09 October 2020

The Extended Heart Sutra: Overview

This post is a first attempt to sum up my close reading of the extended Heart Sutra that spanned eight posts, over which I worked my way through the distinctive features of the different versions of the extended Heart Sutra, noting down and trying to explain differences, omissions, additions, and errors. One of the principle unanswered questions about the extended Heart Sutra is: what language was it composed in? Which raises methodological questions about how would we assess this. We also want to know when the extended text came into existence and who was responsible for it. 

I should stress that I have only consulted versions of the text in Sanskrit, Middle Chinese, and canonical Tibetan. At this point I have not consulted the secondary literature. As such, my conclusions are limited to philological points, except where my more broadly based historical research on the standard text clearly applies to the extended text as well. On the other hand, I'm not aware of any existing philological studies of the extended text, except for Silk's critical edition of the Tibetan variants. And Silk's work is a critical edition of the Tibetan, not a critical history. There are, of course, religious studies of the text in Tibetan by the Dalai Lama and others, but their methodology is very different from mine. Religious commentaries seek to justify beliefs (i.e. emotions about ideas). Donald Lopez's two books on the commentaries preserved in Tibetan by "Indian" authors are also on the long version, but Lopez takes the tradition on its own terms. The books offer a reading of the tradition, but little or no insight into the kinds of problems that interest me here (i.e. how such a tradition became established).

Of particular interest is the Manuscript kept at the Hasedera Temple, which was the foundation for both Müller's edition, the edition by Vaidya which is now widely available on the internet (e.g. DBSC), and Conze's critical edition. As far as I can tell, the Hasedera manuscript has not been digitised or published in any form since Müller (1884). Müller himself was working from hand copies made for him by Japanese Buddhists and everyone since then is working from Müller's edition (although this is not always acknowledged - by Conze, for example). I could not find any information about where the mss is now.

The extended Heart Sutra has passages added at the beginning and the end of the standard text. Pragmatically, what the extensions do is tell the story, in formulaic terms, of how Avalokiteśvara came to preach the Heart Sutra to Śāriputra and, almost as importantly, how it was received. Such extensions were presumably the result of internal pressure to make the Heart Sutra more authentic, since it lacked all of the features that are traditionally associated with authenticity. It is sometimes suggested that this was an Indian concern, but the Chinese had exactly the same concerns and were more concerned, because so many indigenous Buddhists texts were in circulation. There is little or no evidence that the Heart Sutra was even known in India.

The extensions infer that the narrator is Ānanda (the "me" in "thus by me heard" evaṃ mayā śrutam); tell us the occasion and place of the discourse, that the Buddha is present, and that the speaker speaks with the anubhāva or empowerment of the Buddha. At the end, the interlocutor praises the teaching, and the Buddha praises the speaker. And in Chinese the audience promise to faithfully practice the teaching. Without these features the Heart Sutra was not a sūtra. The fact that the Heart Sutra was considered to be a sūtra was down to the forging of a Sanskrit text and document, and the attribution of the Chinese to Xuanzang as a translation (See Attwood 2019, 2020).

I refer to the unknown composer of the original digest text (chāo jīng 抄經) we call Xīnjīng 心經 as the Author. Although we think the Author was Xuanzang, this is, strictly speaking, unproven and it is possible that it was one or more other people. I refer to the person who translated the text into Sanskrit as the Translator. And now I have to introduce the idea of the person who redacted the text to produce the extended recension of the text, whom I will call the Redactor

It is also useful to make a threefold distinction between work, text, and document. As I said in Heart Sutra: Work, Text, Document (2019):
In his recent article, Silk (2015:205-6) draws out a threefold distinction first made by Chaim Milikowsky. First we have the Work, which is the author's or editor's product. This may only exist conceptually and never have been committed to words. Or the author may have attempted to put it in words and be more or less satisfied that the result, but still consider this as inferior to their conception of the Work. A presentation of the Work in words is a Text. A single Work may generate multiple Texts; for example, one story that is told many times, but with minor differences each time. No single Text is the "original" in this case, because the Text is not the Work. Lastly a Document is some physical instantiation of a Text. Typically, in studying Buddhist manuscript cultures, we are faced with multiple Documents representing multiple Texts. This is certainly in the case of the Heart Sutra.
I think we have clear evidence of their being at least two Redactors: one responsible for Recension Two (T 252) and one for Recension One (all other texts) (I started this convention but I wish I'd used the numbers the other way around since T 252 looks like the first recension to me). Where necessary, I will refer to Redactor One and Redactor Two. Redactor One might have been Fǎyuè 法月, who is credited with the translation of T 252. Redactor Two might have been possibly Prajñā (Bānruò 般若) and his Chinese collaborator Lìyán 利言. At least one scholar has argued that Prajñā, in fact, composed the works for which he was credited with being the translator.

The headings I used were:
And I will continue with this structure.


I worked with eight sources: T 252, 253, 254, 255, 257; Conze's Sanskrit edition; and the two Tibetan recensions described by Silk in his 1994 critical edition. There is still some work to do on some of these texts.

