31 July 2020

The Extended Heart Sutra: Enter Avalokiteśvara

We now move on to Paragraph E in Silk's study of the Tibetan Text. Please note my published corrections for this passage in Conze's edition (Attwood 2015). Also note that the same sentence appears in another variant in Paragraph I of Silk's edition.

In Recension One (R1) this passage involves a variant on the first paragraph of the standard text, in which Avalokiteśavara does the Prajñāpāramitā practice and notices the five branches of experience are absent. Note that in R1 there is no interaction between the Buddha and Avalokiteśavara. I will discuss Recension Two (R2) separately because the subject matter is so different there is no comparison. Overall there is a considerable amount of variation that is difficult to explain.

The following translations reflect my conclusions, so if they are different than you expect it might be explained in the following notes (or it might just be a mistake).

Recension One
T 253. 爾時眾中有菩薩摩訶薩,名觀自在。行深般若波羅蜜多時,照見五蘊皆空,離諸苦厄。
Moreover, at that time, in that congregation there was a bodhisatva-mahāsatva named Avalokiteśvara. When he practiced the profound Prajñāpāramitā he examined the five skandhas [and saw they were] all absent, and he was separated from all suffering and misery.

T 254. 時眾中有一菩薩摩訶薩名,觀世音自在行甚深般若波羅蜜多行時,照見五蘊自性皆空。離諸苦厄。
Moreover, at that time, in that congregation there was a bodhisatva-mahāsatva named Avalokiteśvara. When he practiced the profound Prajñāpāramitā he examined the five skandhas [and saw they were] all void of self-existence (自性), and [he] was separated from all suffering and misery.

T 255. 復於爾時,觀自在菩薩摩訶薩行深般若波羅蜜多時,觀察照見五蘊體性悉皆是空。
At that time, when Guānzìzài bodhisatva mahāsatva practiced the deep prajñāpāramitā, he examined and saw the five skandhas [and] their [self?] nature is, without exception, is absent.

T 257. 時,觀自在菩薩摩訶薩在佛會中,而此菩薩摩訶薩已能修行甚深般若波羅蜜多,觀見五蘊自性皆空。
Then, Guānzìzài bodhisatva mahāsatva dwelled amidst the assembly, and this bodhisatva mahāsatva was already capable of practising the very profound perfection of gnosis; he examined the five skandhas [and saw] the absence of essence (svabhāva).

Skt. tena ca samayena āryāvalokiteśvaro bodhisatvo mahāsatvo gambhīrāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryāṃ caramāṇaḥ evaṃ vyavalokayati sma pañca skandhāṃs tāṃś ca svabhāvaśūnyaṃ vyavalokayati [sma].
At that time, Ārya Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva practicing the practice with respect to the deep perfection of gnosis examined the five skandhas and [saw]* them as essenceless.

*reading vyavalokayati as paśyati sma

TibA. yang de'i tshe byang chub sems dpa' sems dpa' chen po 'phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa zab mo spyod pa nyid la rnam par lta zhing / phung po lnga po de dag la yang rang bzhin gyis stong par rnam par lta'o//
Now, at that time, the bodhisatva mahāsatva Ārya Avalokiteśvara, observing the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom, observed that even the five aggregates are intrinsically empty.

TibB. yang de'i tshe byang chub sems dpa' sems dpa' chen po / 'phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa zab mo spyod par rnam par blta ste / phung po lnga po dag la de dag ngo bo nyid kyis stong par rnam par blta'o//
Now, at that time, the bodhisatva mahāsatva Ārya Avalokiteśvara, observed the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom, and with respect to five aggregates observed that they are intrinsically empty.



T 253 and 254 have an extra phrase: lí zhū kǔ è 離諸苦厄 "apart/removed from all suffering and misery" means much the same as dù yīqiè kǔ è 度一切苦厄 "transcended all suffering and misery" in std text. Note that 苦厄 can be taken as one word (suffering) or two (misery and suffering).

The extra phrase is present in the Fangshan Stele, crafted in 661 CE (within about five years of the composition of the text) so we take it to be part of the original text. No other versions of the extended text in any language have this phrase and nor does any Sanskrit text, standard or extended. The translations of T 253 and 254 were, therefore, influenced by the standard text where other Chinese versions were not. We might infer in these cases that the translators understood the standard text to be authoritative.

Examining the Five Skandhas

The extended text has the same difference in sentence structure between the Chinese and Sanskrit texts that we see in the standard texts. In Sanskrit we have three verbal forms: caramāṇa, vyavalokayati sma, and vyavalokayati sma (Std and Para I: paśyati sma) but in Chinese we only have two: xíng 行 = caramāṇa and zhàojiàn 照見 = vyavalokayati sma.

Zhàojiàn 照見 doesn't really make sense as two standalone characters: zhào 照 means "shining, radiant; illuminate, make visible; reflection" and jiàn 見 is the usual verb "to see". This has led to some very odd translations such as "illuminatingly sees", where zhào 照 functions as an adverb. This is far from satisfactory and there is no consensus on how to translate it. If the two characters are a binomial reflecting the Sanskrit vyava√lok then we still have a problem with this as one phrase because the conclusion doesn't fit the premise.

I would like to propose a solution (suggested by the Sanskrit translation), which is that zhàojiàn wǔyùn jiē kōng 照見五蘊皆空 is, in fact, two phrases zhàojiàn wǔyùn 照見五蘊 "[he] examined the fives skandhas" and jiē kōng 皆空 "all void". The latter is minimal and requires us to interpolate much that we would naturally write in English or Sanskrit. Firstly it is implied that the skandhas were void or absent. Secondly the verb "to see" is implied by the context of the initial zhàojiàn 照見. If one looks, one sees something. All this can be left out in written medieval Chinese. Knowing that Sanskrit did not have this kind of flexibility, the Translator specified the verb paśyati sma. i.e. tāṃś ca svabhāvaśūnyan paśyati sma "And he saw them as lacking essence". I read the object here as tām "them" and svabhāvaśūnyan is a predicate of the object: so the basic sentence is tām paśyati "he saw them"

T 255 complicates matters somewhat: guānchá zhàojiàn wǔyùn tǐ xìng xījiē shì kōng 觀察照見五蘊體性悉皆是空. Guānchá 觀察 would seem to be a synonym of zhàojiàn 照見 and jiē kōng 皆空 is expanded out to tǐ xìng xījiē shì kōng 體性悉皆是空 "self-nature, without exception, is absence". Here tǐ xìng 體性 conveys svabhāva. In the standard Chinese text what Avalokiteśvara sees is jiē kōng 皆空 "all empty" or "all absent".

