lifetimes of meditation in a few well-crafted lines. Having studied the Heart Sutra for the past year, I would describe it as a work of art as much as religion. And perhaps it is one more proof, if any were needed, that distinguishing these two callings is both artificial and unfortunate. Whoever the author was, he begins by calling upon Avalokiteshvara, Buddhism's most revered bodhisattva, to introduce the teaching of Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Wisdom, to the Buddha's wisest disciple, Shariputra. Avalokiteshvara then shines the light of this radical form of wisdom on the major approaches to reality used by the Sarvastivadins, the most prominent Buddhist sect in Northern India and Central Asia two thousand years ago, and outlines the alternative approach of the Prajnaparamita. Finally, Avalokiteshvara also provides a key by means of which we can call this teaching to mind and unlock its power on our behalf.

With this sequence in mind, I have divided the text into four parts and have also broken it into thirty-five lines to make it easier to study or chant. In the first part (lines 1-11), we are reminded of the time when the Buddha transmitted his entire understanding of the Abhidharma, or Matrix of Reality, during the seventh monsoon following his Enlightenment. We then consider Avalokiteshvara's reformulation of such instruction to correct Shariputra's misunderstanding of it. The basis for this reformulation is the teaching of prajna in place of jnana, or wisdom rather than knowledge. Thus, the conceptual truths on which early Buddhists relied for their practice are held up to the light and found to be empty of anything that would separate them from the indivisible fabric of what is truly real. In their place, Avalokiteshvara introduces us to emptiness, the common denominator of the mundane, the metaphysical, and the transcendent.

In the second part (lines 12-20), Avalokiteshvara lists the major conceptual categories of the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma and considers each in the light of Prajnaparamita. Following the same sequence of categories used by the Sarvastivadins themselves, he reviews such forms of analysis as the Bodies of Awareness, the Abodes of Sensation, the Elements of Perception, the Chain of Dependent Origination, the Four Truths, and the attainment or non-attainment of Nirvana, and sees them all dissolve in emptiness.

In the third part (lines 21-28), Avalokiteshvara turns from the Sarvastivadin interpretation of the Abhidharma to the emptiness of Prajnaparamita, which provides travelers with all they need to reach the goal of buddhahood. Here, Avalokiteshvara reviews the major signposts near the end of the path without introducing additional conceptual categories that might obstruct or deter those who would travel it.

In the fourth part (lines 29-35), Avalokiteshvara leaves us with a summary of the teaching of Prajnaparamita in the form of an incantation that reminds and empowers us to go beyond all conceptual categories. This teaching has with good reason been called "the mother of buddhas." Having survived a yearlong journey through the jungle of early Buddhism to the secret burial ground of the Abhidharma, I would add that the Heart Sutra is their womb. With this incantation ringing in our minds, we thus enter the goddess, Prajnaparamita, and await our rebirth as buddhas. This is the teaching of the Heart Sutra, as I have come to understand it over the past year.

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