As Silk (1994) pointed out, Conze's Sanskrit edition is chaotic and unreliable. None of the Sanskrit sources is in pristine condition and some of them are very badly corrupted. However, even though we need to have a better edition, my experience of studying British Library Manuscript EAP676/2/5 suggests the chances are that examining more Nepalese manuscripts would be fruitless. Describing EAP676/2/5 required 142 footnotes on errors, omissions, and additions for a 280 word text. Even the best of the Nepalese mss is significantly degraded by repeated copying without error checking.

I would like to collect copies of all the canonical Chinese versions but don't have access to the necessary resources. Also, we lack a clear understanding of the attributions and dates traditionally assigned to the Chinese translations. This is important, given the chequered history of the Heart Sutra, in which none of the attributions or dates turns out to be reliable. I would place this above a new Sanskrit edition in importance.

The Heart Sutra may be an interesting candidate for the application of computerised phylogenetic techniques for analysing relatedness, though I'm not sure how such techniques cope with multiple languages. And I don't have the knowledge required to do it. I do have a preliminary stemma diagram prepared manually based on my own work and preliminary comments about the Dunhuang manuscripts by Ben Nourse.

NB: R1 & R2 are reversed here because I made this diagram for an article I'm preparing that covers this territory for publication.

The node labelled "Hṛdaya with added negations" is a notional intermediary. It may not have existed as a separate text and is not extant. But it does seem that most of the extended texts don't have the extra negations and neither does the Xīnjīng. Similarly, I don't know that there was a prototype of the Sanskrit extended text distinct from some actual document that formed the template for the rest. But in terms of diagramming the history of the text it's useful to posit these notional versions of the texts.


The nidāna is one of the most important features that mark the authentic sūtra and that is missing from the standard Heart Sutra. The nidāna begins with the immortal words "Thus have I heard" (Skt evaṃ mayā śrutam; Ch. Rúshì wǒwén 如是我聞). The phrase is traditionally understood to indicate that the narrator is Elder Ānanda, even for Mahāyāna sūtras. The nidāna then continues in the usual fashion to name the place at which the discourse was delivered and who was present: "At one time the Bhagavan was staying... (Skt ekasmin samaye bhagavān... viharati sma ) together with a great congregation of bhikṣus and a great congregation of bodhisatvas (mahatā bhikṣusaṃghena sārdhaṃ mahatā ca bodhisattvasaṃghena). The term bodhisattvasaṃgha (púsà zhòng 菩薩眾) is rare but not diagnostic for my purposes. 

Although the nidāna is considered evidence of authenticity by early medieval Buddhists, we also know that many texts lacked a nidāna. For example the Pāli version of the Burden Sūtra (SN 22:22;) lacks a nidāna while the Chinese versions both have one: Samyuktāgama 73 (T 2.19a15-19b1); Ekottarāgama 25.4 (T 2.631c11-632a5). Greg Schopen has detailed how the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya preserved in Chinese contains a set of guidelines for adding a nidāna to a sūtra where one is missing (Schopen 2004). This suggests that the practice was routine. The nidāna of the extended Heart Sutra shows variations that can only be deliberate redactions (as opposed to accidents).

There is considerable variation in the nidāna of the extended Heart Sutra documents:

T 253 T 257 T 252
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。 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。 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 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. 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. 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).

What stands out is that, despite being also set in Rājagṛha and, despite being constrained by the conventions of Buddhist sūtra composition, T 252 is considerably different from the other versions of the extended sūtra (whether in Sanskrit, Chinese, or Tibetan) and continues to diverge. Any introduction that was added was bound to include certain phrases and references to the Buddha (by convention), while Avalokiteśvara and Śāriputra appear in the standard text and must be the main protagonists. Apart from these constraints, T 252 stands alone in giving exaggerated numbers of participants and naming bodhisatvas. By comparison the latest translation has added some detail to what is essential the same passage. As we will see in the next section, the story of T 252 takes a distinct path to get to the standard Heart Sutra.

The Buddha's Samādhi

Conze's Sanskrit text describes how the Buddha taught a dharma teaching (dharmaparyāyaṃ bhāṣitvā) named “profound illumination” (gambhīrāvabhāsaṃ nāma) and then entered a meditative state (samādhiṃ samāpannaḥ). The Hasedera Manuscript (which has strongly influenced other Sanskrit editions) truncates this to "At that time the Bhagavan entered a samādhi named deep understanding"* (tena khalu samayena bhagavān gambhīrāvasaṃbodhaṃ nāma samādhiṃ samāpannaḥ).
* reading avabodha for avasambodha which is not in any of my dictionaries.
It appears to be this text that is translated in T 253, 254.
T 253: "At that time, the Buddha, the Bhagavān, entered the samādhi named Vast and Extremely Profound" (時佛世尊即入三昧,名廣大甚深。).
The Tibetan recensions appear to have a hybrid, e.g. TibA.
de'i tshe bcom ldan 'das zab mo snang ba zhes bya ba chos kyi rnam grangs kyi ting nge 'dzin la snyoms par bzugs so //
and at that time the blessed one was entered into the concentration of the preaching of the Dharma called “profound illumination”
Note that TibB has what appears to be an eyeskip error at this point. The phrase chos kyi rnam grangs (dharmaparyāya) has been shuffled forward into the middle of the phrase zab mo snang ba. The result is comprehensible but less consistent with the other texts.