T 254 and T 257 also pick up the Sanskrit idea that the five skandhas are void of essence (i.e. svabhā-vaśunyan; zì xìng自性). It's possible T 255 intended this but a character got dropped because the text only has characteristic (xìng 性) but there are no text critical notes in the Taishō so this is speculative. T 253 has the same text as the standard version, i.e. jiē kōng 皆空.


The Sanskrit has gambhīrāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryāṃ caramāṇaḥ but from the standard text we expect gambhīrāṃ prajñāpāramitācaryāṃ caramāṇaḥ. Is this a mistake? And if so, what kind of mistake is it?
  1. is gambhīra an adjective of prajñāpāramitā or caryā?
  2. should prajñāpāramitā or caryā be compounded?
In Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā I can find many occasions on which gambhīra is obviously an adjective of prajñāpāramitā but none in which is it an adjective of caryā.

The present participle caramāṇa is not used in either Aṣṭasāhasrikā or Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, probably because it is the ātmanepada* (middle voice) form of the present participle and √car is usually parasmaipada (indicative), so that the expected present participle is carant (nominative singular caran) and this is the form we find throughout the two main Prajñāpāramitā sūtras. Although note that caramāṇa is found in the Ratnaguṇasamcayagāthā (not translated into Chinese till the 11th Century), the Mahāvastu, and in many Pāli suttas (although the of the ātmanepada conjugations generally in Pāli is minimal).
*ātmanepada verbs are used to refer to actions directed towards the speaker (ātmane) and parasmaipada verbs used to refer to actions directed towards another (parasmai). Although the semantic distinction is virtually lost in Classical Sanskrit, the conjugations remain and have to be learned.

With verbs of practice or training prajñāpāramitā regularly takes the locative, because it is the locus of that activity, i.e. prajñāpāramitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam, "he should train in perfect gnosis" and prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caran, "practicing in perfect gnosis". Etc.

In this context caryā means the program of practice of a bodhisatva (i.e. bodhisatvacaryā) which has several formulaic descriptions. The prajñāpāramitā-caryā is the program of practice associated with prajñāpāramitā which, thanks to Matt Orsborn, we now associate with the yoga of nonapprehension (anupalambhayoga).


The Tibetan rnam par lta would appear to be a counterpart of the Sanskrit vyavalokayati sma. And both TibA and TibB have this verb repeated when TibA has rnam par lta and TibB has rnam par blta, neither of which seems to be right. All Jonathan Silk (1994: 34) says about this is:
"Although grammars (for example Inaba 1986: 137) state that lta is a present and blta a future, if there is any correspondence with the Sanskrit we might expect blta (rather than the stipulated bltas) to be a past."
Inaba Shōju's study of classical Tibetan grammar is written in Japanese. So I cannot check to confirm this citation. But other sources confirm this observation. For example South Coblin (1976: 48) gives the paradigm as:
present: lta; perfect: bltas; future: blta; imperative: ltos.
Miller (1970) confirms but notes that some variations occur. The final-s is typical of the perfect, but not universal. Silk didn't offer any further explanation of the forms lta or blta in the Tibetan text when we expect bltas in both. He didn't resolve the problem but in his translations he translated what he expected to see (i.e. the past tense). This is odd because Silk is usually so particular and accurate, and his job as editor was to explain and resolve exactly this kind of problem. We're left with two recensions in Tibetan both seemingly with a different wrong tense (unless we read blta as a past perfect).

Note also that both TibA and TibB incorrectly separate out "closely examined" rnam par bltas from "the five skandhas" phung po lnga po with a punctuation marker or chad (/)
EDIT 6-8-20 A reader familiar with Tibetan suggests that the difference here is not so significant. blta and lta are pronounced the same. He suggests that since the time frame is established using the present form is understood as referring to the same period. 

Also in TibA, what on earth is zhing in the phrase rnam par lta zhing phung po lnga po?
EDIT 6-8-20 : according to a reader zhing here is "and". Which makes sense.

The mistake of having vyavalokayati sma twice when we expect paśyati sma the second time is also repeated here, though not in Paragraph I.

Recension Two

At this point R2 (T 252) is so different from R1 that we have to discuss it separately.
At that time, Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva was abiding seated with the others; rising up from his seat amidst the congregation, he went to visit the Bhagavan, on one side he joined his palms, bowed respectfully, gazing respectfully at the honoured face, he said this to the Buddha:
“Bhagavan, I want to preach to the bodhisattvas in this congregation the universal knowledge store, the heart of prajñāpāramitā. My only wish, Bhagavan, is that they will listen to me as I proclaim this exceptional (祕 ) summary of Dharma (法要).
At that time, the Bhagavan, using the wondrous Brahma voice, addressed Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva: “Sādhu. Sādhu, Mahākaruṇika. May they listen to your preaching and their congregations grow and be greatly illuminated.”
When this [was said], Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva, having received the permission of the Buddha, through the Buddha’s mindfulness, entered the wisdom light samādhi.
After he entered [samādhi] and settled, through the power of the samādhi practising the deep Prajñāpāramitā, he examined the five skandhas, each absent self-existence (自性).
Clearly this is not simply a variation on the same text. There is considerable variation in R1 but the versions are all apparently related, if only by similarity to the Std text. However, this story is very different. The Buddha is not in samādhi when Avalokiteśvara approaches him and they have a brief conversation which is entirely absent in R1 (consistent with the Buddha being in samādhi). Avalokakiteśvara seeks the Buddha's permission to teach and having been granted permission, it is he (Avalokiteśvara) that enters samādhi and has the insight that informs the rest of the text.

At this point the narrative (such as it is) begins to converge with R1, in that Avalokiteśvara converses with Śāriputra who asks a question and the reply constitutes the standard Heart Sutra.

My preliminary conclusion is that this is a separate attempt to extend the Heart Sutra. As we will see this thesis is supported by observations of the extended conclusion as well.


We see a lot more significant variation in this part of text and this entails developing more sophisticated explanations to account for them. I have sketched out some ideas of how we adapt the existing exegesis of this part of the extended text and the corresponding part of the standard text. In the case of the standard Heart Sutra, I think this helps to explain the differences between the Sanskrit translation and the Chinese source at this point in the text.

