27 September 2013

A New Sanskrit Heart Sutra

Knowing what we now know about the Heart Sutra we can begin to imagine how it came about. The text was almost certainly produced by a monk because it implies knowledge of the Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra and this implies written texts that would have been accessible, both physically and linguistically, only to monks. The monk may well have been engaged in copying the text.

The monk was, amongst other things, a devotee of Avalokiteśvara. The cult of Avalokiteśvara was widespread in China; however, the various schools of Buddhism were not so distinct as in India. Within a more generalised, less sectarian, Buddhism, any given monastery might have had an area of specialisation without a commitment to a particular Buddhists ideology. There is no implied contradiction in a devotee of Avalokiteśvara studying the Perfection of Wisdom tradition in the context of early medieval Chinese Buddhism (just as this would not pose a huge conundrum in the UK today). That said, the choice of Avalokiteśvara as the representative bodhisattva has produced a long tradition of puzzled commentators. 

As he copied Kumārajīva's translation of the Large Wisdom Sutra (T 233), the monk probably noted down some extracts. His notebook might have been paper if his monastery was wealthy. Perhaps he used the back of discarded practice sheets. Or it might have been strips of bamboo bound together. These extracts must have struck the monk as containing the pith or heart of the perfection of wisdom. He learned the lines by heart and began to recite them to himself. Later, using phrases also mainly drawn from the same text, he composed the praises to prajñāpāramitā which follow the main extract, and the introduction featuring Avalokiteśvara, who, for him, was the ideal bodhisattva. The chant began to circulate. As time went on, various positive events and occurrences became associated with chanting the text. It took on the role of charm. Or perhaps it was intended as a charm from the beginning, because we know that magic was and is a major part of traditional Buddhism.

From here we have some traditional narratives about the text and how it became associated with Xuánzàng. The story goes that while travelling in Sìchuān, Xuánzàng helped a sick monk and was given the Heart Sutra out of gratitude. It went on to be a favourite text and charm. It protected Xuánzàng from demons in the Gobi Desert on his trip to India, for example. Xuánzàng, or another Chinese monk who learned Sanskrit and went to India at around the same time, translated the text into Sanskrit. And, of course, in India the text was extended to create the long text that begins with the convention evaṃ mayā śrutaṃ...

In any case, the person who created the Sanskrit Heart Sutra was almost certainly a Chinese speaker who allowed fragments of Chinese grammar to remain in his translation - producing centuries of head scratching until 1992 when Jan Nattier pointed this out. The Sanskrit text was transmitted by being chanted and copied. Finally, in 1948, Edward Conze produced a critical edition of the text in Sanskrit based on a number of manuscript and epigraphical sources. This he revised in 1967, adding new manuscript sources, and again in 1975 for his commentary. However, Conze made some mistakes, and as Nattier identified in the original composition in Chinese, made some infelicitous choices so that the Sanskrit Heart Sutra that most people know is, in fact, in need of revision.

Below is a new Sanskrit text which includes all of the improvements to Conze's editions (1948, 1967, 1975) suggested to date by myself and Nattier (1992). I divide the text into 6 paragraphs. This structure is also somewhat different from Conze's as a result of reinterpreting the epithets of the 'mantra'. I've used full stops for the end of sentences and upper-case letters for the first words in sentences, but otherwise tried to keep punctuation and hyphenation to a minimum. This makes no accommodation to the non-Sanskrit reader, but the idea is to produce a text which conforms to the conventions of Romanised Sanskrit. It can be modified for readability later.

I hope to publish this result more formally at some point (the first step will be my article on the first para which is currently being reviewed by a journal). My Sanskrit is by no means good enough to claim that what follows is definitive. I know a few Sanskritists read my blog and I'm more than happy to get feedback on my linguistic choices. Ideally, such an edition would be accompanied not only by footnotes with all of the alternative readings from the mss., but with detailed arguments about why one reading is better than another. Some of those arguments have been made in the preceding essays, but a proper critical edition will have to wait until I can undertake the project on the proper footing. In addition, using the catalogue of the Nepalese-German Manuscript Cataloguing Project (NGMCP) I recently discovered that the University of Hamburg has a large cache of late Nepalese mss. of the long text Heart Sutra not used by Conze in his editions. It seems only right that these be examined and considered.