The word dharmaparyāya is present in Conze sources Na, Nb, and Ne (with a variant reading); Ca, Cd, and Ce which makes it a minority reading. However the Tibetan equivalent, chos kyi rnam grangs, is present in both TibA and TibB. A translation of the word is also present in T255 (fǎ zhī yì mén 法之異門) and 257 (xuān shuō zhèng fǎ 正法宣說). Thus it appears to belong.

T 253 and 254 call the samādhi "extensive" guǎng dà 廣大 (mahat, vaipulya) and "profound" shèn shēn 甚深 (gambhīra). 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)".

There is some confusion here. It is possible that an earlier version represented in the translations T 253 and 254 left off dharmaparyāya and it was added later. But it is equally possible that it was simply left out of the early Chinese translations. 

Note that the narrative in T252 is again very different. Rather than the Buddha' entering a samādhi we find:
All had attained the samādhi of always remembering, and abided in inconceivable liberation.
It is de rigueur to mention samādhi at this point in a Mahāyāna sūtra. In Recension One the Buddha entering samādhi is a required detail to explain why he does not speak in the core part of the text (the standard Heart Sutra). But the story arc in T 252 is different. The mention of samādhi is really a final detail in the description of the audience. However, both recensions use this moment to introduce the main protagonist of the story.

Enter Avalokiteśvara

One of the primary purposes of the introductory extension is to introduce the only actor with a speaking part, i.e. Avalokitśvara bodhisatva. There is a distinction to be made here. When Śāripūtra is mentioned in the introduction he is called āyuṣman śāriputra or "Elder Śāriputra". The word āyuṣman literally means "one who possesses life" or something like "one who has lived". The word is invariably placed before his name as a title. When the word ārya "noble" is used in conjunction with the name Avalokiteśvara its occupies the same position. By contrast, bodhisatva is invariably placed after the name of the figure and thus is not a title or epithet but an adjective or predicate. Bodhisatva means "one whose nature or essence" (satva) is awakening or enlightenment (bodhi). The spelling is consistently satva in Prajñāpāramitā manuscripts and is a distinctive Buddhist variant that is usually obscured by editors who tacitly revert to the classical spelling sattva as though it were an error. Elder Śāriputra is a bhikṣu. Noble Avalokiteśvara is a bodhisatva.

James Apple notes that prefixing ārya to a name is a relatively late practice:
"The prefix ārya appears in the opening salutation of Indian and Tibetan sūtras and is a late Indian Practice that begins to occur, as far as I can currently tell, in the works of [6th Century Mādhyamika] Bhāvaviveka." (Apple 2015: 4-5 n.5).
At this point in Recension One, Avalokiteśvara is practising the deep practice of Prajñāpāramitā. This is what gives him the essential insight into the nature of experience that he then communicates to Śāriputra, using the words from the opening paragraph of the standard sūtra; in other words he sees that the five skandhas are all absent. Except that in Sanskrit he sees them as svabhāvaśūnya "lacking a essence". This interpolation of svabhāvaśūnya is discussed further below.

We can infer that Avalokiteśvara is practising the yoga of nonapprehension (anupalambha-yoga). This involves using meditative techniques to cut oneself off from the world of sensory experience by deliberately and systematically withdrawing attention from the senses. The result is the cessation (nirodha) of sensory experience and this leaves the meditator dwelling in the absence of sense experience (śūnyatā). I refer to this state of the absence of sensory experience as Absence (capitalised). In English we more often encounter the word translated as "emptiness" and emptiness is frequently reified as "reality" or, worse it is hyper-reified as "ultimate reality". The result is the received strain of nihilistic anti-rational metaphysics of Madhyamaka.

Using my hermeneutic, we can look at Absence (śūnyatā) from two angles. Firstly, in Absence (śūnyatāyām) there are no mental events rising into awareness and passing away. There is some form of conscious awareness but it has no object (in philosophical jargon it is not intentional). Hence the Heart Sutra goes on to say that "in emptiness there is no colour, sound, smell, etc ... through the yoga of nonapprehension". In Buddhist jargon: in Absence dharmas do not arise or cease. If we take this state to be reality then we may be tempted to say that no dharmas ever arise in reality. But this causes us problems because when we are not in this state, dharmas constantly arise and cease (except in deep sleep).

The second angle is to say that although all mental states arise in dependence on conditions, this state is only attained when all conditions for the arising of mental states have ceased (though withdrawing attention). Absence itself then is not a conditioned mental state. It is without conditions. A conditioned mental state is saṃskṛta and thus śūnyatā is asaṃskṛta. That is to say śūnyatā is a synonym of nirvāṇa "extinction".

Something to keep in mind is that where the Heart Sutra says Shì zhū fǎ kōng xiāng, bù shēng bù miè 是諸 法空相 ,不生不滅 "All dharmas are marked with emptiness; not born, not dying" this is based on a mistranslation by Kumārajīva. The original Sanskrit says: yā śūnyatā na sā utpadyate, no nirudyate "that Absence does not arise, does not cease". In other words the original subject of this passage was not all dharmas, but the absence of all dharmas. Absence does not arise because it occurs only when all sensory experience has ceased. 

However, the story in Rencension Two is very different. Here, Avalokiteśvara has a dialogue with the Buddha. He announces his desire to give a teaching on the Heart of Prajñāpāramitā (般若波羅蜜多心), the Bhagavan praises this urge to teach and then takes a back seat, but not in samādhi. Now Avalokiteśvara enters a samādhi in which he "sees" the absence of essence in the five skandhas (照見五蘊自性皆空。). And then he addresses Śāriputra.