Chinese leaves out the verb meaning "see" because it is implied by the previous zhàojiàn 照見 "he examined". The Sanskrit and Tibetan texts definitely have the wrong verb (vyavalokayati for paśyati) but the canonical texts also seem to give this verb in the wrong tense, i.e. lta/blta, when we expect bltas. Although there is some suggestion that the final -s is sometimes left off the perfect making it look like a future.

I want to come back to the issue of the substitution of svabhāvaśūnyan for śūnyatā. In fact, the phrase svabhāvaśūnyan is absent from the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā. What we do find is the list of eighteen or twenty kinds of śūnyatā (we are concerned with 16, 17, and 18)
  1. Absence of internal dharmas (adhyātma-śūnyatā)
  2. Absence of external dharmas (bahirdhā-śūnyatā).
  3. Absence of internal-external dharmas (adhyātmabahirdhā-śūnyatā).
  4. Absence of absences (śūnyatā-śūnyatā).
  5. Great absence (mahā-śūnyatā).
  6. Absence of the absolute (paramārtha-śūnyatā).
  7. Emptimes of conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛta-śūnyatā).
  8. Absence of the unconditioned dharma (asaṃskṛta-śūnyatā).
  9. Limitless absence (atyanta-śūnyatā).
  10. Absence of dharmas without end or beginning (anavarāgra-śūnyatā).
  11. Absence of non-dispersed dharmas (anavakāra-śūnyatā). Sometimes avakāra-śūnyatā, avakārānavakāra-śūnyatā.
  12. Absence of natures (prakṛti-śūnyatā).
  13. Absence of all dharmas (sarvadharma-śūnyatā).
  14. Absence of specific characteristics (svalakṣaṇa-śūnyatā).
  15. Absence of non-apprehension (anupalambha-śūnyatā).
  16. Absence of non-being (abhāva-śūnyatā).
  17. Absence of being (svabhāva-śūnyatā).
  18. Absence of non-being and of being (abhāvasvabhāva-śūnyatā).
Here svabhāva is not being used in the Madhyamaka sense but as a contrast to abhāva "non-being". That is to say that svabhāva appears to be used in the sense of sabhāva "with bhāva" and abhāva means "without bhāva". In the list of four kinds of śūnyatā, svabhāva "self-being" is contrasted with parabhāva, literally "other-being"

But Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā is constantly telling us not to take these as metaphysics, for example:
abhāvasvabhāvaśūnyatā abhāvasvabhāvaśūnyatāyāṃ na saṃvidyate nopalabhyate, abhāvasvabhāvaśūnyatāpi yāvad adhyātmaśūnyatāyāṃ na saṃvidyate nopalabhyate. (PvsP1-2: 146)
"... the absence of being and non-being does not perceive or apprehende the absence of being and non-being nor are the other kinds of absence perceived or apprehended."
In other words whether or not something exists is not distinguished when all sense experience has stopped. Similarly with respect to the list of four kinds of absence, the Upadeśa says (using Lamotte's reconstruction of the Sanskrit):
  1. bhāvo bhāvena śūnyaḥ " being is absent from being"
  2. abhāvo ‘bhāvena śūnyaḥ " non-being is absent from non-being"
  3. svahāvaḥ svabhāvena śūnyaḥ "one's own being is absent from one's own being"
  4. parabhāvaḥ parabhāvena śūnyaḥ "the being of others is absent from the being of others"
We have to keep in mind that in all these discussions the point of view is that of the meditator who has undergone cessation (nirodha) and is dwelling the absence of sense experience (śūnyatā). This is an attempt at a phenomenological description presented in terms of an Iron Age religious worldview.

Given that the extended text is a third generation born from the Chinese Heart Sutra, we might expect a little less variation on the one hand and less slavish copying of mistakes on the other. We have to keep in mind that the number of people who knew any Sanskrit in China at any one time was always small and most of them would not have progressed much beyond beginners level.

The leap from having Chinese as a mother tongue to learning Sanskrit as a second language in adulthood is formidable. The two languages are about as different as human languages can be from each other. We see this in the differences between the Chinese phrase jiē kōng 皆空and the Sanskrit translation: tāṃś ca svabhāvaśūnyan paśyati sma. Although we now understand that we expected tāṃś ca śūnyatā paśyati sma. It is not the case that Sanskrit has rules and Chinese does not. Chinese simply has very different rules from Sanskrit. Something else to keep in mind is that the texts we encounter are literary and are unlikely to reflect how anyone spoke in any language at the time.



South Coblin, W. 'Notes on Tibetan Verbal Morphology.' T'oung Pao (Second Series). 62(1/3): 45-70.

Miller, Roy Andrew. (1970) 'A Grammatical Sketch of Classical Tibetan.' Journal of the American Oriental Society, 90(1): 74-96.

24 July 2020

The Extended Heart Sutra: The Buddha's Samādhi

Continuing my close reading of the extended text of the Heart Sutra, completing paragraph D in Silk's (1994) Tibetan edition. In this passage the Buddha enters a samādhi  (in Recension One). Recall that I am comparing:
  • Conze's edition of the Extended Text (with caution)
  • T 253, 254, 257 
  • TibA and TibB and Silk's indicative translations 
I will make a few remarks about T 252 but, as I said previously, it seems to me to be a separate recension, probably a separate attempt to extend the standard text. R2 starts to diverge from R1 at this point notably because the Buddha does not enter samādhi. This event is skipped and Avaklokiteśvara starts a conversation that goes in a wholly different direction until such time as it merges with the standard text. The ending is also very different. This will be more apparent in the next instalment. 

So the passage of interest in the texts that are under discussion are:

253  佛世尊即入三昧,名廣大甚深。
Buddha, Bhagavān, entered the samādhi named Vast and Extremely Profound.

254  世尊入三摩地,名廣大甚深照見。
the Bhagavān, entered the samādhi named Vast  and Extremely Profoundly Examined.

255  世尊等入甚深明了三摩地法之異門。
the Bhagavān, entered the  Profoundly Illuminated Samādhi and preached the Dharma. 

257  世尊即入甚深光明宣說正法三摩地。
the Bhagavān entered the Profound Illumination and Proclaiming the True Dharma Samādhi. 

