15 May 2015

The Heart Sutra in Middle Chinese

Mantra of the Heart Sutra
in seal script
The Art of Calligraphy
Most people will know by now that the Heart Sūtra,《心經》  Xīnjīng, or Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya was composed in China using chunks of text from Kumārajīva's early fifth century translation of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrika-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, i.e. 《摩訶般若波羅蜜經》T 223; combined with a dhāraṇī similar to that found in a translation of the Mahāmegha Sūtra, i.e. 《大方等無想經》  T 12.387; and an introduction featuring the bodhisattva par excellence, Avalokiteśvara or 觀自在 Guānzìzài.† As such the language of the Chinese text dates from what has been called the late Medieval period in China (600-1000 CE.) or a little before.

When we look at the Chinese versions of the text they are written in Chinese characters or 漢字(Hànzì). These same characters are still in use, mostly unchanged after all this time. One occasionally finds that characters that have become archaic, or taboo, or that have shifted in meaning, but on the whole the Heart Sutra Hànzì have not changed. But what has changed considerably is the pronunciation of the characters. The language of the Medieval period is known as Middle Chinese and it is very different from Mandarin and other modern Chinese languages. The Indian parallel is Middle-Indic of which Pāḷi is the best known example. Middle Chinese is still in the same language family as Mandarin, so have many of the same features such as use of tones, monosyllables, and grammatical relations. The differences include different tones and many different syllable final sounds including more use of consonants (similar to Cantonese). Buddhist Chinese also features transliterations of Prakrit and/or Sanskrit words, e.g. 般若波羅蜜多 bōrě-bōluómìduō for prajñā-pāramitā; and some transliteration/translation hybrids, e.g. 舍利子 Shèlìzi for the name Śāriputra, where 舍利 transliterates Śāri and 子 translates putra. Some of these transliterations only make sense in Middle-Chinese, eg Buddha is regular transliterated as 佛陀 Fótuó, nowadays almost always abbreviated to 佛 Fó. This makes more sense when we realise that in Middle Chinese 佛陀 was pronounced like bjut ta.

A number of schemes exist to transcribe Chinese using Roman letters. So we see 心 written as xīn, hsin, shin, etc. Most commonly these days scholars use the Pinyin system, which was proposed by the Chinese Government in the 1950s (fact check) and represents the Beijing accent. Pinyin can be used with diacritics to indicate tone, but is often used without (resulting in considerable ambiguity). It can sometimes be difficult to know which scheme scholars used in the past, because they almost never specified. The introduction of Unicode, making it easy to include non-Roman and non-standard characters in an electronic document, has greatly facilitated communication about these subjects because it is now easy to include Chinese characters in publications.

If you look up the Chinese pronunciation of the Xīnjīng you will almost always find the modern Mandarin transcription of the characters, rather than the pronunciation of the time it was composed. Mostly one sees the Mandarin version, or sometimes a Cantonese version. A character like 心 'heart' is pronounced xīn in Mandarin and sam in Cantonese, but was sim in Middle Chinese. Note that in Middle Chinese the relationship to Tibetan becomes more clear in this case. The corresponding Tibetan word is sems (pronounced sem) and a Proto-Sino-Tibetan root has been reconstructed as *siǝm. Tibetan sems, like Chinese 心 (below), is used to translate the Sanskrit word citta.

The pronunciation of earlier phases of Chinese is not obvious because the writing system was not phonetic. However pronunciation can be inferred from rhyming patterns in poems, and especially from the Chinese own attempts to analyse these in rhyming dictionaries from as early as the Sixth Century. Wikipedia has a reasonably good article on reconstructing old Chinese. It's important to remember also that Middle-Chinese was not one language or dialect, just as modern written Chinese can represent different dialects, so can Middle-Chinese. Thus one reconstruction is not going to represent all possible dialects or even all accents, just as English spelling does not.

There are various modern reconstructions of Middle Chinese pronunciation from written sources. I'll be basing this reconstruction on the book by Baxter & Sagart (2014) which contains 5000 characters. These authors insist on a number of caveats. Firstly there notation is not a definitive guide to pronunciation, but a transcription scheme like Pinyin. They do admit, "in most cases we can be confident that the distinctions [in the system] are not artificial and existed in some variety of Chinese at the time". Other authors have attempted a true phonetic reconstruction, but Baxter & Sagart remain wary of such efforts and suggest that a great deal more research would be required for a true phonetic reconstruction. (2014: 12). In addition Baxter and Sagart chose chose their notation to be ASCII friendly - i.e. so that it would be virtually independent of electronic platform.

