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The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is often cited as being the most well-known and most popular scriptures recited by Buddhists. The Heart Sutra belongs to the Perfection of Wisdom, and in the original Sanskrit, it is made up of fourteen verses, or shlokas; each shloka is comprised of 32 syllables. When translated into English, it is comprised of just sixteen sentences, which makes it the shortest of texts found in the Perfection of Wisdom. Some of the texts in the Perfection of Wisdom can contain up to 100,000 verses and can take hours upon hours to recite.

While the originations of many texts in Buddhism are difficult to trace, the Heart Sutra is said to have been first said by bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara when he saw that the Five Skandhas were empty. A bodhisattva is someone who is said to be on the cusp of enlightenment, but who has chosen to remain here in order to help as many other sentient beings ease their suffering and find their own way to enlightenment. Avalokiteśvara is the bodhisattva who is said to be the embodiment of peace and compassion, and is amongst the most popular of bodhisattvas.

The Five Skandhas are the five aggregates of existence that come together to form an individual, each one of us. They are said to be the following.

  1. Form, which is representative of our physical form or our bodies.      
  2. Sensation, which is representative of our five senses, our feelings, and our emotions.
  3. Perception, which is representative of what we would call thinking, in other words reasoning and conceptualization.
  4. Mental formations, which is representative of our prejudices and habits, along with our faith, pride, vindictiveness, and all mental states that are virtuous and also non virtuous.
  5. Consciousness, which is representative of our awareness and recognition of objects around us.

The Five Skandhas are also often referred to as the Five Aggregates of Existence. It is important to note that not all schools of Buddhism interpret the Five Skandhas in the same way however. The nature of Buddhism leaves open a lot of room for interpretation on a variety of things, which is what the Buddha intended because the goal of following Buddhism is to follow your own pathway to enlightenment. It should be noted that even with differences amongst various schools of Buddhism, the core set of beliefs tends to be interpreted in much the same manner.

It is said that all of the Buddhas, past, present, and future, have reached true enlightenment by relying on the Heart Sutra in one way or another. The Heart Sutra is written as follows.

“Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was moving in the deep course of wisdom which has gone beyond. He looked down from on high and saw but five skandhas which, in their own being, were empty. Here, O Sariputra, Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form; Form does not differ from Emptiness, Emptiness does not differ from Form; whatever is Empty, that is Form, whatever is Form that is Empty. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. O Sariputra all dharmas are marked with Emptiness, they have no beginning and no end, they are neither imperfect nor perfect, neither deficient nor complete. Therefore O Sariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no name, no concepts, no knowledge. No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or object of the mind, no sight organ, no hearing organ and so forth to no mind consciousness element; no ignorance or extinction of ignorance, no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path, no cognition, no attainment, nor anything to attain. There is nothing to accomplish and so Bodhisattvas can rely on the Perfection of Wisdom without trouble. Being without trouble they are not afraid, having overcome anything upsetting they attain Nirvana. All Buddhas who appear in the three periods, fully Awake to the utmost right and perfect enlightenment because they have relied on the Perfection of Wisdom. Therefore, one should know the Perfection of Wisdom is the great mantra, is the unequaled mantra, the destroyer of suffering.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Para Sam Gate Bodhi Svaha

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Para Sam Gate Bodhi Svaha

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Para Sam Bate Bodhisvaha.

Bodhi Svaha” 

The Mantra can be translated easily into English, which can help with the better understanding of it. It can be translated and deciphered in the following way.

  • translates to mean . This can be understood as meaning gone from suffering, or gone from duality and into non-duality.Gategone
  • Paragate translates to mean “gone all the way to the other side of the shore.” This part of the mantra holds a lot of power and strength.
  • Para Sam Gate translates to mean “everyone, the entire community, has gone over to the other shore.”
  • Bodhi translates to mean “enlightenment” or “awakening.”
  • Svaha translates to a cry of excitement, like “Welcome!”

What this means is that the English translation can be read as the following.

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond Gone utterly Beyond

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond Gone utterly Beyond

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond Gone utterly Beyond

Oh What An Awakening

The Heart Sutra and Mantra are often also referred to as being the spell of Prajnaparmita. Prajnaparmita can be translated to mean the “Perfection of Wisdom.”