Skt.  bhagavān gambhīrāvabhāsaṃ nāma dharmaparyāyaṃ bhāṣitvā samādhiṃ samāpannaḥ| 
The Bhagavan, having taught a Dharma teaching, entered a samādhi named “profound illumination”

Tib A  de'i tshe bcom ldan 'das zab mo snang ba zhes bya ba chos kyi rnam grangs kyi ting nge 'dzin la snyoms par bzhugs so //
the blessed one was entered into the concentration of the preaching of the Dharma called “profound illumination” (Silk 1994: 172)

Tib B  de'i tshe bcom ldan 'das zab mo'i chos kyi rnam grangs snang ba zhes bya ba'i kyi ting nge 'dzin la snyoms par zhugs so //
the blessed one was entered in the concentration called “Illumination of the Profound Preaching of the Dharma”. (Silk 1994: 173)

The Name of the Samādhi


In the Sanskrit manuscripts the name of the samādhi is not given. The Buddha taught (bhāsitva) a dharma-paryāya or "Dharma teaching" called (nāma) "Profound illumination" (gambhīra-avabhāsa). Then, he "entered a samādhi" (samādhi saṃpannaḥ). The order of the actions is given by the gerund (bhāsitvā) which indicates an action preceding the main verb, which as here may be substituted with a past participle (saṃpanna). So the sequence is dharmaparyāyaṃ bhāsitvā then samādhi saṃpannaḥ. 

Bhāṣitva is not used in Pañcaviṃśati. Elsewhere we see it used with respect to a verse or some verses, i.e. gāthāṃ bhāṣitvā "having spoken these verses". For example, in the Ajitasenavyākaraṇa:
athāyuṣmān ānando bhagavata imā gāthā bhāṣitvā tūṣṇīṃ sthito 'bhūt / 
Having spoken these verses to the Bhagava, Elder Ānanda stood silently.  
However, this need not be significant. Because we know the extended text was composed after the standard text, probably not before the end of the 7th Century (neither Kuījī nor Woncheuk mention it). So whoever added the extra parts was using 8th Century Sanskrit, not 1st or 2nd Century Sanskrit. 

Dharmaparyāya in this context probably means practical instruction as opposed to an inspirational talk (dharmakathā) or doctrinal sermon (dharmadeśana). Some manuscripts have other names for the dharmaparyāya, notably the Hasedera manuscript (Jb) has gambhīra-avasaṃbodhaṃ though the latter part is not a real word.

In Buddhist Sanskrit is is common for both a dharmaparayāya and a samādhi to have a name. 


The distinction between dharmaparyāya and samādhi is not made in the Chinese except for T 255 which we know was translated from the Tibetan. In fact, the Chinese texts of R1 all seem to collapse this passage down to the Buddha entering a samādhi. In R2 he does not even do that.

T 253 and 254 call the samādhi (sānmèi 三昧, sānmóde 三摩地 ) "extensive" guǎng dà 廣大 (mahat, vaipulya) and "profound" shèn shēn 甚深 (gambhīra). We have a term corresponding to gambhīra but we don't have one that corresponds to avabhāsa (illumination). We might expect a word including the character guāng 光 such as guāngmíng 光明or guāngzhào 光照.

There are no text critical notes in either T 253 or 254 that might help explain this. The phrase guǎng dà shèn shēn 廣大甚深 is used fairly often, including in Xuanzang's Prajñāpāramitā translations. So it's not some random mistake, but there is some kind of misunderstanding at work here. 

In T 254, the addition of zhàojiàn 照見 onto guǎng dà shèn shēn 廣大甚深 is a puzzle. Zhàojiàn does occur earlier in the text as a binomial verb and thus doesn't seem to parse here. Possibly just a scribal error, but why was it not picked up as such?

T 255 and T 257 do a better job of conveying the Sanskrit, i.e. "profound (shèn shēn 甚深) illumination (míng liǎo 明了)" and "profound (shèn shēn 甚深) illumination (guāng míng 光明)". This is just what we expect.

T 255 mentions a dharmaparyāya (fǎ zhī yì mén 法之異門) although T 257 has a phrase that is similar, i.e.  xuān shuō zhèng fǎ 正法宣說 which means "proclaim the true Dharma" (saddharma) but appears to include this in the name of the samādhi.


TibA looks like a translation of the Sanskrit:
de'i tshe (at that time) bcom ldan 'das (bhagavan) zab mo snang ba (profound illumination) zhes bya ba (called) chos kyi rnam grangs kyi (of the dharma teaching) ting nge 'dzin la snyoms par bzhugs so (he entered the samadhi). 
Although this is more ambiguous than the Sanskrit, it appears that one could read it as saying the "concentration of the dharma teaching called..." as Silk (1994) has it. Perhaps his rendering of the particle kyi here is a little too literal (I see other options in my Tibetan dictionary).

The text of TibB has the same terms but they have been shuffled—four of the five syllables of the last phrase have moved forward into the middle of the first— and the result is less like the Sanskrit.
zab mo snang ba zhes bya ba chos kyi rnam grangs kyi
zab mo'i chos kyi rnam grangs snang ba zhes bya ba'i kyi
Now, I don't know Tibetan grammar or syntax, so I can't comment on which is the correct or better reading, but given that Silk translated both TibA and TibB without comment, I'm guessing that both versions make sense. Similarly, I'm not sure what the difference between zab mo and zab mo'i is. All I can do is a get a sense of the sentence construction and compare to the Sanskrit text. However, I think that the last kyi belongs to the phrase chos kyi rnam grangs (dharma-paryāya; dharma teaching). It seems to make less sense attached to zhes bya ba meaning "called, titled" etc and which comes after the name. In any case, TibA certainly follows the Sanskrit and the transposition in TibB would be a typical scribal error.

Whether the Tibetan was translated twice or once and then evolved into two recensions is moot. Silk notes that without a proper edition of the Sanskrit it's very difficult to understand the relationship of the Tibetan texts. We can provisionally say that Ben Nourse's unpublished work on the Dunhuang manuscripts suggests the existence to earlier Tibetan texts that correspond with the TibA and TibB. 


What can we say about this? At the beginning I stipulated that a Sanskrit text was likely the source for all the extant versions of the extended Heart Sutra. This conjecture is consistent with the Tibetan recensions, T 255 translated from Tibetan, and T 257 which all appear to be translations of something like the extant Sanskrit text though they are all confused about the distinction between having given a teaching (dharmaparyāyaṃ bhāsitvā) called Profound Illumination (gambhīrāvabhāsaṃ nāma) after which he entered samādhi (samādhiṃ samāpannaḥ).We can at least say that the grammar and syntax of the Sanskrit is all quite standard and parsable (unlike the standard version). 

The earlier Chinese texts present some problems. T 252 appears to be a different recension in which the whole subject of the Buddha's presence and his samādhi are handled very differently. T 253 and 254 concur with each other on the name of the samādhi but they do not concur with any other texts. Furthermore, there is something not quite right about the name of the samādhi in these text, although the term used is a common one. Whether something has been lost in translation or they had a different source text is not clear. 

