The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra with Annotation



Namo Fundamental Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha

Sutra Opening Gatha

The Dharma, infinitely profound and subtle,

Is rarely encountered even in a million kalpas.

Now we are able to hear, study, and follow it,

May we fully realize the Tathagata’s true meaning.

The Heart 1 of Prajna 3 Paramita 4 Sutra 2

Bodhisattva 5 Avalokiteshvara 6,

while deeply immersed 7 in prajna paramita,

clearly perceived the empty nature 8 of the five skandhas 9,

and transcended all suffering.

Shariputra 10! Form is not different from emptiness,

emptiness is not different from form.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

So it is with feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness.

Shariputra! All dharmas 11 are empty in character;

neither arising nor ceasing 12,

neither impure nor pure,

neither increasing nor decreasing.

Therefore, in emptiness, there is no form;

there is no feeling, conception, volition, or consciousness 13;

no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind;

no form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or dharmas 14;

no realm of vision, and so forth,

up to no realm of mind-consciousness 15;

no ignorance or ending of ignorance, and so forth,

up to no aging and death or ending of aging and death 16.

There is no suffering, no cause, no extinction, no path 17.

There is no wisdom and no attainment 18.

There is nothing to be attained.

By way of prajna paramita 19,

the bodhisattva’s mind is free from hindrances.

With no hindrances, there is no fear 20;

freed from all distortion and delusion,

ultimate nirvana is reached.

By way of prajna paramita,

Buddhas 21 of the past, present, and future

attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi 22.

Therefore, prajna paramita

is the great powerful mantra,

the great enlightening 23 mantra 24,

the supreme and peerless mantra.

It can remove all suffering.

This is the truth beyond all doubt.

And the prajna paramita mantra is spoken thus:

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha 25.

1. Heart Sutra. The short title of this most popular and important sutra. It contains the very essence of the vast body of wisdom teachings (prajna-paramita sutras) in Buddhism.

2. sutra 佛經. A Buddhist scripture containing the dialogues or discourses of the Buddha.

3. prajna 般若. Great transcendental wisdom; wisdom from understanding the truth; wisdom of understanding the empty nature of the ‘self’ and all phenomena; wisdom that can overcome birth-and-death and all suffering, and enlighten all beings.

4. paramita 波羅蜜多. Perfection, the practice that can bring one to liberation. Literally, “to the other shore.” To become a buddha, the bodhisattva practices the six paramitas: perfection of charity (dana), moral conduct (sila), tolerance (ksanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana), and, most important of all, wisdom (prajna).

5. bodhisattva 菩薩. One who, with infinite compassion, vows to become a buddha and to liberate countless sentient beings. A bodhisattva practices all six paramitas (perfections), but it is the prajna paramita that ultimately brings true liberation. Bodhi: enlightenment, to awaken. Sattva: sentient beings, beings with consciousness.

6. Avalokitesvara 觀自在,觀世音. This bodhisattva is considered the embodiment of the Buddhist virtue of compassion. Known as Guanyin in Chinese, this is the most beloved bodhisattva in Asia. The name means “perceiver of cries of the world” and “unhindered perceiver of the truth.” Thus this bodhisattva is able to help all sentient beings.

7. deeply immersed. Deep in the practice and understanding of the profound prajna paramita. It is not enough to understand prajna intellectually; one must practice it with the whole body and mind. Here ‘deeply’ means the understanding of not only the empty nature of the ‘self’ but also of all phenomena.

8. empty nature 空. Both the self and all phenomena are without independent existence or inherent, fixed characteristics. They are impermanent, mutable and mutually dependent; their individuality is in appearance only. Buddhism provides us with several classifications of phenomena to help us understand how ordinary people perceive the world. They are: the five skandhas, the twelve bases, and the eighteen spheres (see below). However, our perceptions of the world are founded on ignorance; therefore, these constructions are ultimately empty.