The Sanskrit is followed by my own translation, which uses conventions I've established over several years on this blog. In particular, I try to make it clear that the doctrine applies specifically to experience, in contradiction of the long Buddhist tradition which sees the doctrine as describing reality. Although it is possible to extend the domain of interest beyond experience, my belief is that the insights which characterise bodhi arise from investigation of experience. Apart from my idiosyncrasies as a translator, the differences will be much less obvious in translation, since most of the changes to the Sanskrit are, in effect, paraphrases.

Sanskrit Text


namas sarvajñāya
1. Āryāvalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo gambhīrāṃ prajñāpāramitācaryāṃ caramāṇo vyavalokayati sma pancaskandhāṃs tāṃś ca svabhāvaśūnyān paśyati sma. 
2. Iha śāriputra rūpaṁ śūnyatā śūnyataiva rūpam. Rūpān na pṛthak śūnyatā śūnyatāyā na pṛthag rūpam. Evam eva vedanā saṃjñā saṃskāro vijñānaṃ. 
3. Iha śāriputra sarvadharmāḥ śūnyatālakṣaṇā anutpannā aniruddhā amalā avimalā anūnā aparipūrṇāḥ. 
4. Tasmāc chāriputra śūnyatāyāṃ na rūpaṃ na vedanā na saṃjñā na saṃskārāḥ na vijñānam. Na cakṣur na śrotraṃ na ghrānaṃ na jihvā na kāyo na manaḥ. Na rūpaṃ na śabdo na gando na raso na spraṣṭavya na dharmaḥ. Na cakṣūrdhātur yāvan na manovijñānadhātuḥ. Nāvidyā nāvidyākṣayo yāvan na jarāmaraṇam na jarāmaraṇakṣayo. Na duhkho na samudayo na nirodho na mārgaḥ. Na jñānam. Na prāptiḥ. 
5. Tasmāc chāriputra aprāptitvād bodhisattvasya prajñāpāramitām āśritya viharaty acittāvaraṇaḥ. Cittāvaraṇanāstitvād atrastro viparyāsātikrānto nirvāṇaparyavasānam. Tryadhvavyavasthitāḥ sarvabuddhāḥ prajñāpāramitām āśritya anuttarāṃ samyaksambodhim abhisambuddhāḥ. Tasmāj jñātavyam prajñāpāramitā mahāvidyā anuttaravidyā 'samasamavidyā sarvaduḥkhapraśamanaḥ samyaktvāmithyātvāt. 
6. Prajñāpāramitāyām ukto dhāraṇī tadyathā gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā 
prajñāpāramitāhṛdayam samāptam


Title: word sūtra is not included because it is not found in most of the mss. or canonical versions of the short text. The short text is arguably not a sūtra, though that title could be claimed by the long text. Instead, the genre of the text is hṛdaya, 'gist or essence', or as some of the Nepalese long text manuscripts would have it, dhāraṇī. Titles of Sanskrit texts are, in fact, usually given in the colophon. The title of the long text various considerably and the word sūtra is rarely used:
  • Nb ārya prajñāpāramitā-hṛdayaṃ
  • Ne ārya-pañcaviṃśatikā-prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya nāma dhāraṇī
  • Nh ārya-śrī-pañcavinsatikā-prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya nāma dhāraṇī
  • Nk pañcaviṃśatikā-prajñāparamitā-hṛdayaṃ
  • Ce aryrā-pañcaviśatikā prajñāpāramitā-hṛdayaṃ
  • Jb prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya-sūtraṃ
Note that the tradition itself has already clocked the relationship to Pañcaviṃśati. It seems that individual lineages of transmission, or perhaps individual scribes, had considerable influence over title and maṅgala.