Admittedly, this is one of the most problematic areas of the text and the confusion here is at something of a peak (even if we ignore T 252). As yet I see no simple explanation that would account for the differences. I see what look like scribal errors but too few to account for all the differences. I simply don't understand how we got from Sanskrit to Chinese (or vice versa since I have not ruled out this possibility) for this passage. 

The one positive is that the oddities in the texts are often individual to the texts and thus diagnostic. For any translation we should be able to see to which of our existing texts it was made. I can already reliably do this with the standard text, usually by reading the first paragraph.


17 July 2020

The extended Heart Sutra: Nidāna

I'm beginning a close reading of the extended text of the Heart Sutra. Having spent a good deal of time on the core section that it has in common with the standard version, I will be focused on the extra passages. 

We do not yet know in which language the Heart Sutra was extended. The traditional consensus is that the Chinese and Tibetan versions are translated from Sanskrit. This is plausible enough but we also know that the same consensus holds for the standard version and that it is incorrect in that case; the standard Heart Sutra was composed in Chinese. Part of the reason for doing a close reading of this text is to see if more information can be gleaned from the terms, the grammar and syntax, or the idiom of the various versions. 

As I have said there are two broad groups of texts:
Recension One
  • Sanskrit (with many variants)
  • T 253, 254, 257. 
  • TibA, TibB, T 255 (trans from Tib)
Recension Two
  • T 252.
Recall that TibA is in the Tantra section of the Kanjur and TibB is in the Prajñāpāramitā section.

Whoever created the extended Heart Sutra did so to supply certain missing elements that a sūtra was expected to have in Tang China. Of these some occur at the beginning in what is called the nidāna "basis" (or "frame" in English) and it is these elements that I will begin with. These elements are found in the beginning of paragraph D in Jonathan Silk's (1994) divisions of the Tibetan text (which I will be following in these essays):
  • the opening phrase "thus have I heard", 
  • a statement of the place and occasion for the teaching, 
  • a statement of who was in the audience, 
  • the presence of the Buddha or the Buddha's invitation to speak; 
In many Pāli texts, the Buddha is alone and the protagonists go to meet him and go through a familiar routine of greeting him, exchanging pleasantries, and then sitting off to one side and asking a question. In the Mahāyāna sūtras we usually find the Buddha already surrounded by followers. In the early Prajñāpāramitā texts it is only Arhats who are present, but gradually bodhisatvas are included. As we will see there is considerable variation amongst the different accounts in the Heart Sutras.  So our texts for this essay are:

Recension One

T 253: 如是我聞:一時佛在王舍城耆闍崛山中,與大比丘眾及菩薩眾俱。
Thus have I heard. At one time, the Buddha (佛) was in Rājagṛha on Vulture Peak Mountain, along with a great congregation of bhikṣus together with a congregation of bodhisatvas.

T 254: 如是我聞:一時薄誐梵住王舍城鷲峯山中,與大苾蒭眾及大菩薩眾俱。
Thus have I heard. At one time, the Bhagavan (薄誐梵) was in Rājagṛha on Vulture Peak Mountain, along with a great congregation of bhikṣus together with a great congregation of bodhisatvas. 
T 255: 如是我聞:一時薄伽梵住王舍城鷲峯山中,與大苾蒭眾及諸菩薩摩訶薩俱。
Thus have I heard. At one time the Bhagavan (薄伽梵) was in Rājagṛha on Vulture Peak Mountain, along with a great congregation of bhikṣus together with many bodhisatva mahāsatvas.

T 257: 如是我聞:一時,世尊在王舍城鷲峯山中,與大苾芻眾千二百五十人俱,并諸菩薩摩訶薩眾而共圍繞。
Thus have I heard. At one time, the Bhagavan (世尊) was in Rājagṛha on Vulture Peak Mountain, along with a great congregation of 1250 bhikṣus together with many bodhisatva mahāsatvas and together they circumambulated (圍繞). 

Skt: evaṃ mayā śrutam ekasmin samaye bhagavān rājagṛhe viharati sma gṛdhrakūṭe parvate mahatā bhikṣusaṃghena sārdhaṃ mahatā ca bodhisattvasaṃghena.
Thus have I heard, at one time the buddha was staying at Rājagṛha on the Vulture Peak together with a great congregation of bhikṣus and a great congregation of bodhisatvas. 

TibA. 'di skad bdag gis thos pa dus gcig na / bcom ldan 'das rgyal po'i khab bya rgod phung po'i ri la dge slong gi dge 'dun chen po dang / byang chub sems dpa'i dge 'dun chen po dang thabs gcig tu bzhugs te /
Thus I heard at one time: the Blessed One was staying on the Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha, together with a great assembly of monks, and a great community of bodhisattvas,

TibB. 'di skad bdag gis thos pa'i dus gcig na / bcom ldan 'das rgyal po'i khab na / bya rgod phung po'i ri la / dge slong gi dge 'dun chen po dang / byang chub sems dpa'i dge 'dun chen po dang / thabs gcig tu bzhugs te /
Thus it was at one time when I heard this that the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagṛha, on the Vulture Peak, together with a great assembly of monks and a great assembly of bodhisattvas,
TibA and TibB are more or less identical except for thos pa versus thos pa'i in the first phrase and an extra locative particle (na) on the end of rgyal po'i khab (Rājagṛha) in the second. It's not clear to me why Silk's two translations are so different given this relatively inconsequential difference in the sources.

The Tibetan and Himalayan Library expects 'di skad bdag gis thos pa dus gcig na /  "thus I have heard at one time" and thos pa'i seems to be an error, as pa'i is identified as a genitive case marker. All comments on Tibetan are provisional and have not been checked by a Tibetologist. 

Recension Two 
T 252. 如是我聞:一時佛在王舍大城靈鷲山中,與大比丘眾滿百千人,菩薩摩訶薩七萬七千人俱,其名曰觀世音菩薩文殊師利菩薩彌勒菩薩等,以為上首。皆得三昧總持,住不思議解脫。
Thus I have heard: At one time, the Buddha was in Rājagṛha on the mountain of Gṛdhrakūṭa, together with a great bhikṣusaṃgha of 100,000 and 77,000 bodhisatva mahāsatvas in all, those named Avalokiteśvara Bodhisatva, Mañjuśrī Bodhisatva, Maitreya Bodhisatva, were the leaders.* All had attained the samādhi of always remembering, and abided in inconceivable liberation.
Possibly Maitreya was "at the head" (yǐ wéi shàng shǒu 以為上首), cf. Conze's translation of  Pañcaviṃśati: "and Maitreya the Bodhisattva, the great being, at the head of many hundred thousands of niyutas of kotis of Bodhisatvas." (1975: 38).

