Translated from Chinese and annotated by the Chung Tai Translation Committee, August 2008
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, while deeply immersed in Prajna Paramita, clearly perceived the empty nature of the five skandhas, and transcended all suffering. Sariputra! 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.
Sariputra! All dharmas are empty in character; neither arising nor ceasing, neither impure nor pure, neither increasing nor decreasing. Therefore, in emptiness, there is no form; there is no feeling, conception, volition, or consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or dharmas; no realm of vision, and so forth, up to no realm of mind-consciousness; no ignorance or ending of ignorance, and so forth, up to no aging and death or ending of aging and death. There is no suffering, no cause, no extinction, no path. There is no wisdom and no attainment. There is nothing to be attained.
By way of Prajna Paramita, the bodhisattva’s mind is free from hindrances. With no hindrances, there is no fear; freed from all distortion and delusion, ultimate nirvana is reached. By way of Prajna Paramita, Buddhas of the past, present, and future, attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Therefore, Prajna Paramita is the great powerful mantra, the great enlightening mantra, 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
Annotation: Sutra: a Buddhist scripture, spoken by the Buddha or certified (to be true) by the Buddha.
Prajna: great transcendental wisdom, wisdom from understanding the truth, wisdom that can overcome birth-and-death, all suffering, and enlighten all beings.
Paramita: 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).
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.
Bodhisattva: one who vows to become a Buddha and, with infinite compassion, liberates 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.
Avalokitesvara: (s is pronounced “sh”), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who gave this discourse. Known as Guan-Yin in Chinese, this is the most beloved bodhisattva in Asia. The name means “perceiver of cries of the world,” or, “perceiving the originally free self-nature.”
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.
Empty nature: all things are without independent existence, consistency, or fixed characteristics. They are impermanent, mutable, mutually dependent; their individuality is in appearance only.
Five skandhas: five aggregates—form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness. Form refers to our body, the other four are of the mind. Ordinary beings take these aggregates to be the “self”. When we analyze them deeper, we find no real substance.
Sariputra: (pronounced Shariputra) A senior disciple of the Buddha, known for his wisdom.
Dharma: “Dharma” (capitalized) means the Buddha’s teaching, the Law, the Truth; “dharmas” means things, phenomena.
Neither arising … nor decreasing: By understanding the mutual dependencies and inter-connections of all things, one realizes that all the creation and destruction, birth-and-deaths, good and bad, more and less, etc., exist in appearance only.
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, intent which lead 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.
No eye, ear … : negation of the six senses. Used to perceive and understand the world, they actually mislead and limit our perception.
No form, sound … : the six sense objects are also not what they seem and are devoid of substance.
No realm of vision … no realm of mind-consciousness: negation of the eighteen spheres (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.
No ignorance … no ending of aging and death: negation of the twelvefold causal chain (ignorance->intentional action->consciousness->mind and form->six senses->contact-> feeling->craving->grasping->being->birth->old age and death) which explains the dependent arising process of reincarnation. From the view of absolute reality, the twelvefold chain and its elimination (ending of …, which is needed to gain liberation from reincarnation), are also empty. In fact, what we perceive as birth-and-deaths are actually delusions, so suffering is also empty.
No wisdom and no attainment: wisdom overcomes ignorance and delusion. Since delusions are empty, so is wisdom. Nothing (which we do not already have) is gained by liberation.
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.
There is no fear: fear comes from misunderstanding and ignorance. With prajna wisdom, all fear is removed.
Buddhas: “the enlightened one.” There are many Buddhas in the past, present, and future; all sentient beings can become Buddhas, by practicing prajna paramita.
Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi: anuttara: supreme, samyak-sambodhi: right and comprehensive understanding (complete enlightenment). The state of the Buddha.
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.
Mantra: “true words”, also a short phrase that contains much meaning. Mantras are usually left untranslated.
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha: this mantra basically means: go, go, go beyond, go completely beyond to complete enlightenment