Heart Sutra Buddhism 般若波羅蜜多心經 翻譯 英譯 Translation - Vincent's Calligraphy

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The Heart Sutra
66 X 35cm
Click to Enlarge.  Collected, no longer in inventory.  
See  Catalogue here.
The Heart Sutra
66 X 35cm  in Standard Script (書)

Historical Information
The Heart Sutra (般若波羅蜜多心經) of Mahāyāna Buddhism (大乘佛教) is one of the most revered Buddhist sutras in both Chinese and Japanese cultures (1,2).  The most widely known Chinese version of the Heart Sutra is the one that is edited and arranged by Monk Xuanzang (釋玄奘, 602-664 AD).  The origin of the Heart Sutra is rather contentious as some proposed that it is apocryphal and was originally composed in Chinese but not in Sanskrit; in particular, scholar Jan Nattier, contends that "the earliest version of the Heart Sūtra was probably first composed in China in the Chinese language from a mixture of material derived from Kumārajīva's (鳩摩羅什, 334-413 AD) Chinese translation of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (or Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, 大品般若經) and new composition, and that this assemblage was later translated into Sanskrit"(3,4). Despite the controversies surrounding its origin, the Heart Sutra remains as one of the most popular Buddhist sutras in East Asian circles; even to this day, the version published by Monk Xuanzang is still often recited and studied by many.

Xuanzang's version of the Heart Sutra is widely admired among traditional Chinese intellects and has been hand-written by many renowned Chinese calligraphers such as Ouyang Xun (歐陽詢, 557-641 AD) and Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫, 1254-1322 AD) in different script styles (5).  Presented above is my work on Xuanzang's Heart Sutra written in small Standard Script ().

Text interpretation
Note: the interpretation presented below, by KS Vincent Poon on Mar. 5, 2017, is a reworking of two independent renowned English translations of the Heart Sutra: one originally published by Edward Conze (6,7,8), and the other by the Ven. Dharma Master Lok To (9,10).  The purpose of the reworking is to allow ordinary English speakers to better understand the contents of the original classical Chinese edition of the Heart Sutra arranged by Monk Xuanzang.
He looked down and perceived that all Five Skandhas are empty, thus He overcame all ills and sufferings.
form does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from form.
(for details in interpreting "form" and "void", please see Personal Comments - On The Contents Of The Heart Sutra below)
form is void and void is form;
the same also applies to feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness.
O Sariputra,
all dharmas are marked with voidness (or emptiness): they are neither created nor destructible,
they cannot be defiled or purified, they cannot be augmented nor diminished.
Hence, within voidness, there is no form, feeling, perception, volition, nor consciousness;
no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, nor perception; no form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects nor objects of mind;
no realm of the sense of sight and so forth, even to the extent of no realm of consciousness;
there is no annoyance from ignorance, and so no annihilation of annoyance from ignorance;
and there is even no decay and death, and so no extinction of decay and death;  
there is no suffering and no origin of suffering, and there is no cessation of suffering and no path to the cessation of suffering;
there is no wisdom and no attainment of anything whatsoever.
As there is nothing to be attained, the Bodhisattva, relying on Prajna Paramita (Perfection of Wisdom),
has no hindrance in His mind; because His mind is free of hindrance, He has no fear,
He stays far away from delusional dreams, and ultimately reaches the state of Nirvana.
The Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future have all transcended to Supreme Enlightenment by following and practising the Prajna Paramita.
Therefore, the Prajna Paramita (Prajna Paramita Chant) is the Great Divine Spell,
the Great Spell of Illumination, the Supreme Spell, and the Unequalled Spell among all,
which can truly allay one from all suffering without fail.
Hence, the  Prajna Parmita Chant is recited and and runs like this:
(by KS Vincent Poon on Mar. 5, 2017)
Personal Comments
On Sutra Copying (抄經)
The copying of Buddhist scriptures by hand (or Sutra copying, or "抄經" in Chinese, or "写経" in Japanese) in small standard script is fairly common in East Asian cultures(11).  Some consider the practice to be a means to learning Buddhism, others even contend that it is a meritorious act (功德) in Buddhism as the act promotes the transmission of Buddhist scriptures even without the printing press.  My work presented above is partly inspired by my personal observations of the many Buddhist scriptures that were hand-copied by past reputable Japanese monks during my visit to the Tokyo National Museum in summer 2015.  One such example can be observed below:

Shosan jodo butsu shoju kyo (Sutra on Pure Land and salvation through the Grace of Buddha), Nara period, 8th century, ink on paper
On The Content Of The Heart Sutra
There are certainly many Buddhist concepts revealed in the Heart Sutra and discussing all of them accurately is certainly out of my scope.  Nonetheless, I would like to discuss briefly two important Buddhist ideas outlined in the Heart Sutra:

a. The Buddhist concept of "Void/Emptiness/Nothingness ()"
"Void/Emptiness/Nothingness(空)" in Buddhism does not mean non-existence (不存在).  Rather, it refers to the concept that all things perceptible, including concrete objects and even abstract ideas, are always ever-changing and in a state of "impermanence (無常)".  Thus, nothing perceptible is permanently static and hence "real (實有)", and so all things in the conceivable Universe are merely in a state of "non-concrete existence (非實有)" and therefore always in a state of "voidness".  Hence, the Heart Sutra claims "form is void and void is form (色即是空,空即是色)", where "form" refers to all perceptible entities in the Universe.  This concept of "void(空)" is not only observed in Buddhism but also in traditional Chinese literature as well as, surprisingly, in Christianity where the Bible asserts "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity (虛而又虛,萬事皆虛 )" - Ecclesiastes 1:2.  For further discussion on the concept of "Void/Nothingness(空)" in traditional Chinese culture and Christianity please visit these links: here and here

b. The Buddhist view on "Suffering()" and its parallel to Christianity
In Buddhism, "Suffering()" or Dukkha generally refers to the pains, dissatisfactions, frustrations, anxieties, etc., that we all experience in life.  The Heart Sutra does not directly address the origins of "Suffering" but suggests one can overcome it by staying "far away from delusional dreams (遠離顚倒夢想)".  This is consistent with the Buddhist principle of  "The Second Noble Truth, 集諦"  wherein it contends that "Suffering" is attributed to one's unnecessary cravings for worldly possessions. Specifically, The Second Noble Truth argues that, since all entities are always in a state of "impermanence(無常)", any desired objects can never be fully obtained and so one's desires for them can never fully be satisfied which ultimately causes one to fall into the never-ending cycle of suffering (11,12).  Hence, the endless lust for power, money and social status as well as the conceited insistence that one can fully control one's fate in the ever-changing Universe are all good examples of "delusional dreams (顚倒夢想)" that can cause unnecessary cravings which fundamentally hinders one from transcending to the state of Nirvana (涅槃), the Supreme Enlightenment.

Interestingly, the misery resulting from the obsession and desire of temporal worldly goods is also outlined in many parts of the New Testament of the Catholic Bible:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs." - Timothy 6:10

"You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God." - James 4:2-4

"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.  Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever." - John 2:15-17

Ultimately, it is personal Pride and Greed (two of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride being the father of all Sins) that drive one to misery and suffering.  The very first example in the Bible is where Adam and Eve were banned from the garden of Eden and became mortal when they chose to eat from the "Tree of Knowledge" despite God's warning (Genesis 3:1-12); Adam and Eve had too much Pride thinking that they could disobey God, subsequently became greedy in wanting to obtain God's power, and so consequently decided to eat from the "Tree of Knowledge".  In this regard, one could argue their downfall was due to their "delusional dreams (顚倒夢想)" wherein they thought they could become equals to God.

How does one escape suffering in Christianity then? Love one another and sacrifice oneself humbly without asking anything in return:

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." -Galatians 5:13

This is central to Christianity: one should love and help others humbly without expecting anything in return; one should be so humble to the extent that one should not even expect a place in Heaven by doing many good deeds.  Indeed, when Jesus sacrificed Himself for our salvation, He did not expect nor receive anything in return, for He is God.

Truly, no one knows who can enter Heaven or Hell after the Final Judgment.  We can only follow God's ways, pray, and hope that, by the great Mercy of the Almighty God, He will send His peace to our hearts and minds so we can be rid of sufferings and be truly joyful as we live through this life's journey towards the Kingdom of God.

KS Vincent Poon Mar. 10, 2017

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