Given that niyuta and koti are straightforwardly "a million" and "100 million" (Hindi crore), I'm not sure why Conze didn't translate them. Admittedly we don't have a word corresponding to crore but "billion" would suffice given the context. Conze almost always opts for obfuscation to highlight the perception of mysticism. But worse, I fear he has simply translated the passage incorrectly because the word he translates as "head" pramukhair is in the instrumental plural. It cannot be referring to Maitreya. In refers rather to the bodhisatvas in their masses. Pramukha means "facing; foremost, principal etc.". In Sanskrit the passage is maitreyeṇa ca bodhisatvena mahāsatvena, evaṃ pramukhair anekair bodhisattva-koṭī-niyuta-śata-sahasraiḥ sārdham. "and together with Maitreya Bodhisatva Mahāsatva. Thus [the] foremost many hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of bodhisatvas".

Note also that the last sentence is not found in any other Heart Sutra text.


The term bodhisatva-saṃgha strikes me as unusual. This is at least in part because the Buddhist saṃgha has four parts: bhikṣu, bhikṣunī, upāsaka, upāsikā or in the vernacular, monks, nun, laymen, and laywomen. The mahāyāna bodhisatva was a new invention that did not fit into the traditional social distinctions and, at least in theory, could be drawn from any one of the four traditional groups. T 255 omits saṃgha for the bodhisatvas even though both Tibetan recensions have the equivalent, i.e. byang chub sems dpa'i  dge 'dun. However, the impression appears to be incorrect. In Chinese the phrase púsà zhòng 菩薩眾 occurs in a number of translations including Karuṇā-puṇḍarīka-sūtra and throughout Xuanzang's Prajñāpāramitā translations (T 220).  If anything the phrase púsà mó hē sà zhòng 菩薩摩訶薩眾 is even more common especially in T 220. And it is used repeatedly in the Sanskrit text also. 

While most of the texts do not mention numbers, which many sūtras do, some of them add numbers. It's a distinctive feature of Buddhist sacred texts that if a scribe feels like it they can just alter details like this. Mostly the texts just say "with a large" saṃgha, i.e. 大比丘眾, mahatā bhikṣusaṃghena sārdhaṃ,  dge slong gi dge 'dun chen po dang. T 257 adds the detail that the bhikṣusaṃgha was 千二百五十人俱 "one thousand, two hundred, fifty men in all". T 252 (R2) which is supposed to be the earliest Chinese translation completed in 741 CE, has the most elaborate with 100,000 百千 bhikṣus and 七萬七千 77,000.

Chinese numbers are mercifully simple after the duodecimal numbering system of Indo-European numbers. By this I mean that we have individual names for the first 12 numbers and only then revert to a standardisation of larger numbers in decimals... eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen. Sanskrit has quite a few oddities, twenty is not a combination of 2 dva and 10 daśa but viṃśati. This inconsistency is seen across Indo-European and is conjectured to have existed in Proto-Indo-European as wīḱṃt- where 2 is *d(u)wo- and ten is *deḱṃ(t). The decade numbers all have ḱṃt for our English -ty (Latin ginti). In Sanskrit wīḱṃt-  the standard transitions—ḱ → ś and ṃ → a—gives us *wīśṃt(i) and metathesis → wīṃśat(i). In Sanskrit w and v are homophones. 

There is more confusion however, because 19 can be nava-daśa but it can also be ūnaviṃśati or twenty minus one, where ūna means "diminished" (in the Heart Sutra all dharmas are said to be an-ūna "undiminished"). Past 100, one can write eka-śataṃ "one and a hundred" or one can write ekādhikaṃ śataṃ "one hundred exceeded by one". Worse still the names of numbers change form so 2, 20, 102, 200 are dva, viṃśatidvādaśa, dviśataṃ, and dve śate. 3, 30, 103, 300 and tri, trayodaśa, triśataṃ, trīṇiśatāni. 6 is ṣaṣ but 16 is ṣoḍaśa. Sometimes numbers are only distinguished by accents in Vedic and these are lost in Classical Sanskrit, so we have dvíśatam 102 and dviśatám 200. And of course, being adjectives, numbers take the gender of the noun they describe.

The higher numbers are 1000 sāhasram, 100,000 lakṣa (Hindi lakh), 1,000,000 niyutaṃ, and 10,000,000 koṭi (Hindi crore).

In Buddhists texts the way the count of people is usually phrased is a certain number of hundreds of them. There is a special way of writing 1250 which is "13 minus a half times a hundred", i.e. "twelve and a half hundreds". So the Aṣṭasāhasrikā opens with the Buddha
mahatā bhikṣusaṃghena sārdham ardhatrayodaśabhir bhikṣuśataiḥ
together with a large bhikṣu-congregation consisting of thirteen minus a half hundreds of bhikṣus.
I'm not sure what the significance of this number 1250 is but it crops up quite a few times in this context.
  1  一  yī 
  2  二  èr
  3  三  sān
  4  四  sì
  5  五  wǔ
  6  六  liù
  7  七  qī
  8  八  bā
  9  九  jiǔ
10  十  shí

Chinese numbers are fully standardised - the digits are given on the right. To make larger numbers they are just combined logically. Twenty is èr shí 二十. 99 is jiǔshíjiǔ 九十九. They have signs for 100 bǎi 百 and 1000 qiān 千. The largest number word is wàn 萬 meaning "ten thousand" but also "myriad, innumerable".

It's as if in English we counted one, two, three... ten, ten-one, ten-two, ten-three... two-ten, two-ten-one, two-ten-two, two-ten-three... and so on up to nine-ten-nine, hundred. It's sometimes said that the relative simplicity of Chinese numbers gives children who speak one of the Chinese languages an advantage in maths, but this could be urban legend. Still, I find this standardised system very attractive, just as I admire the way Sanskrit is written as it is pronounced.