The traditional way of describing a character is in terms of initial sound, final sound and tone. Middle Chinese tones don't correspond simply to Mandarin. There were four tones, though it's not entirely certain how these sounded:
平 píng  < bjaeng 'level'     - no mark
上 shǎng < dzangX 'rising'    - final X
去 qù    < khjoH  'departing' - final H
入 rù    < nyip   'entering'  - final -p -t or -k.
Initial glottal stop is indicated with an apostrophe. More information on the pronunciation of the reconstructions, and comparisons with other systems of reconstruction, can be found on the Wikipedia Middle Chinese page, The Baxter-Sagart transcription scheme can be found in the Wikipedia Reconstructions of Old Chinese page. Baxter and Sagart's tables are online here.

The text reconstructed below is 《心經》 T 251, attributed to Xuanzang (玄奘). The Chinese characters are followed by the Pinyin romanisation, the reconstructed Middle Chinese, and finally my translation. At the end I'll include the Middle Chinese version as a whole. Where a character's pronunciation has not been reconstructed by Baxter & Sagart, I've looked at Pulleyblank (1991), Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (which includes Middle Chinese pronunciation but no source information), and the Wiktionary entry (which includes information from a variety of named sources) to get an alternative and used red text to indicate these.

Given the state of our knowledge, there are inevitably some gaps and some uncertainties regarding tone. I think such a project will be intrinsically interesting and those with knowledge and skill will hopefully take up this first effort and improve on it.

† Avalokiteśvara is better known in Chinese by the translation used by Kumārajīva: 觀世音 Guānshìyīn 'watching the sounds of the world' (cf T 250). This was shortened to 觀音Guānyīn. It is sometimes said to be because of the death of the Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty (唐太宗; 599-649) to avoid uttering one of the characters in his personal name 李世民 Lǐ Shìmín. This is a traditional form of Chinese taboo, but that it applies in this case is disputed. Indeed the word 世 'world' is so common it would be hard to avoid it completely. The form 觀自在 Guānzìzài ('watching one's existence') was introduced by Xuánzàng. However they may also reflect a change in the underlying Sanskrit name, dating from about the 5th century. The name was originally Avalokita-svara ('examined sounds') and changed to Avalokita-īśvara 'examined lord'; a-ī > e according to Sanskrit rules) after the figure absorbed some of the attributes of the god Śiva, including the epithet Īśvara.

Xīn jīng
Sim keng
Heart Sutra

觀自在           菩薩    行   深   般若波羅蜜多             時,
guān zì zài     pú sà, xíng shēn bō rě  bō luó mì  duō shí
kwan dzijH xawX bo sal hang syim ba nya ba ra  mil da  dzyi
When Avalokiteśvara bodhisattva practiced the deep perfection of wisdom,

照     見    五   蘊   皆    空,     度  一   切     苦   厄 。
zhào   jiàn wǔ   yùn, jiē  kōng    dù  yī   qiè   kǔ   è
tsyewH kenH nguX on,  keaj khuwng, duH 'jit tshet khuX 'eak
He saw the five aggregates as completely empty, and overcame all states of suffering.

舍利子           色    不   異    空,    空      不   異  色;
Shè lì zi       sè   bù   yì   kōng,   kōng   bù   yì  sè;
syaeX lijH tsiX srik pjuw yiH  khuwng, khuwng pjuw  yiH srik
Śāriputra, form is not different emptiness, emptiness is not different form

色   即    是     空,     空     即     是    色。
Sè   jí   shì    kōng,   kōng   jí    shì   sè. 
srik tsik dzyeX  khuwng, khuwng tsik  dzyeX srik  
Form is empty, emptiness is form.
* Middle Chinese uses the same character 空 for empty and emptiness. The Sanskrit mss sources disagree on the correct interpretation of this line
受、    想、    行、  識,   亦   復     如  是。
Shòu,  xiǎng, xíng, shi,  yì   fù    rú  shì
dzyuwX sjangX hang  syik, yek   bjuwH nyo dzyeX.
Vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra, & vijñāna, are the same

舍利子        是    諸   法    空     相,
Shè lì zi   Shì   zhū  fǎ   kōng   xiāng,
syaeX lijH tsiX dzyeX tsyo pjop khuwng sjang
Śāriputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness;

