Study Notes for 2010

In 2010 we will be chanting and studying the Heart Sutra at our sangha meetings on Sunday at
Studio 1219. Please scroll down this page for our text and notes. The book we will refer to most
often is The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The Heart Sutra
--as recited at Plum Village

The Bodhisattva Avolokita,
While moving in the deep course of perfect understanding,
Shed light on the five skandas
And found them equally empty.
After this penetration he overcame ill-being.


Listen, Shariputra,
Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Form is not other than emptiness;
Emptiness is not other than form.
The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.


Here, Shariputra,
All dharmas are marked with emptiness.
They are neither produced nor destroyed.
Neither defiled nor immaculate.
Neither increasing nor decreasing.
Therefore, in emptiness there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perceptions.
No mental formations, no consciousness.
No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind.
No form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no objects of mind.
No realms of elements from eyes to mind consciousness.
No interdependent origins and no extinction of them.
(From ignorance to death and decay)
No ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path.
No understanding, no attainment.


Because there is no attainment,
The Bodhisattvas, grounded in perfect understanding,
Find no obstacles for their minds.
Having no obstacles, they overcome fear,
Liberating themselves forever from illusion and realizing perfect nirvana.
All Buddhas in the past, present, and future, thanks to this perfect understanding,
Arrive at full, right, and universal enlightenment.


Therefore one should know that perfect understanding
Is the highest mantra,
The unequalled mantra,
The destroyer of ill-being
The incorruptible truth.
A mantra of prajnaparamita should therefore be proclaimed.
This is the mantra:

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.

(Three Bells)

Some notes on the Heart Sutra

Avolokita, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the one who hears the cries of the world. In Sanskrit the name is spelled “Avolokiteshwara”.
The statue outside of the Vietnamese Temple in Lansing is Kwan Yin, the Chinese equivalent. This Bodhisattva can be both male and female.
A bodhisattva is a being who embodies enlightenment. Avolokita embodies prajnaparamita, perfect understanding, wisdom.

The Five Skandhas, five “heaps” or “aggregates” that make up human beings. Form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations and

Prajnaparamita, perfect understanding, wisdom that has gone beyond our ordinary understanding, transcendental wisdom,
what we understand when we are fully present here and now. Wisdom transcends knowledge, goes beyond understanding.

Shariputra, the son of Shari, “putra” means son of. The disciple of the Buddha known for his
wisdom and deep understanding. Avolokita is trying to impart to Shariputra a deeper teaching, a
more complete understanding.

Dharmas, teachings, experiences that lead to understanding, something that brings about awakening.

Four Noble Truths, ill-being, cause of ill-being, cessation of ill-being, path to end of ill-being. Suffering, grasping, extinction of cause of suffering,
noble eightfold path (right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) Duhkha,
tanha, nirhoda, marga.

Mantra, an invocation of spiritual forces. Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha can be
translated as “Gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, enlightenment, wow!” (or maybe
amen, hallelujah, at last!) The Beat poet and Zen Priest Phillip Whalen suggested “Gone, gone, really   gone, into the cool, oh, Mama!”

The Heart Sutra is thought to have been written around 200 AD in Sanskrit in India. No one knows exactly where or when. It began appearing in
Chinese translation around 350 AD and in Tibet somewhat later. It is chanted and studied with great devotion in Zen temples around the world and
is the most important sutra of Mahayana Buddhism. It is a one page summary of earlier Buddhist teaching, a refutation of their misunderstanding and
both an invocation summoning the embodiment of wisdom and a means to recall understanding and compassion. The mantra at the end is always
chanted in Sanskrit as the sound of each syllable itself is seen as important and powerful.

Translations and Commentaries, There are many translations of the Heart Sutra. We are studying the version used at Plum Village along with Thay’s commentary.

The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press, Berkeley, 1988

It is often said that the Heart Sutra cannot be understood without extensive meditation and study. Two highly recommended books based on the traditional sources with Sanskrit text and extensive commentary are:

The Heart Sutra: Translation and Commentary by Red Pine, Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, 2004

Buddhist Wisdom Texts, by Edward Conze, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1972