Quirks in this part of the text

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 standard text. This phrase is absent from all extant Sanskrit manuscripts and the Tibetan canonical versions. It is present in the Fangshan Stele (the earliest physical evidence of the Heart Sutra) so cannot be a late edition. So it seems likely that it was simply left out of the Sanskrit translation, but whoever translated T 253 and T 254 from Sanskrit added it (back) in.

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 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 five skandhas" and jiē kōng 皆空 "all void". The latter is minimal and requires us to interpolate much that we would naturally spell out 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, then one sees something. That something was seen as a result of looking can remain implicit in written medieval Chinese. Knowing that Sanskrit did not have this kind of flexibility, the Translator has to specify both the action "he examined" (vyavalokayati sma) and the result "he saw" (paśyati sma).

Note that the Sanskrit translation of the standard text substitutes what should be śūnyatā with svabhāva-śūnya. I will say more about this below.

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, while jiē kōng 皆空 is expanded out to tǐ xìng xījiē shì kōng 體性悉皆是空 "self-nature, without exception, is absent". Here tǐ xìng 體性 conveys svabhāva. T 254 and T 257 also pick up the Sanskrit idea that the five skandhas are void of svabhāva. 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 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 use of the ātmanepada conjugations generally in Pāli is minimal).

We can now come back to the issue of the substitution of svabhāvaśūnyan for śūnyatā. In fact, the phrase svabhāvaśūnyan is absent from the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā as a whole. If one is in the śūnyatā samādhi one does not (cannot) see skandhas because they are absent (śūnya). They cannot be examined. This is explicit in the core passage of the Heart Sutra:
是故,空中—無 色、無受、想、行、識... —以無所得故。
Shì gù, kōng zhōng—wú sè, wú shòu, xiǎng, xíng, shì... —yǐwúsuǒdégù
Therefore: in emptiness—there is no form; no feeling, no thought, volition, awareness... —through the yoga of nonapprehension

In the list of eighteen kinds of śūnyatā we find the following terms
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". This is to say that svabhāva appears to be used in the sense of sabhāva "with bhāva" and abhāva means "without bhāva". In another 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 apprehend 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 cannot be distinguished when all sense experience has stopped because all information about the world outside brain has stopped registering. Although the verbs saṃvidyate and upalabhyate are routinely given an ontological gloss in translation (especially by Conze) - the former, in particular, is often translated as "exists" - both are (based on etymology) epistemic terms related to the use of one's sensory apparatus. The reason that something is na saṃvidyate "not discovered" or nopalabhyate "not apprehended" in this context is that sense experience has ceased, not because they don't exist. But on the other hand, if they did not exist, how would we apprehend them in the first place? 

Similarly with respect to the list of four kinds of absence, the Upadeśa (T 1509) says (using Lamotte's reconstruction of the Sanskrit):
  • bhāvo bhāvena śūnyaḥ "being is absent from being"
  • abhāvo ‘bhāvena śūnyaḥ " non-being is absent from non-being"
  • svahāvaḥ svabhāvena śūnyaḥ "one's own being is absent from one's own being"
  • parabhāvaḥ parabhāvena śūnyaḥ "the being of others is absent from the being of others"
It is apparent that by introducing an element of Madhyamaka metaphysics into the Heart Sutra, the Translator (Ch → Skt) has hit a bum note. This is an important consideration since it is normally assumed that Prajñāpāramitā and Madhyamaka are intimately associated. In fact, the two sects have very different ideas and there is almost no crossover.

This also means that the translation of 照見五蘊皆空 as vyavalokayati sma pañcaskandhāṃs tāmś ca svabhāvaśūnyān paśyati sma is incorrect. The first clause seems about right but what Avalokiteśvara saw was more like tāṃś ca sarvaśūnyān paśyati sma "... and he saw that they were all absent". This is consistent with the practice of Prajñāpāramitā being synonymous with the yoga of nonapprehension (anupalambhayoga) and both with the cessation of sense experience. 

Śāriputra's Question

The puerile attitudes towards arhats in some Mahāyāna sūtras are generally absent in Prajñāpāramitā. The principle representative of the Prajñāpāramitā perspective is Elder Subhūti. Elder Śāriputra is deeply interested in Prajñāpāramitā and raises the kinds of questions that we might expect someone trained in another Buddhist tradition to ask. In the Large Sūtra, just before the teaching from which the core passage is drawn, Śāriputra asks the Buddha:
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?'
This generic or abstract use of the word bodhisatva is typical of the Large Sutra. In creating the Heart Sutra, the Author has placed the teaching in the mouth of Avalokiteśvara who, in Chinese Buddhism, is a cult figure particularly associated with saving people from disasters. Hence, in the introductory extension, rather than the usual abstract questions, Śāriputra addresses his question to Avalokiteśvara whose answer then segues into the core passage of the standard Heart Sutra.