There are a number of ways of writing bhagavān in Chinese, i.e. it can be transcribed as 薄誐梵 MC bwɑk̚ ŋɑ bɨɐmH or  薄伽梵 bwɑk̚ ɡɨɑ bɨɐmH, or translated as (Pinyin) shìzūn 世尊. (Note the superscript H indicates the "departing" tone). These differences are inconsequential, although they do show that even has late as the 8th and 9th Centuries translations were not standardised and individual translators still felt free to choose their own way of doing things. In the past I've argued against this as it puts the reader at a disadvantage if they have to remember multiple ways of referring to the same concept. And in Buddhism where every technical term seems to have at least two different meanings, things are already confused enough.

There are also two different ways of writing bhikṣu, i.e. bǐqiū 比丘 (MC piɪX kʰɨu) and bìchú 苾蒭 (MC biɪt̚  t͡ʃʰɨo). Note the superscript X indicates rising tone. The spelling bǐqiū 比丘 is more common but looks like it might reflect a Middle Indic form like Pāli bhikkhu (the /kʰ/ sound is what we expect for /kh/ in Pāli). Gāndhāri shows a lot of variation including both bhikhu and bhikṣu.


In the standard Heart Sutra odd idioms and calques from Chinese gave the game away and allowed us to conclude that the Sanskrit text was a translation of the Chinese. In this first part of the extended text nothing stands out. There is some variation that is consistent with how Mahāyāna texts evolved over time.

The next part of the text is the Buddha entering Samādhi.


10 July 2020

The Extended Heart Sutra: Sources

Very little critical or comparative work has been done on the extended Heart Sutra. I've tended to ignore it because there has been so much to do on the standard text. I've been interested in the origins of the text and the extended version is a later development. With most of my philological and historical work on the standard completed and awaiting publication, I have been making some notes about the extended text.

The majority of the extant Heart Sutra manuscripts and inscriptions are of the extended text. There are five canonical Chinese versions and two canonical Tibetan Versions. There is a Sanskrit manuscript in Japan and about a dozen manuscripts from Nepal have been described, although I think dozens more are extant. And then there are the Dunhuang texts—over 180 in Chinese and 90 in Tibetan—which reflect nine different version of the standard and extended texts and some hybrids. 

Most of the Extended texts conform to a single recension, i.e. they all seem to have common origins, though with many minor variations. I will call this Recension One (R1). There seem to be a number of variants of R1 and part of the purpose of the coming series of essays is to identify these through close comparison of the available documents. There is also a Recension Two (R2) which is represented by a single text, T 252 a canonical translation attributed to Fǎyuè 法月 (Skt. *Dharmacandra) and Lìyán 利言, and dated ca. 741 CE. If the attribution and date are reliable then this is the earliest evidence of the extended text.

In this post I'll describe the extant texts in more detail. In my last post, I raised the question of whether the Heart Sutra ever went to India. I concluded that we didn't have enough information but that it was plausible that the transmission was from China to Tibet and that Vimalamitra, as the man credited with the canonical Tibetan translation, might have had something to do with this. Although his connection to China seems tenuous, a private message from Joel Gruber (whose PhD dissertation was on Vimalamitra) suggests that he thinks it likely that Vimalamitra did visit China on his way to Tibet.

I will look at the Tibetan versions with the help of Jonathan Silk's critical edition. But I don't think we can say much about the Heart Sutra in other countries on the periphery of Tang China such as Khotan, Kucha, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, or Vietnam. This may be bias because I don't read any of the relevant languages, but my impression is that no textual innovations occurred in these countries. They adopted the standard Chinese text without modification, except perhaps chanting it in the local pronunciation - thereby ensuring that it was incomprehensible in either language. I'm open to being proved wrong about this, but in any case for now I'm covering Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan, focussing on the early 8th to the late 9th Centuries. The scholarly (as opposed to the religious) history of the text in these other countries has yet to be written in English.



We now know that the Sanskrit text of the standard Heart Sutra was composed in China. We don't yet know where the extended text was composed.

The main exemplar of the Sanskrit, the manuscript from Hase Temple (Jap. Hasedera 長谷寺 aka Haseji), is said to have been brought from China in the early 9th Century. The manuscript also includes a Sanskrit text, a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit, and a copy of the Chinese translation by Prajñā (T 253). Müller's 1884 diplomatic edition was based on hand copies of the Hasedera manuscript. Vaidya's edition is based on it or on Müller's edition. Conze relies heavily on Müller.

It's not mentioned on the Hasedera website and it does not seem to have been digitised. It's unclear  to me where this document is now. 

Perhaps a few dozen Sanskrit manuscripts survive from Nepal, largely in European collections and largely undocumented. For example, the catalogue of the Nepalese-German Manuscript Cataloguing Project has many likely candidates that have not been fully described. However, these 19th and 20th Century copies are of little use in studying the text. In 2014, I described a manuscript from Nepal digitised as part of the Endangered Archives Program. Manuscript EAP676/2/5 required 142 footnotes to detail all the omissions, additions, and errors. These manuscripts are the result of many generations of copying without error checking because the scribes did not know Sanskrit. The  resulting documents are objects of magic and worship, not intended to be read. The effort required to describe each in detail is probably not worth it.

It seems that the standard and extended texts in Sanskrit may have been made from a different ancestor text (unrelated to T 252). The standard Sanskrit texts all contain extra-negations that make no sense, e.g. na prāptiḥ → na prāptir na aprātiḥ and in the nidānas: na avidyā  na vidyā na avidyā. These additions are present in the Hōryūji (法隆寺) manuscript and the Amoghavajra Chinese transliteration (T 256), our principal sources for the Sanskrit standard text.  Of the extended texts, these extra negations are found in the Hasedera ms. but not in any of the Chinese translations or the Nepalese manuscripts.

Sanskrit users were to be found in small numbers outside of India in antiquity, mainly working as translators.

Tibetan Texts

The one place that the extended text was definitely in use was Tibet because there it became the Heart Sutra. The standard text was largely overlooked although copies of the standard text transliterated in Tibetan script and translated into Tibetan language are amongst the cache of Heart Sutra texts from Dunhuang. 

Jonathan Silk (1994) has described two canonical recensions of the extended text in Tibet (TibA and TibB) in detail. TibA is in the tantra section of the Kanjur, while TibB is in the Prajñāpāramitā section. There is considerable variation and hybridisation between the two texts in the fourteen extant editions of the Kanjur, most of which are xylograph printings. Ben Nourse has linked the two Tibetan canonical recensions to the two versions of the text found at Dunhuang but has not yet published this work.