Maṅgala: the maṅgala favoured by Conze, oṃ namo bhagavatyai āryaprajñāpāramitāyai, is found in the long texts and in Nepalese mss. Strictly speaking sandhi demands that bhagavatyai become bhagavatyā (ai + ā > ā + ā). Conze's maṅgala is not found in any short text or the Japanese mss. which have this shorter, more common maṅgala. There is no oṃ in the maṅgala because this was an anachronism for the time. Probably oṃ was originally a mis-reading of the symbol known in Tibetan as yimgo 'head letter' (See Beginning and End Markers in Buddhist Texts). None of the Chinese canonical versions include a maṅgala. Sarvajñā 'omniscience' is a frequent topic in the Prajñāpāramitā texts.

1. Corrected according to my observation of an error in Conze's text. Specifically, vyavalokyati sma is a transitive verb and has pañcasakandhān (accusative plural) as its object. In other words, Avalokiteśvara was examining the five branches of experience when he saw no svabhāva in any of them. This is consistent with Chinese versions. The correction obviates the need for any punctuation in the Sanskrit because phrase boundaries are clearly marked in other ways such as the placement of caramaṇo and ca. On the translation "five branches of experience" see Pañca-skandha: Etymology and Dynamics. My formal write up of this material, including a detailed comparison of Sanskrit mss. and Chinese and Tibetan canonical versions has been submitted to a journal for review. 

2. This passage remains intact, though it is significantly different from the Pañcaviṃśati as pointed out by Nattier (1992). The phrases yad rūpaṃ sā śūnyatā yā śūnyatā tad rūpam are missing from most mss. and have no counterpart in the Chinese canonical versions, thus are not included. Nattier makes the same amendment in her translation (155; 201, n.5; and 204, n.19).  In the Pañcaviṃśati, Śāriputra is, in fact, being addressed by the Buddha, though in the Gilgit ms. he is called Śāradvatīputra; this section begins evam ukte bhagavān āyuṣmantaṃ śāradvatīputram etad avocat 'That said, the Bhagavan said to Elder Śāradvatīputra.' The list of skandhas following evam eva is usually a long compound, and the mss. are divided over whether it is itaretara, and thus deserves a plural ending, -vijñānāni (Ja, Cce, Neh), or is a samāhara (an established set) and should take the neuter singular, -vijñānaṃ (Cg). Other alternative readings are -vijñāni śūnyāni (Nelkm); -vijñānāni śūnyatā (Nde); -vijñānaṃ ca śūnyatā (Jb). It seems the majority opt for itaretara and plural, but Conze opted for samāhara. As often as not, Pañcavimśati has vedanāsaṃjñāsaṃskārā vijñānaṃ, but when combining all together has examples of both, viz: rūpavedanāsaṃjñāsaṃskāravijñānāny (Dutt 1.252) and -esu (Dutt 1.148) vs vedanāsaṃjñāsaṃskārāvijñānam (Dutt 1.132). Un-compounding the terms is another possibility. 

3. Though sarvadharmāḥ śūnyatālakṣaṇā is not included in Pañcaviṃśati, it is in all versions of the Heart Sutra, including the Chinese. The jury is out on how to split this compound: śūnyatā-lakṣaṇā, 'marked with emptiness' or śūnyatā-alakṣaṇā, 'emptiness and unmarked'. My preference is for the former because it is consistent with the Chinese 空相 kōng xiāng 'marked with emptiness' (T 251) and more consistent with Prajñāpāramitā, generally. However, the Tibetan versions seem to have the latter interpretation (Silk 1994: 122-3, 176-7) The lack of this phrase means that in the Pañcavīṃśati the string of qualities beginning with anutpannā apply to emptiness (yā śūnyatā) rather than to all experiences (sarvadharmāḥ) which in some ways makes more sense: Gilgit: yā śūnyatā na sā utpadyate...; Dutt/Kimura śūnyatā notpayate... 

4. Amended by including na before all negated list items as per mss.: Ne, Nh, Nk, Jb, Ce, Cg. This is more idiomatic Sanskrit. Thus also in the Pañcaviṃśati (Gilgit ms. Folio 21v).

