07 August 2020

The Extended Heart Sutra: Śāriputra's Question

Continuing with my close reading of the extended Heart Sutra in Chinese, Sanskrit and Tibetan, we now come to the passage in which Śāriputra asks a question in Recension One (R1), corresponding to Paragraphs F and G of Silk's Tibetan edition. In Recension Two (R2) there is a conversation between the two protagonists, but there is no question, Avalokiteśvara simply has a desire to preach and he preaches at Śāriputra rather than in response to a question. 

In the Standard text of the Heart Sutra, Avalokiteśavara is summarily introduced and begins to speak, addressing his remarks to Śāriputra, who is not introduced and does speak. Most of the remarks are, as we know, a quote from the Large Sutra in which Śāriputra does ask a question and is answered by the Buddha. The question he asks is:
kathaṃ yujyamāno bhagavan bodhisatvo mahāsatvaḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ yukta iti vaktavyaḥ. (PvsP1-1: 61-2
Engaging in what way, Bhagavan, is a bodhisatva mahāsatva to be called 'engaged in prajñāpāramitā?'
Here "engaged" translates yukta, a past participle from √yuj (whence also the word yoga). The word literally means "joined" and is related to English yoked. When used in the sense of "joined" it would be usual to specify with what it is joined using a noun in the instrumental case. Here the noun prajñāpāramitā is in the locative. Yukta can also mean "employed, engaged in, absorbed in meditation; experienced in, etc." and in these cases the indirect object takes the locative. In this context we can take prajñāpāramitāyāṃ yukta as meaning engaging in prajñāpāramitā as a meditation practice, probably with the yoga of nonapprehension (anupalambhayoga) in mind.

The answer in the Large Sutra is that one is called "engaged" who is "engaged in the absence of embodiment" (rūpaśūnyatāyāṃ yuktaḥ) and the other four skandhas, and the absence of the eighteen dhātu, the four āryasatya, and the twelve nidānas. That is to say, more or less the same list that we find in the Heart Sutra. However, the Buddha adds that the bodhisatva should be called "engaged" because the absence of sense experience means that they don't perceive themselves as being engaged. Which leads into the statements included in the Heart Sutra and continues well beyond them. Note the two perspectives. In śūnyatā-samādhi there are no thoughts about anything but after the samādhi  the meditator can say "I was engaged in or absorbed in Prajñāpāramitā" or from another person's perspective, the person in the samādhi was engaged in Prajñāpāramitā. And note that there is no metaphysical or ontological distinction between these two perspectives, but there is an epistemic distinction. 

R1 of the extended text introduces Śāriputra and has him ask question in order to contextualise Avalokiteśvara's statements addressed to him. Once again T 252 (R2) is very different in that Śāriputra does not ask a question, though as we see below they do have a conversation. As previously, the translation I give here is affected by the following discussion. Translations from Tibetan are from Silk (1994) , although sometimes I have adjusted his phrasing.

The Text
T. 253. 即時舍利弗承佛威力,合掌恭敬白觀自在菩薩摩訶薩言:「善男子!若有欲學甚深般若波羅蜜多行者,云何修行?」
Just then Śāriputra, due to the anubhāva of the Buddha, joined palms respectfully and addressed Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva-mahāsatva, saying: Kūlaputra, if there is a desire to learn genuinely the deep Prajñāpāramitā practising, how should they study the practice?
T 254. 即時具壽舍利子,承佛威神,合掌恭敬,白觀世音自在菩薩摩訶薩言:「聖者!若有欲學甚深般若波羅蜜多行,云何修行?」
Just then Elder Śāriputra, due to the power of the Buddha, joined palms respectfully and addressed Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva-mahāsatva, saying: Noble One, having a genuine desire to learn the practice of prajñāpāramitā, how should one study the practice?
T 255. 時,具壽舍利子,承佛威力,白聖者觀自在菩薩摩訶薩曰:「若善男子欲修行甚深般若波羅蜜多者,復當云何修學?」
Then Elder Śāriputra, by the power of the Buddha, addressing ārya-Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva saying: if a devotee wishes to be a student of prajñāpāramitā, again, how should they study? 
T 257. 爾時,尊者舍利子承佛威神,前白觀自在菩薩摩訶薩言:「若善男子善女人,於此甚深般若波羅蜜多法門,樂欲修學者,當云何學?」
At that time, Elder Śāriputra, by the power of the Buddha, formerly* addressed Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva, saying: if a devotee (male or female) of the prajñāpāramitā dharma gate, is an eager student, how should they learn? 
* qián  "front, in front of; before, earlier, formerly." I don't know what else to make of this. 
Skt. athāyuṣmānc Chāriputro buddhānubhāvena āryāvalokiteśvaraṃ bodhisatvam mahāsatvaṃ etad avocat yaḥ kaścit kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā asyāṃ gambhīrāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryāṃ cartukāmas tena kathaṃ śikṣitavyaṃ? 
Elder Śariputra, by the power of the Buddha, said this to Ārya-Avalokiteśvara bodhisatva mahāsatva: "that son or daughter of the community desiring to practice this deep perfection of gnosis, how should they train?" 
Tib A. de nas sangs rgyas kyi mthus / tshe dang ldan pa shā ri'i bus byang chub sems dpa' sems dpa' chen po 'phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug la 'di skad ces smras so //
rigs kyi bu gang la la shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa zab mo spyod pa spyad par 'dod pa des ji ltar bslab par bya / 
'am rigs kyi bu mo in many mss.