9. five skandhas 五蘊. Five aggregates—form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness (色受想行識). Form refers to our body or the physical world, the other four are of the mind. Ordinary beings see themselves as composed of these aggregates. When we analyze them deeper, we find no real substance.

10. Sariputra 舍利子,舍利弗. (Pronounced Shariputra). A senior disciple of the Buddha, known for his wisdom.

11. dharmas 法. “Dharma” (capitalized) means the Buddha’s teaching,the Law, the Truth; “dharmas” means things, phenomena.

12. neither arising … nor decreasing. By understanding the mutual dependencies and inter-connections of all things, one realizes that all creation and destruction, birth-and-death, good and bad, more and less, etc., exist in appearance only.

13. no form, feeling … This negation of the five skandhas is to point out that the superficial appearance and characters we are familiar with actually have no intrinsic substance. Form (physical matter) is energy, its appearance is an illusion of the perceiver; feelings are subjective; conceptions are mind-made; volition (will or intent which leads to action); and what we call consciousness are streams of thought based on deluded understanding of reality. There is no “self” to be found in form, feeling, conception, volition, or consciousness.

14. no eye, ear…or dharmas. Negation of the twelve bases (of consciousness) (十二處) which include six senses (六根) and six sense objects (六塵). The six senses are used to perceive the six sense objects and the result is our conception of the world. The six sense objects are also known as six dusts in Buddhism.

15. no realm of vision … no realm of mind-consciousness. Negation of the eighteen spheres (十八界), six senses, six sense objects, and six types of consciousness, that of vision, hearing, olfaction, taste, touch, and mind-consciousness. The eighteen spheres represent the way the deluded mind perceives and divides the world, and prevents us from seeing the unity and equality of all things.

16. no ignorance … no ending of aging and death. The twelve links of dependent origination (十二因緣) explain the process of the rebirth cycle. They are ignorance→ intentional action→ consciousness→ mind and form→ six senses→ contact→ feeling→ craving→ grasping→ being→ birth→ old age and death. However, from the view of absolute reality, the twelve links and their elimination (ending of …, which is needed to gain liberation from rebirth), are also empty. In fact, what we perceive as birth-and-deaths are actually delusions, so suffering is also empty.

17. no suffering, no cause, no extinction, no path. Since suffering is produced by ignorance and delusion, it is empty. The emptiness of suffering, cause of suffering, extinction of suffering, and the path is a higher understanding of the Four Noble Truths.

18. no wisdom and no attainment. Negation of the bodhisattva’s practice, in this specific case, wisdom. Wisdom overcomes ignorance and delusion. Since delusions are empty, so is wisdom. Nothing (which we do not already have) is gained by liberation. Buddha teaches that once we get to the other shore, there is no need to carry around the raft (the teaching) that got us there. The preceding three annotations are about letting go of the “rafts” of the “Three Vehicles”.

19. by way of prajna paramita… By the practice and profound understanding of the empty/interconnected/equal nature of all dharmas, which is prajna wisdom, one’s mind becomes freed from all delusions and abides in absolute peace and absolute bliss. This is called attaining nirvana.

20. there is no fear. Fear comes from misunderstanding and ignorance. With prajna wisdom, all fear is removed.

21. buddhas. “The enlightened one.” There are many buddhas in the past, present, and future; all sentient beings can become buddhas by practicing prajna paramita.

22. anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Anuttara: unsurpassed. Samyak sambodhi: right and comprehensive understanding (complete enlightenment). Unsurpassed complete enlightenment is the state of a buddha.

23. powerful, enlightening…. True wisdom liberates and empowers us. There is no higher wisdom than prajna, nothing can compare to it. There is no higher bliss than what prajna can bring.

24. mantra. “True words”, also a short phrase that contains much meaning. Mantras are usually left untranslated.

25. gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. This mantra basically means: go, go, go beyond, go completely beyond to complete enlightenment.