The question Śārputra asks in the Sanskrit Heart Sutra is
yaḥ kaścit kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā asyāṃ gambhīrāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryāṃ cartukāmas tena kathaṃ śikṣitavyaṃ?
That son or daughter of the community desiring to practice this deep perfection of gnosis, how should they train?
As we will see, one of the Chinese texts mistakes kulaputra for a vocative, i.e. that Śāriputra is addressing Avalokiteśvara as kulaputra. Also note that in Sanskrit the question is framed with both male and female communards (kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā)

Again Recension Two has a different approach. Avalokiteśvara has already announced his intention to speak. In this passage he tells Śāriputra to get ready, and Śāriputra says “Indeed, Great Purifier, I am ready, preach it. Now is the right time" (唯,大淨者!願為說之。今正是時。) .

We begin to notice that the form of names used in the texts is variable. The conventions established by Kumārajīva were:
  • Avalokitasvara: Guānshìyīn 觀世音 
  • Śāriputra: Shèlìfú 舍利弗,
Kumārajīva's translation is based on the older form of the name, i.e. Avalokitasvara (see Nattier 2007 and Karashima 2016). Using the new form, Avalokiteśvara, Xuanzang translated Guānzìzài 觀自在. He also modified Śāriputra: Shèlìzi 舍利子. Even so, Guānshìyīn 觀世音 or Guānyīn 觀音 are still the most common forms of the name in China, just as Kumārajīva's translations are still in use and were not superseded by Xuanzang's.

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 occur in many Mahāyāna texts including the Gilgit manuscript of the Large Sutra. I'm not sure why.

All texts use the term kula-putra, "a son of the community" (Tib. rigs kyi bu; Ch. shàn nán zǐ 善男子) and some include the feminine kula-duhitṛ "a daughter of the community" (Tib. rigs kyi bu mo. Ch. shàn nǚrén 善女人). There is a tendency to see this as a generic term for a high status person. The Chinese translation shàn nán zǐ 善男子 literally means "good male child", where shàn 善 is the standard translation of kuśala.

In a Buddhist context kulaputra is often translated along the lines of "good", "gentle", or "nobly born". A kula is any coherent collection of animals: "herd, troop, flock, etc"; or people "race, family, community, tribe, caste, clique, fraternity, etc." Context suggests that the community in question is the Buddhist community made up of four saṃghas: bhikṣu, bhikṣūnī, upasaka, and upasikā. 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 means "one of the flock". And the prestige derives from Buddhists' attitude of Buddhist exceptionalism. That said the use of it does seem to drift. In my notes I adopted the translation devotee.

As I said above, there is a mistake in Śāriputra's question in T 253:
Kūlaputra, if there is a desire to genuinely learn 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!meaning 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. This appears to be a translation error, in which the translator has misunderstood their source, most likely a Sanskrit text and encoded this misunderstanding in Chinese.

Avalokiteśvara Preaches

With respect to kulaputra, R1 texts now answer the question as if Śāriputra had asked about both sons and daughters (kuladuhitṛ) of the community (Ch. shàn nánzǐ 善男子, shàn nǚrén 善女人). The only text that did phrase the question that way was the Sanskrit. Recall that R2 doesn't use kulaputra/kuladuhitṛ in this way and that Śāriputra doesn't ask a question. Variations in the names continue. T 253 in particular has both of the two different ways of writing Śāriputra in succession: Shèlìfú 舍利弗 and Shèlìzi 舍利子.

Avalokiteśvara opens his teaching by repeating the phrase in the question (that is also found in the opening paragraph of the standard version), i.e.
yaḥ kaścic chāriputra kulaputro va kuladuhitā vā asyāṃ gambhīrāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryāṃ cartukāmas tenaivaṃ vyavalokitavyam
"Whichever son or daughter of the community who desires to perform this profound paragnosistic practice, therefore he should observe in this way.
The problem that I pointed out in Attwood (2012) holds here as well, i.e. vyava√lok is a transitive verb, so what is the devotee supposed to observe. The answer is obvious from the context, they are supposed to observe the five branches of experience (pañca skandhāḥ). Conze failed to grasp this in his edition of the standard text and does not see it here either. 

There are, however some major variations that are important to helping to make sense of the Tibetan versions. The first notable variant is that Ce (from Feer's 1866 polyglot edition) has śikṣatavyam "he should train" instead of vyavalokayitavyam "he should observe". 
  • Ce śāriputra kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā asyāṃ gambhirāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ varttakāmas tenaiva śikṣitavyaṃ || yaduta pañcaskandhāḥ svabhavaśūnyāḥ || katham svabhāvaśūnyāḥ ||
Words based on √śikṣ are common in Prajñāpāramitā. In T 257 the character xué 學 suggests that the translator might have had a text from the same lineage as Ce.