Then, through the empowerment of the Buddha, the elder Śāriputra spoke thus to the bodhisatva mahāsatva Ārya Avalokiteśvara. “How should whichever gentle son who desires to practice the practise of the profound perfection of wisdom learn it?”
Tib B. de nas sangs rgyas kyi mthus tshe dang ldan pa shā ra dwa ti'i bus / byang chub sems dpa' sems dpa' chen po 'phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug la 'di skad ces smras so //
rigs kyi bu gang la la shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa zab mo la spyad pa spyod par 'dod pa des ji ltar bslab par bya /

Then, through the empowerment of the Buddha, the elder śāradvatīputra spoke thus to the bodhisatva mahāsatva Ārya Avalokiteśvara. “How should whichever gentle son who desires to practise his practice in the profound perfection of wisdom train?”



There are some notable variants on the names used. As we know, the direct source for the Chinese Heart Sutra was the text of Kumārajīva's translation of the Large Prajñāpārmaitā Sūtra (T 223). And we know that when Xuanzang composed the Xīnjīng (T 251), he altered some of the characters, particularly in names. At the same time, it seems that in the texts Kumārajīva translated the bodhisatva was called Avalokita-svara and by Xuanzang's time, the more familiar version of the name, Avalokita-īśvara, i.e. Avalokiteśvara, had come into use. (See also: Revisiting Avalokiteśvara in the Heart Sutra). 

So where Kumārajīva has Avalokitasvara = Guānshìyīn 觀世音 and Śāriputra = Shèlìfú 舍利弗, Xuanzang changed these to Guānzìzài 觀自在 and Shèlìzi 舍利子 respectively. 

Presuming that the extended text was made from the Xīnjīng (i.e. T 251), we would expect to see Xuanzang's text throughout. But this is not what we see. In fact, with respect to these two names, we see that T 252 and T 253 have 舍利弗, the Kumārajīva spelling of Śāriputra, while T 257 has the Xuanzang spelling, 舍利子. All Chinese texts  have the Xuanzang spelling of Avalokiteśvara 觀自在, except for T 254 which has Guānshìyīnzìzài  觀世音自在 which is a hybrid of Kumārajīva's 觀世音 and Xuanzang's 觀自在. 

In the Tibetan texts we see some variation with the name Śāriputra, i.e. TibA shā ri'i bus; TibB shā ra dwa ti'i bus. The form Śāradvatīputra does occurs in many Mahāyāna texts including the Gilgit manuscript of the Large Sutra. I've never discovered why the variant exists in Sanskrit when there is no such variant in Pāli. The variant has to have been interpolated here, perhaps due to a familiarity with the Sanskrit Large Sutra?


This is another one of these Buddhist terms that is used vaguely and with changes over time. The existing translations seem to struggle to get at something that hardly seems relevant or applicable. There are some studies of this term in Japanese but I can't find anything substantial in English. The word is a compound kula-putra, "a son of the community" (Tib. rigs kyi bu; Ch. shàn nán zǐ 善男子). The feminine version is kula-duhitṛ "a daughter of the community" (Tib. rigs kyi bu mo. Ch. shàn nǚrén 善女人).

