The Heart Sutra (in English)


This translation of the beloved sutra comes from the chanting book of the Kwan Um school of Zen:

* * *

The Maha
Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.

form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

all dharmas are marked with emptiness;
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.
No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra,
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:

gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha
gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha
gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

* * *

If you see the player above, you can hear the Heart Sutra chanted in English (5 min. 32 sec.). Source.

I am delighted to discover that the longer I practice, the more these words become clear to me. There are commentaries and explications of this sutra, but when I look at them, I feel as if they are killing the spirit of it. They are dissecting it like a cadaver. So I think you can chant this sutra for a long time without understanding all of it, but it will be like adding some healthful food to your diet: The longer you do it, the better it makes you feel.

Some small helpful bits:

  • Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva – the Bodhisattva (enlightenment being) also known as Kuan Yin, or Guan Yin
  • Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi – supreme, complete, unsurpassed enlightenment
  • Dharma – the way, the law, the teachings … or simply, the truth
  • Hrdaya – heart (Sanskrit)
  • In the three worlds all Buddhas – this is also translated into English as “All the Buddhas, past, present, and future”
  • Paramita – perfection
  • Prajna – wisdom
  • Shariputra – one of the Buddha’s foremost disciples
  • Skandhas – “heaps,” or aggregates; the five are form (body), feelings, perceptions (thoughts), impulses (will, karma), and consciousness

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha has been translated in several ways, with gate (GAH-tay) meaning beyond, gone, or away; bodhi means awake, to wake up, to be enlightened; svaha is an interesting word, maybe best translated here as “yes” or “absolutely.”

In Zen Master Seung Sahn’s book The Compass of Zen, the mantra is translated as “Gone, gone, gone to the other shore beyond” (p. 138).



3 responses

  1. Alan Ginsburg translated “svaha” as “Wow!” – which is a nice way of finishing the mantra.

    After nearly 20 years, this chant continues to open up for me. Recently I was chanting it and the words “the mind is no hindrance” flashed into consciousness. This captures Great Master Mazu’s famous teaching, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”

    Given that, what is the “other shore” and what is “beyond the other shore?”

    Nice post. Thanks!

  2. who taught the mantra to the teacher of avalokitesvara’s teacher? is water right or wrong? does a stone tablet like the writings on it?

    practice is practice. mantra is mantra. reciting ‘buddha’ ten thousand times does not make people wiser, or so i heard. on the other hand it does not hurt. 🙂

    good luck.

  3. There is a teaching in which the Buddha tells his son, Rahula, about the earth, the soil. If you throw seeds on the earth, the earth accepts them. If you throw garbage, flowers, whatever — the earth accepts. No liking. No disliking.