The other thing is that Nb, Ce, and Jb (Hasedera ms.) both add a phrase concerning the five skandhas
  • Nb yaḥ kaścit kulaputrā vā kuladuhitā vā asyā gambhirāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryā catrukāma tenaiva vyavalokayitavyaṃ || pañca skandhān svabhāva śunya vyavalokatitavyaṃ ||
  • Ce śāriputra kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā asyāṃ gambhirāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ varttakāmas tenaiva śikṣitavyaṃ || yaduta pañcaskandhāḥ svabhavaśūnyāḥ || katham svabhāvaśūnyāḥ ||
  • Jb yaḥ kaścic chāriputra kulaputra vā kuladuhitā vā gambhīrāyāṃ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryā cartukāmas tenaivaṃ vyavalokayitavyam | pañcaskandhāḥ | tāṃś ca svabhasūnyān samanupaśyati sma |
The Chinese and Tibetan texts all have this additional clause, but in each case it appears to be better integrated than the Sanskrit, where the tense of the verb frequently clashes with the rest of the phrase. E.g.
TibB. shā ri'i bu rigs kyi bu 'am / rigs kyi bu mo gang la la shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa zab mo spyad pa spyod par 'dod pa des / phung po lnga po de dag ngo bo nyid kyis stong par yang dag par rjes su mthong ba de ltar blta bar bya ste /
“Śāriputra! Whichever gentle son or gentle daughter desires to practise the practice the profound perfection of wisdom, he [sic] remarks that those those five aggregates are inherently empty, and should observe thus:”
However, the Tibetan texts are almost certainly translated from a Sanskrit source. Note the "he remarks" in Silk's translation contrasting with the subject "Whichever gentle son or gentle daughter". This could be a quirk of Tibetan.  

Jb has just tacked on the final part of the first paragraph of the standard text without alteration, leaving the final verb in the past tense so that it clashes with the rest of the sentence, particularly the future passive participle: "it should be observed by him... he perceived...". 

Where the Sanskrit adds this phrase it separates the verb (vyavalokayitavyam) from its object (pañcasakandha) by giving pañcaskandha in the wrong case (nominative plural instead of accusative plural) and often by adding a daṇḍa between them. I showed in "Heart Murmurs" (Attwood 2015) that this was an error. The phrase is vyavalokayitavyam pañcasakandhām "he should examine the five branches of experience." In order to be consistent with this (and with the intent of the Xīnjīng) the final phrase should have to be altered to tāṃs ca sarvaśūnyān dṣṛṭvāyam "and should see that they are  all absent".

None of the extant Sanskrit texts manages anything sensible and there is a great deal of variation. This suggests that scribes who could read Sanskrit were trying to make sense of the text as they copied it and took different approaches, but none looked to the Xīnjīng. However, in this passage all of the Chinese versions have replaced "he examined the five branches of experience" (zhàojiàn wǔyùn, jiē kōng 照見 五蘊皆空) with the Madhyamaka-inspired "they should contemplate the Five Skandhas as empty of self-nature" (Yīng guān wǔyùn xìng kōng 應觀五蘊性空). Also note the change in the verb from "examines" (zhàojiàn 照見)  to "should contemplate" (yīngguān 應觀; 應 having a similar sense to the future passive participle). This change argues against the extensions being made in Chinese, since it is the Sanskrit standard text (Hṛdaya) that introduces the svabhāvaśūnya where we expect śūnyatā from the Xīnjīng
This brings us to the end of the opening extension. The text now settles into the standard Heart Sutra, although the extra negations are almost universal in the Skt texts. And absent from all of the Chinese translations. We come back to the text after the dhāraṇī.

The Buddha's Endorsement
There is a small anomaly in T 253
T 253 般若波羅蜜多行,應如是
T 254 般若波羅蜜多行,應如是學
Skt. prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caryāyāṃ śikṣitavyaṃ
The second xíng 行 is probably a scribal error for xué 學, perhaps an eye-skip. Although note that TibA and TibB leave out "the practice of" completely:
TibA de ltar... bslab par bya'o "in that way... he should train"
TibB de ltar bslab par bya'o // "he should train in that way"
But in Tibetan, the question was asked in these terms (in Paragraph G).

T 257 adds a whole extra phrase: "If able to recite this Prajñāpāramitā dhāraṇī" (ruò néng sòng shì bōrěbōluómìduō míngjù 若能誦是般若波羅蜜多明句). Having studied the many ways that Chinese authors translated vidyā in a Prajñāpāramitā context I guess that míngjù 明句 literally "bright verse" is yet another way of translating vidyā or dhāraṇī, or even vidyā-dhāraṇī. This phrase has no parallel in any other version of the Heart Sutra.

T 253:
即時世尊 從廣大甚深 三摩地起
jíshí shìzūn cóng guǎngdà shènshēn sānmódì qǐ
The Bhagavan having arisen from the vast and profound samādhi...
This expression with the verb in the final position seems to be a Chinese idiom (Chinese is typically SVO) rather than a Sanskritism (Sanskrit is usually SOV). In T 223: cóng zuò qǐ 從座起 "he rose from his seat" literally "from seat rising" (8.229c08); also jiē cóng zuò qǐ 皆從座起 "all rose from their seats" (8.230b12). And numerous other examples.

It is slightly peculiar that the Sanskrit suggests that the teaching would be approved of by all the tathāgatas and arhats (anumodyate sarva-tathāgatair arhadbhiḥ). The arhats, generally speaking do not approve of Mahāyāna teachings, especially in the 8th Century, by which time the distinction has become somewhat schlerotic. However, as we have seen, the chief proponent of Prajñāpāramitā is Elder Subhūti, the arhat. Many of the Sanskrit manuscripts omit reference to the arhats as do all the Chinese and Tibetan translations.