Note the the Chinese translation shàn nán zǐ 善男子 literally means "good male child", where shàn 善 is the standard translation of kuśala. The Chinese nǚrén 女人 simply means "female person", i.e. woman. However, 善 is one of those characters that has been used to translate an eye-watering number of different Indic terms. From the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism:
su-, sat, sādhu; atyartha, atyartham, anāpatti, abhijāta, ājāneya, kalyāṇatā, kula, kuśalatva, kuśalādharmāḥ, kovida, kauśala, kauśalya, guṇa, guṇavat, dharma, puṇya, prasanna, prasādika, priya, premaṇīya, bhadra, bhadra-śrī, bhṛśam, lavaṇa, vasu, virati, vyakta, śukla, śubhatā, śobhana, śreyas, sama, saṃpad, samyak, sādhīyas, supariniṣṭhita, suvihita, suṣṭhu, svanta, hita)
The main senses of shàn 善 are kalyāna, śūbha "beautiful"; and kuśala "good, wholesome". But I think we have to consider that here it just stands for kula.

A kula is any coherent collection of animals: "herd, troop, flock, etc"; or people "race, family, community, tribe, caste, clique, fraternity, etc." Such definitions as I can find emphasise that the term is used for one's social inferiors: a teacher calls a pupil kulaputra, but not the other way around.

It seems to me that kulaputra is simply a way of referring to a member of the Buddhist community, an insider, or "one of us". Buddhists use kulaputra and kuladuhitṛ the way a Christian vicar might refer to a parishioner affectionately as "one of the flock" (with the implication that the vicar is a shepherd). And asked what that means, the vicar might reply that they are a "good Christian".

In a Buddhist context kulaputra has nothing to do with being from a good family, it has nothing to do with being "good", "gentle", or "nobly born" (though these may apply in the context of the Mahābhārata). It means "one of the flock" with all the prestige that Buddhist exceptionalism can bestow on one of our own. 

The way the term is marked seems variable. For example,
ye kecit kauśika bodhisatvā mahāsatvā bhikṣu-bhikṣuṇy-upāsaka-upāsikā vā kulaputrā vā kuladuhitaro vā devaputrā devakanyā vā imāṃ prajñāpāramitām udgrahīṣyanti... (PSP_2-3:36
"Kauśika, any of those bodhisatva mahāsatvas, or monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen, or sons and daughters of the community, or godboys or godgirls who will take up this perfection of gnosis..."
At face value, this suggests that the kulaputra and kuladuhitṛ are outside the usual structure of monastics and lay-people, distinct from bodhisatvas. And yet, for the rest of this long passage, kulaputra and kuladuhitṛ are the only terms used for all the people who take up the practice, suggesting that they represent all of the group, including the bodhisatvas.

Note that when compounded with the word deva- the contrast with putra "son, boy" is not duhitṛ "daughter" but kanyā "girl". These could be spirits such as apsaras. However, note that in Gandhāra the Kushan kings (1st century BCE ‒ 1s century CE) over took the title devaputra, and this may have been in imitation of the Chinese rulers called Son of Heaven (tiān zǐ 天子). In Pāli kings are often addressed as deva in the way that we might address a king as Majesty. And Asoka referred to himself as devapiya "beloved of the Gods". I have translated literally because I don't know what they mean, which is a bit of a giveaway about the process of translation.

There is a mistake in Śāriputra's question in T 253: 
 Kūlaputra, if there is a desire to learn genuinely the deep Prajñāpāramitā practising, how should they study the practice?
The passage is punctuated in CBETA as though kulaputra is a vocative, i.e. 善男子!i.e. Śāriputra is addressing Avalokiteśvara as kulaputra. What we see more often is what we find in Sanskrit and Tibetan, that the two of them discuss the kulaputra in the third person, in the abstract. Or what we see in T 252, the teacher addressing the pupil as kulaputra

In fact, the printed Taisho looks incorrect as well since, although it has more minimalist punctuation, it does include a punctuation mark after kulaputra, i.e. 善男子。 This changes the role of 善男子 in the sentence. But the correct role is found in the Sanskrit and Tibetan, in which Śāriputra asks how a kulaputra might undertake prajñāpāramitā practice. 