What Silk's study highlights, far better than Conze's rather chaotic work on the Sanskrit, is that the history of this text is complex. Even in this short text from the mid 7th Century, there are major variants before the end of the 8th Century, and dozens of variations have come down to us. Manuscripts both diverge and converge so that the usual stemma diagram of simple binary branches (based on Darwin's evolutionary tree?) is entirely inadequate to the task. The tree metaphor has strictly limited applicability (see my essay Evolution: Trees and Braids. 27.12.2013).

In the Dunhuang cache there is a T 215 transliterated in Tibetan script, a Tibetan translation of T 251, extended texts corresponding to TibA and TibB, as well as one or two hybrid texts that combine features of standard and extended texts.

Far more than in other traditions, Mahāyana Buddhists actively changed their sacred texts over time creating a plethora of versions. 

Chinese Texts

The extended text is seldom, if ever, referred to in China where the standard text (T 251) is used exclusively. However, five versions of the extended text are preserved in the Chinese canon. Chinese and Japanese commentaries are all on the standard version. At least two modern translations of these texts can be found on the internet (e.g. T 252 and T 253) but to the best of my knowledge, none has been published. 

Representing R1 we have:
  • T 253, translated by Bānruò 般若 (*Prajñā), with Lìyán 利言 et al.788 CE.
  • T 254, translated by Zhìhuì lún 智慧輪 (*Prajñācakra), 861 CE. 
  • T 255, translated from the Tibetan by Chos grub (aka Fǎchéng 法成), 856 CE.
  • T 257, translated by Dānapāla, 1005 CE.
And representing R2 we have:
  • T 252, translated by Fǎyuè 法月 (Skt. *Dharmacandra) with Lìyán 利言 ca. 741 CE
It is interesting that Lìyán 利言 was involved in both T 252 and T 253. I cannot find much information about him. We need a qualified Sinologist to look into the attributions and the dates associated with these texts. I cannot help but wonder if Prajñā (Bānruò 般若) and Prajñācakra (Zhìhuì lún 智慧輪) are definitely two different people. On the other hand, the two texts do have quite major differences.

T 255 was found in the Dunhuang cache.

TibA and TibB are both versions of R1. 

The structure of the Extended Text

The extended text adds material at the beginning and the end of the standard text. As we know, the standard text was considered by Chinese Buddhists to lack essential features of a Buddhist Sutra, specifically the opening phrase "thus have I heard", a statement of the place and occasion for the teaching, a statement of who was in the audience, the presence of the Buddha or the Buddha's invitation to speak; it does not conclude with an endorsement of the speaker (if it was not the Buddha), or an exhortation to disseminate the text, or the audience rejoicing in the teaching and committing to practice it.

The point is also made by Shāmén Yuánzhào 沙門圓照, in 794 CE, i.e. “However, [the Heart Sūtra] only has the main text and no nidāna or exhortation to disseminate” (但有正宗並 無序分及流通分。T 2157,  55.878c08). 

The extended versions add precisely these aspects.

It was previously thought that the longer text came first. This would be very unusual for an India text and is this not consistent with the India origins thesis. Neither Indian nor Chinese Buddhists would have removed the essential features of a sūtra from the extended version. Either could have added them. I'm not sure about Tibetans as I'm not so familiar with their textual practices, but they also seem unlikely to have removed these features. By far the most likely scenario, especially given the facts that have emerged in the last five years is that the extended version was created (probably twice) on the basis of the standard text.


In both recensions the standard opening paragraph is woven into the extended version, whereas the closing section (rejoicing) is simply tacked on after the dhāraṇī.

It appears that all the surviving versions contain a mistake that must go back to a common ancestor. Where in the standard text, Avalokiteśvara examined (vyavalokayati sma) the five branches of experience (pañca skandhāḥ) and saw (paśyati sma) that they are devoid of svabhāva (svabhāva-śunyan), the extended text inadvertently has vyavalokayati sma again for paśyati sma. The combination of "look/examine" (vyava√lok) and "see" (√paś) is not present in the Chinese, but is a canny addition to the Sanskrit text by whoever forged it. The combination of "look" and "see" works the same in Sanskrit as it does in English. The two languages also share the cognitive metaphor: TO SEE IS TO KNOW.  The difference is between seeking and finding, and it is lost in all the extant Sanskrit extended version and in both recensions the Tibetan as well.

By contrast the Chinese versions of the Extended text retain the Chinese syntax of the standard version, with just one verb, in which, Avalokiteśvara "clearly sees the five branches are absent" (zhàojiàn wǔyùn jiē kōng照見五蘊皆空). T 253 and 254 show further conflation with the standard text when they add to this "[he is] parted from all misery"  (lí zhū kǔ è 離諸苦厄。) which reflects the standard text's "transcending all miseries" (dù yī qiè kǔ è 度一切苦厄 。).

Another point of difference is the audience. Recension 1 has the Buddha on the Vulture Hill "with a great congregation of bhikṣus and a great congregation of bodhisatvas" (mahatā bhikṣusaṃghena sārdhaṃ mahatā ca bodhisatvasaṃghena). Bodhisatvasaṃgha is an unusual term. T 257 adds the detail that 1250 monks are present (與大苾芻眾千二百五十人俱).

The reason for believing that T 252 is a second Recension is that the details, while formulaic, are substantially different from the other versions in any language, while the other texts are all similar (though certainly not identical).  T 252 also specifies the size of the assembled congregations "together with a great bhikṣu congregation of  100,000 and 77,000 bodhisatva mahāsatvas in all" (與大比丘眾滿百千人,菩薩摩訶薩七萬七千人俱) and then names Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, and Maitreya as the leaders of the bodhisatvas. 


The closing passage of R1 is several paragraphs. Avakokiteśavara concludes, the Bhagavan emerges from his samādhi and praises Avalokiteśvara, Śārputra rejoices, then the whole world rejoices and everyone commits to practising the teaching. In R2 this is all condensed to a single generic paragraph, which matches the last part of R1.


I've said many times that the Heart Sutra has been neglected by academia but it has also been the victim of mistakes and misdirections that might have made it a less attractive prospect for academic study that its immense popularity amongst Buddhists implied.

If the standard text has been neglected, then outside of Tibetan religious circles the extended text has been abandoned. There are no studies of the extended text that I am aware of, other than those produced by the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan religious figures. Thus there is scope for continuing study. 

Many questions about the extended text remain open, including:

  • Why are there two recensions?
  • When was the Heart Sutra extended and by whom? 
  • Where the extensions added in Chinese, Sanskrit, or perhaps Tibetan?
  • Was the text known in India? 
  • Where do the dates and attributions of the Chinese texts come from?

I hope to be able to begin to address some of these questions in the coming weeks or months.


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