不    生     不    滅,   不    垢  不    淨,    不    增    不   減。
bù   shēng  bù    miè,  bù   gòu bù   jìng,   bù   zēng  bù   jiǎn.
pjuw sraeng pjuw  mjiet pjuw gu  pjuw dzjengH pjuw tsong pjuw heamX
not born, not dying; not dirty, not clean; not increasing, not diminishing

是     故, 空     中      無  色,  無   受、   想、    行、  識;
Shì   gù, kōng   zhōng   wú  sè,  wú  shòu,  xiǎng, xíng, shi;
dzyeX kuH khuwng trjuwng mju srik mju dzyuwX sjangX hang  syik,
Therefore: in emptiness there is no form; no feeling, no thought, going? [choice], knowledge

無   眼、   耳、  鼻、   舌、  身、  意;
Wú  yǎn,   ěr,  bí,   shé, shēn, yì;
mju ngeanX nyiX bjijH zyet  syin  'iH
No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;

無  色、  聲、    香、    味、   觸、    法;
Wú  sè,  shēng, xiāng, wèi,  chù,    fǎ;
mju srik syeng  xjang   mjəjH tsyhowk pjop
No colour, sound, smell, taste, touch or dharmas.

無   眼     界,  乃    至     無   意  識   界;
Wú  yǎn    jiè,  nǎi  zhì    wú  yì  shí  jiè;
mju ngeanX keajH nojX tsyijH mju 'iH syik keajH
no  eye-element, up to no mind-cognition element

無   無  明     亦   無  無  明      盡,
Wú  wú  míng   yì  wú  wú  míng   jǐn, 
mju mju mjaeng yek mju mju mjaeng tsinX
Also no ignorance of exhausting of ignorance.

乃    至     無  老    死   亦  無   老   死   盡;
Nǎi  zhì    wú  lǎo  sǐ   yì  wú  lǎo  sǐ   jǐn;
nojX tsyijH mju lawX  sijX yek mju lawX  sijX tsinX
And even no aging and death, no exhausting of aging and death

無   苦、 集、  滅、   道;  無   智,  亦   無  得。
Wú  kǔ,  jí,  miè,  dào;  wú  zhì,  yì  wú  dé.
mju khuX dzip mjiet dawH  mju trjeH yek mju tok
No suffering, cause, cessation or way.  No wisdom, also no attainment

以  無   所    得   故,菩提薩埵        依   般若波羅蜜多           故,
Yǐ  wú  suǒ   dé  gù, pútísàduǒ      yī  bōrěbōluómìduō       gù, 
yiX mju srjoX tok kuH bo-dej-sal-twa yiX ba nya ba ra  mil da kuH
Since nothing is attained, the bodhisattva reliant on perfection of wisdom,

心  無   罣   礙。 無  罣  礙   故, 無   有    恐       怖,
Xīn wú  guà  ài. Wú  guà ài  gù,  wú  yǒu   kǒng     bù, 
Sim mju gwae aemju gwae ae kuH, mju hjuwX khjowngX po,
his heart is without hindrance. Since he is not hindered, he is not afraid,

遠      離  顛   倒   夢      想 ,   究    竟      涅   槃。
yuǎn   lí  diān dǎo mèng    xiǎng, jiù   jìng    niè  pán.
hjwonX lje ten tawX mjuwngH sjangX kjuwH kjaengH yeol ban
far from upside-down  dreamlike thinking and finally attains  nirvana

三   世    諸   佛   依    般 若  波  羅  蜜  多  故,
Sān shì   zhū  fú   yī   bō rě  bō luó mì duō gù,
sam syejH tsyo bjut 'j+j ba nya ba ra  mil da kuH
All Buddhas of the three worlds depending on the perfection of wisdom,

得  阿  耨   多   羅  三  藐    三  菩 提。
de  ā  nòu  duō luó sān miǎo sān pú tí.
tok 'a nuwH da  ra  sam mak  sam bo dej
attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

故  知    般 若  波  羅  蜜  多,
Gù  zhī  bō rě  bō luó mì duō, 

kuH trje ba nya ba ra  mil da  
Therefore know the perfection of wisdom,

是    大    神   咒 ,  是    大   明      咒,
shì   dà   shén zhòu, Shì   dà   míng   zhòu,
dzyeX dajH  zyin ju    dzyeX dajH  mjaeng ju
is a great magical spell, is a great spell,

是     無   上     咒,  是    無  等    等     咒,
shì   wú  shàng  zhòu, shì   wú  děng  děng  hòu
dzyeX mju dzyangX ju   dzyeX mju tongX tongX ju
an unsurpassed spell, an unequalled spell.