T 254 addressed Avalokiteśvara as shèngzhě 聖者, a word sometimes used to translate arhat, but here seemingly use to translate āryaArhat would be a very odd thing indeed for an arhat to call a bodhisatva.

T 255 and 257 get this right: 若善男子 i.e. "If a community member..."

In the notes to Lamotte's Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra translation (chapter LII) there is a discussion of why Avalokiteśvara is called kulaputra in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka (chap. XXIV) but the Buddha appears to answer a different question, i.e. what is so great about Avalokiteśvara. What it looks like to me is a text trying to explain the same kind of error that we see above with realising that it is an error. Buddhists were not looking at their texts critically and still mostly do not.

Recension Two

A quick reminder that, in the previous section, Avalokiteśvara went to visit the Buddha, and told him that he (Avalokiteśvara) proposed to preach the Prajñāpāramitā. The Buddha says that he thinks this is a great idea. Avalokiteśvara then enters samādhi and sees that all the five skandhas don't have the svabhāva, then...
With this realisation (了知) that the five skandhas each lack self-existence, he peacefully arose from that samādhi. He addressed Elder Śāriputra: 
“Kulaputra, a bodhisatva has the heart of the Prajñāpāramitā named universal knowledge store. Now listen and pay attention, think carefully about it.
That having been said, Śāriputra the Wise responded to Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, 
“Indeed, Great Purifier, I am ready, preach it. Now is the right time. 

As noted there is no request for a teaching. Avalokiteśvara has already stated his intention to teach and after a quick dip into samādhi, he says I'm going to teach, Śāriputra says "go for it", and Avalokiteśvara goes for it.

I cannot quite explain, but there is something off about this scenario of Avalokiteśvara turning up with the intention of teaching in the presence of the Buddha. We expect the Buddha to teach and his being present but not teaching is an interesting development. I suppose it reflects a religion whose founder is many centuries dead and gone. In daily life the Buddha is present in effigy or in the imagination, but it is only living Buddhists who teach the next generation. There is some sociology in these texts if we pay attention. 

Note that here Avalokiteśvara refers to Śāriputra as kulaputra. It is more appropriate in this case, but still unusual for a monk to be referred to as kulaputra. The emphasis here is that Avalokiteśvara is taking the role of teacher. In the early Prajñāpāramitā it is Elder Subhūti who teaches the bodhisatvas about Prajñāpāramitā.


For some time I have been using the term Author (with a capital A) to indicate the person or persons who created the Xīnjīng, with the presumption that it was probably Xuanzang. The Xīnjīng was translated as the Hṛdaya by a person or persons I call the Translator. We now need to add a third term to distinguish the person or persons who extended the text, whom I will call the Redactor. 

It looks increasingly as though the Sanskrit text is the most coherent of all the exemplars we are looking at. The mistaken usage of kulaputra in R1 of the Chinese makes it seem unlikely that the text was expanded in Chinese, because that would mean that the translator had repaired the Redactor's mistakes, and we seldom see this. In fact, translators tend to retain mistakes (viz the second vyavalokyati in Paragraph E). It is more likely that the Redactor worked in Sanskrit and the text was misread when translated back into Chinese (for which we have names and dates). Since R2 only exists in Chinese and the the language seems more coherent than R1 in Chinese, it may have been composed in Chinese, only to be superseded by R1, perhaps because of the Sanskrit text. 

There are a number of places where a Sanskrit text of the standard Heart Sutra could have been copied and redacted to form the extended text. Sanskrit was always limited to a small number of Buddhist monks outside of India, but there could have been Sanskrit users anywhere from Chang'an to Samarkand. Given the activities we know about at Dunhuang and Turfan, we have to give serious consideration to these places as the likely location for the creation of the Sanskrit extended text.

It also seems increasingly clear that T 252 is not part of the same kula of texts and that designating it a separate recension is correct. It seems to be a completely separate attempt to extend the standard Heart Sutra so that it fulfills the general criteria for being a sūtra, which were known to the Chinese, Tibetans, and Central Asians, as well as in the Subcontinent. There is still some doubt in my mind as to whether the Heart Sutra ever went to India in any form. Explaining the historical facts that we have available certainly does not require it. All that is required is that the Heart Sutra circulated within China and out to Western Central Asia and Tibet.

Something I have not commented on much is the variations in the Sanskrit. At some point I will have to look at some of the major variant texts.


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