Sūtra of the Great Illumination Mantra of Mahā-Prajñā-Pāramitā
Bold textSūtra of the Great Illumination Mantra of Mahā-Prajñā-PāramitāBold text
Translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the Later Qin Dynasty
The Tripiṭaka Master Kumārajīva from Kucha
As Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva went deep into prajñā-pāramitā, he saw in his illumination the emptiness of the five aggregates, [the realization of] which delivers one from all suffering and tribulations.
“Śāriputra, because form is empty, it does not have the appearance of decay. Because sensory reception is empty, it does not have the appearance of sensory experience. Because perception is empty, it does not have the appearance of cognition. Because mental processing is empty, it does not have the appearance of formation. Because consciousness is empty, it does not have the appearance of awareness.
“Why? Because, Śāriputra, form is no different from emptiness; emptiness is no different from form. In effect, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. The same is true for sensory reception, perception, mental processing, and consciousness. Śāriputra, dharmas, with empty appearances, have neither birth nor death, neither impurity nor purity, neither increase nor decrease. Emptiness, the true reality, is not of the past, present, or future.
“Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, nor sensory reception, perception, mental processing, or consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mental faculty, nor sights, sounds, scents, flavors, tactile sensations, or mental objects; no spheres, from eye sphere to mental consciousness sphere. There is neither ignorance nor ending of ignorance, neither old age and death nor ending of old age and death. There is no suffering, accumulation [of afflictions), cessation [of suffering), or the path. There is neither wisdom-knowledge nor attainment because there is nothing to attain.
“Bodhisattvas, because they rely on prajñā-pāramitā, have no hindrances in their minds. Without hindrance, they have no fear. Staying far from inverted dreaming and thinking, they will ultimately attain nirvāṇa. Buddhas of the past, present, and future, because they rely on prajñā-pāramitā, all attain anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi.
“Hence, we know that the Prajñā-Pāramitā (Mantra) is the great illumination mantra, the unsurpassed illumination mantra, the unequaled illumination mantra, which can remove all suffering. It is true, not false. Hence the Prajñā-Pāramitā Mantra is pronounced. Then the mantra goes:
gate gate pāragate pāra-saṁgate bodhi svāhā ||”
Texts 250–55 and 257 (T08n0250–55, 257) are seven Chinese versions of the Heart Sūtra, and four of them bear the same name. Text 250 is the earliest translation, done by Kumārajīva (鳩摩羅什, 344–413). Text 256 is a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit text, phonetically rendered by the Chinese master Xuanzang (玄奘, 600– or 602–664), which matches his translation in text 251. Text 257 is the latest version, translated by Dānapāla (施護, dates unknown) from Udyāna (in northern India), who went to China in 980, during the Northern Song Dynasty. Based on different Sanskrit texts, these seven Chinese translations all include the same key message, starting with the words “form is no different from emptiness,” and ending with the mantra.
Sūtras 15–17 are English translations in one-to-one correspondence with texts 250–52, which were translated into Chinese respectively by Kumārajīva, Xuanzang, and Dharmacandra (法月, 653–743). Text 251, translated by Xuanzang, is the popular version that Chinese Buddhists recite from memory. It is the shortest version, a virtual excerpt of Text 250, translated by Kumārajīva. Text 252, translated by Dharmacandra, is the longest of the seven versions. Like Text 251, it has also adopted many words in the Kumārajīva translation.
There are many English versions of the Heart Sūtra, variously translated from Chinese, Sanskrit, and Tibetan texts. Text 251 alone has several English translations online. Also, Buddhist groups have their own in-house translations. It seems no one is satisfied with the available translations.
Each version of the Heart Sūtra states, “Dharmas, with empty appearances, have neither birth nor death, neither impurity nor purity, neither increase nor decrease.” This is the absolute truth that dharmas are empty and, in true reality, have no birth or death. For example, a dharma, whether each of the five aggregates, each of the twelve fields, each of the eighteen spheres, each of the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, or each of the Four Noble Truths, is in effect emptiness.
Furthermore, as dharmas in true reality are emptiness, emptiness is vividly manifested as dharmas. This is the Middle Way. Therefore, Bodhisattvas, with the understanding that there is nothing to attain, will still attain the ultimate nirvāṇa, verifying that there is nothing to attain. Such realization is prajñā-pāramitā, the wisdom that can cross one over to the shore of Buddhahood, with no fear or hindrance.