能   除    一   切    苦    真    實   不    虛,
Néng chú  yī   qiè   kǔ   zhēn  shí  bù   xū
noj  drjo 'jit tshet khuX tsyin zyit pjuw khjo
It removes all suffering; it is truly real  not false ,

故    說  般 若  波  羅  蜜  多  咒。
Gù  shuō bō rě  bō luó mì duō zhòu,
kuH seol ba nya ba ra  mil da ju
Therefore, recite the perfection of wisdom spell.

即    說   咒   曰:
Jí   shuō zhòu yuē:
tsik seol ju  hjwot
That is to say the mantra which goes:

揭   帝   揭    帝   般   羅  揭   帝   般   羅  僧    揭  帝 
Jiē  dì   jiē  dì   bō  luó jiē  dì   bō  luó sēng  jiē dì 
gjet tejH gjet tejH puɑn la gjet tejH puɑn la seung gjet tejH
gate gate paragate parasamgate

菩 提  薩     婆    訶*
pú tí  sà  pó hē
bo dej sal ba xa
bodhi svaha

* Note. There are two different versions of the last word. The CBETA version of T 251 ends 僧莎訶 sēng shā hē, which is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word svāhāHowever the print editions of the Taishō notes that the Song, Yuan and Ming versions of the Tripiṭaka all had 薩婆訶  sà pó hē, where the two characters 萨婆 approximate the Sanskrit conjunct syllable sva. Since this makes for a better rendering of the Sanskrit svāhā, I've adopted it here.

Middle Chinese Heart Sūtra

Sim Keng
kwan dzijH xawX bo sal hang syim ba nya ba ra mil da dzyi
tsyewH kenH nguX on keaj khuwng, duH 'jit tshet khuX 'eak
syaeX lijH tsiX srik  pjuw  yiH khuwng, khuwng pjuw  yiH srik
srik   tsik dzyeX khuwng, khuwng tsik dzyeX srik 
dzyuwX  sjangX  hang syik, yek  bjuwH  nyo  dzyeX.
syaeX lijH tsiX dzyeX tsyo pjop khuwng sjang
pjuw sraeng pjuw  mjiet pjuw gu  pjuw dzjengH pjuw tsong pjuw heamX
dzyeX kuH khuwng trjuwng mju srik mju dzyuwX sjangX hang  syik,
mju ngeanX nyiX bjijH zyet  syin  'iH
mju srik syeng  xjang   mjəjH tsyhowk pjop
mju ngeanX keajH nojX tsyijH mju 'iH syik keajH
mju mju mjaeng yek mju mju mjaeng tsinX nojX tsyijH mju lawX  sijX yek mju lawX  sijX tsinX
mju khuX dzip mjiet dawH mju trjeH yek mju tok
yiX mju srjoX tok kuH bo-dej-sal-twa yiX ba-nya-ba-ra -mil-da kuH
sim mju gwae ae. mju gwae ae kuH, mju hjuwX khjowngX po,
hjwonX lje ten tawX mjuwngH sjangX kjuwH kjaengH yeol ban
sam syejH tsyo bjut 'j+j ba nya ba ra  mil da kuH
tok 'a nuwH da  ra  sam mak  sam bo dej
kuH trje ba nya ba ra  mil da
dzyeX dajH  zyin ju dzyeX dajH  mjaeng ju
dzyeX mju dzyangX ju dzyeX mju tongX tongX ju
noj  drjo 'jit tshet khuX tsyin zyit pjuw khjo
kuH seol ba nya ba ra  mil da ju
tsik seol ju  hjwot
gjet tejH gjet tejH puɑn la gjet tejH puɑn la seung gjet tejH bo dej sal ba xa



The Chinese text comes from the CBETA version of the Taishō edition of the Chinese Tipiṭaka.  
Baxter, William H. and Sagart, Laurent. (2014) Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford University Press.
Pulleyblank (1991), Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in early Middle Chinese, late Middle Chinese, and early Mandarin. University of British Columbia Press.
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