5. Niṣṭhānirvāṇa is replaced with nirvāṇaparyavasānam on the basis of studying Kumārajīva's translation of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra via the glossary produced by Seishi Karashima in comparison with the Sanskrit edition by Vaidya. The new version incorporates praises to prajñāpāramitā as vidyā, replacing word mantra with vidyā as per Sanskrit Aṣṭa and Pañcaviṃśati, thereby correcting a paraphrase that was confusing. Satyam amithyatvāt replaced by samyaktvāmithyātvāt as discussed in previous essay.

6. The word "mantra" replaced with dhāraṇī to reflect the nature of the item. Now a standalone chant with a bare introduction as the epithets clearly apply to the previous paragraph, not this one. On the dhāraṇī and my use of 'amen' to translate svāhā see The Heart Sutra Mantra.

Colophon. Traditionally, this is where a Sanskrit manuscript names the text. None of the short text mss. have 'iti' the end quotation marker, and thus it is left out here. In the long text this is at the end of the last paragraph and separated from the colophon by elaborate punctuation, e.g.
...bhagavato bhāṣitam abhyanandan iti || ༓ || ... 
[In the Triratna Order we erroneously incorporate iti into the colophon].


The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom

Homage to the Omniscient
1. Noble Avalokiteśvara bodhisattva, practising the deep practice of the perfection of wisdom, examined the five branches of experience and saw they lacked intrinsic existence.
2. Śāriputra, form is not one thing and emptiness another. Emptiness is not one thing and form another. Form is just emptiness. Emptiness is just form. So also for sensations, names, intentions, and discriminations.
3. Here Śāriputra, all experiences are marked with emptiness, they do not arise, do not cease, are not soiled, are not purified, do not decrease, and do not increase.
4. Therefore, Śāriputra, with respect to emptiness there is no form, no sensations, no names, no intentions, and no discrimination. No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. No form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touchable, no mental objects. No eye element, and so on, to no mind-discrimination element. No ignorance, no cutting off of ignorance, up to, no old-age & death and no cutting off of old-age & death. There is no disappointment, no cause, no cessation, and no path. No knowledge. No attaining.  
5. Therefore, Śāriputra, because of their state of non-attaining, the bodhisattva, relying on perfection of wisdom, dwells with an unobstructed mind. And because they have an unobstructed mind, they are unafraid and overcome perverse views, culminating in nirvāṇa. Having relied on the perfection of wisdom, all the Buddhas of the three times are fully and perfectly awakened. Therefore, the perfection of wisdom should be known as a great spell, an unsurpassed spell, a peerless spell that allays all suffering because it is true and not false.  
6. A Perfection of Wisdom chant goes: gone gone gone over gone over to the other side awake amen.
The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom concludes.



The yimgo character in the maṅgala (and discussion) requires the Tibetan Machine Uni font (PC, download here) or the Xenotype TB Tibetan New (Mac, download here). Unfortunately it's not part of the main Tibetan Unicode block and is not implemented in some of the standard Tibetan fonts, notably Microsoft's default Himalaya. These are useful fonts to have in any case, but there is an image of the basic yimgo in my essay about text markers if readers don't wish to install them. Other Tibetan fonts may include this symbol. 

  • Conze, Edward (1948) ‘Text, Sources, and Bibliography of the Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya.’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, April 80(1-2): 33-51.
  • Conze, Edward. (1967) ‘The Prajñāpāramitā-Hṛdaya Sūtra’ in Thirty Years of Buddhist Studies: Selected Essays. Bruno Cassirer, pp. 147-167.
  • Conze, Edward. (1975) Buddhist Wisdom Books: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra. George Allen & Unwin.
  • Dutt, N. Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: edited with critical notes and introduction. London, Luzac & Co, 1934.
  • Silk, Jonathan A. (1994) The Heart Sūtra in Tibetan: a Critical Edition of the Two Recensions Contained in the Kanjur. Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien.
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