T 257 also inserts a phrase—"it is real, supreme, and final" (shì jí zhēnshí zuìshàng jiùjìng 是即真實最上究竟)—which combines some common Buddhist superlatives that are also used in the standard Heart Sutra: jiùjìng 究竟 is from 究竟涅槃 translated in the Sanskrit Heart Sutra as niṣṭhanirvāṇa "final extinction" but probably more like nirvāṇa-paryavasāna "concluding in extinction"; zhēnshí 真實 is from the expression at the end of the epithets passage zhēnshí bù xū 真實不虛 "[Prajñāpāramitā] is truly real and not in vain."

Nothing parallel to this material is found in Recension Two (T 252).


The final paragraph in both recensions sees the audience rejoice at the teaching, employing a pericope that is similar in both R1 and R2. The phrase, "together with everyone in the gathering" (ca sarvāvatī parṣad), is a little unusual but is followed by the utterly stock phrase about the world with its various kinds of beings (sadeva-mānuṣa-āsura-gandharvaḥ lokaḥ). Most of the mss include the bodhisatvas (te ca bodhisatvā mahāsatvāḥ ) but this phrase is omitted in Jb, TibA, TibB, and Nh.

It was notable that the opening mentioned the bodhisatva-saṃgha, but they are not mentioned here.

There are some differences between the Conze edition and the Hasedera Manuscript (Jb).
Conze: āttamanā āyuṣmāñc Chāriputraḥ āryāvalokiteśvaro bodhisatvo mahāsatvas te ca bodhisatvā mahāsatvāḥ sā ca sarvāvatī parṣat sadeva-mānuṣāsura-garuda-gandharvaś ca loko bhagavato bhāṣitam abhyanandann iti.

Jb: ānandamanā āyuṣmān śāriputraḥ āryāvalokiteśvaraśca bodhisatvaḥ sā ca sarvāvatī pariṣat sadeva-mānuṣāsura-gandharvaś ca loko bhagavato bhāṣitam abhyanandan||
Jb has ānandamanā आनन्दमना for āttamanā आत्तमना, which looks like a simple scribal error. Jb also omits te ca bodhisatvā mahāsatvāḥ, and omits garuda from the list of beings. Jb also omits the sandhi that affects āyuṣmān śāriputraḥ: the rule here is complex but there are two possible outcomes here: āyuṣmāñcchāriputra āryāvalokiteśvaro or the more comprehensible āyuṣmāñ śāriputra āryāvalokiteśvaro

Unfortunately, the notation in Conze's (1967) edition completely falls apart at this point. E.g. the citation labelled "na" doesn't exist in Conze's notes. Some of his lettered citations are both the beginning and the end of a passage, some are adjacent to words but the notes deal with phrases. Numbered citations go up to 61, but the notes only go up to 58. I have found at least one variant omitted (note d, Nb tasmā tahi). Also Nb and Ce omit garuḍa but this is not noted by Conze.


The most striking thing, for me, is the sheer scale of variation in various documents instantiating the extended Heart Sutra text. The later manuscripts are overburdened with an accumulation of scribal errors but most also show signs of being deliberately edited. In a text of around 280 words, even small changes can be very important (even if it can take years of examination to see them). Passages have been added, omitted, and changed quite freely. So describing the extended Heart Sutra is no easy task. And while a broad outline of the stemma is not so difficult, including all the variations and horizontal influences (I'm trying to avoid the jargon "contamination" here) is beyond me at this stage. This is where computer-generated phylogenetic diagrams would be of use. 

T 252 is substantially different in every paragraph of the extensions despite also containing the standard Heart Sutra at its core. The protagonists are still the Buddha, Avalokiteśvara, and Śāriputra, but these are forced on any redactor by the conventions of Buddhist sūtra composition and the content of standard Heart Sutra. The differences between T 252 and the rest make it appear that this is a separate, possibly prior effort to extend the text (the traditional date is certainly earlier). The idea that the Heart Sutra was extended twice and no one noticed till now would be entirely in keeping with the history of the text and the history of scholarship on the text. I have found no evidence of who might have created T 252, but it may well have been the man credited with translating it, i.e. Fǎyuè 法月 or *Dharmacandra.

Lacking any working knowledge of Tibetan grammar I have not done a detailed comparison of the Tibetan recensions with the extant Sanskrit sources. But they are clearly a better fit with some than with others. Paragraph I of TibA and TibB suggests the hands of two different translators or redactors. The two read the conclusion of the extended opening in quite different ways. There is also the (to date) informal suggestion, from Ben Nourse, that different Tibetan manuscripts found at Dunhuang correspond somewhat to the two recensions.

These notes are preliminary to any attempt to tackle a critical edition. I also await a definitive study of the Dunhuang Heart Sutra manuscripts.

Language of Composition

If we are to establish what the language of composition was, what criteria would we use? With the Heart Sutra the task of deciding was relatively easy because of the copied passages - we could compare the Heart Sutra versions of the passage with the Large Sutra versions (which is what Jan Nattier did in 1992). The extensions, however, are a patchwork of pericopes. This is not unusual, since all Buddhist texts are to some extent modular (See Work, Text, Document), but it doesn't give us much purchase.

We could argue that the text which is more coherent and has the fewest grammatical errors is likely to be the original. On the other hand, most of the texts we use in this comparison have been edited and standardised for publication and/or canonisation. And all of them have been copied multiple times by scribes. Copying of manuscripts in greater India and its cultural sphere was often rather careless. Even after writing was widely used, sūtras were memorised and recited rather than read. It's likely the early transmissions of sūtras to China were memorised. Buddhists texts were often objects of religious devotion, never intended to be read or studied and thus careless copying didn't matter that much. In China, at least, scribes were literate and excellent handwriting was highly prized. The downside of this is that the educated scribe is more likely to casually "correct" a manuscript that they don't understand.

The Buddha's dharma teaching and samādhi is a point of departure for the R1 texts. It seems to me that the Sanskrit text which names the dharmaparyāya and leaves the samādhi unnamed is likely to be original. The Chinese texts don't mention a dharmaparyāya and this would be an odd detail to add in the circumstances. Or we could say that, since the Chinese R1 texts are in agreement, that the work that does not feature the Buddha giving a dharmaparyāya, and the presence of one in Sanskrit, is the oddity. However, the Tibetan texts, especially TibA, do seem to have both dharmaparayāya (Tib. chos kyi rnam grangs kyi) and samādhi (Tib. ting nge 'dzin). 

The Chinese texts, except for T 253, pick up on an editorial blunder that occurs in the Sanskrit standard text where svabhāvaśūnyan (zì xìng jiē kōng 自性皆空) is found where we expect śūnyatā (jiē kōng 皆空) based on the Xīnjīng. If one were to extend the Chinese text in Chinese this is not so likely. But note that the very next phrase in T 253 and 254—lí zhū kǔ è 離諸苦厄—is drawn from the Xīnjīng dù yīqiè kǔ è 度一切苦厄. 

T 253 treats kulaputra in Śāriputra's question to be a vocative, addressing Avalokiteśvara. This seems a very unlikely mistake to make if one were composing in Chinese. It looks like a translation error, a misreading of a Sanskrit text. Also with respect to the question in Para E, only Sanskrit asks in terms of both sons (putra) and daughters (duhitṛ) of the community (Ch. shàn nánzǐ 善男子, shàn nǚrén 善女人). Chinese and Tibetan texts phrase the question in terms only of sons. But they all have Avalokiteśvara answer the question in Para I in terms of both. Thus only the Sanskrit text is consistent in this case.

Another argument for a Sanskrit original for R2 is an awkwardness that occurs because of the use of the verb vyavalokayati. This works well enough in the standard Heart Sutra but when the Redactor tries to recast this verb in the standard form of a Prajñāpāramitā question, i.e. "how should the bodhisatva go about his business", where the activity is phrased using a future passive participle, the transitivity of vyavalokayati trips them up. 

For example, if the bodhisatva was to train (śikṣati*) in some form of Buddhist practice then the question would be kathaṃ śikṣitavyaṃ "how should he train?". And after the explanation Avalokitesvara might say "for this reason he should practice this way" tenaiva śikṣitavyaṃ (Ce, Feer's polyglot edition). Unfortunately, most of the Sanskrit manuscripts finished with "for this reason he should examine in this way" tenaivaṃ vyavalokitavyam. The reason it sounds so awkward is that the verb is transitive (Conze makes this mistake throughout his edition); that is, one cannot simply examine in the absence of something to examine. We saw above that the Translator filled out a Chinese phrase involving the implication that looking involves seeing. This is just the kind of adjustment a translator has to make moving between very different languages. But because the Translator chose a transitive verb (vyaavalokayati) this left the Redactor in a bind. In order to maintain consistency they had to have Avalokiteśvara use the awkward phrase tenaivaṃ vyavalokitavyam, something that would not have happened if the Sanskrit text were a translation of an idiomatic Chinese phrase. In this case the infelicitous Sanskrit also indicates that the Redactor of R1 was working in Sanskrit. 
*śikṣati is the desiderative of √śak "be able" and therefore literally means "the desire to be able" but it is used to indicate the training that a Buddhist practitioner (cārin) undertakes in Buddhist practices (cārya). 

So my first impression, which needs further scrutiny, is that the standard Heart Sutra was extended twice. The first time produced the text T 252 and since there is no evidence of it in any other language we can conjecture that it was made in Chinese (just like the Xīnjīng). This fits well with my revised history of the standard Heart Sutra as a Chinese digest text (chāo jīng 抄經) which was "authenticated"  based on the misperception that it was a translation from Sanskrit by Xuanzang and a forged Sanskrit "original" (actually a translation from Chinese). 

The standard Heart Sutra was extended a second time, probably in Sanskrit, although with varying influence from the Chinese (especially in T253), which was then translated into Chinese (T253, 254, 257) and Tibetan (including some Dunhuang manuscripts and the canonical versions), and from Tibetan into Chinese (T 255).

I see two new conjectures emerging from this study. 1. The extended Heart Sutra exists in two recensions; and 2. analysis of the language of the documents and editions strongly suggests that R1 was redacted in Sanskrit, while the lack of evidence for other versions suggests that R2 was redacted in Chinese. Also, since T 252, the sole representative of R2, is the earliest dated version of the text, I have got the nomenclature wrong. T 252 represents Recension One, an early attempt to create a more authentic Heart Sutra (by 7th Century Chinese Buddhist standards of authenticity). However, R1 never caught on. Recension Two is a second, probably later, perhaps unrelated attempt at a more authentic Heart Sutra, this time produced from the Sanskrit standard Heart Sutra and gave rise to all the other Chinese and Tibetan translations as well as a line of Sanskrit copies. 



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