English Translations

First English Translation: Beal 1865.

Beal, Samuel. (1865). ‘The Paramita-hridaya Sutra or The Great Paramita Heart Sutra.’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain. 1 (1/2):25-28

The Pāramitā-hridaya Sūtra, or, in Chinese, “Mo-ho-pô-ye-po-lo-mih-to-sin-king,” i.e. “The Great Pāramitā Heart Sūtra.” Translated from the Chinese by the Rev. S. Beal, Chaplain, R.N. [Presented December, 1863.]

Note that I have attempted to identify persons and places named in the introduction with mixed success. My addition of Chinese with Pinyin Romanisation are in square brackets. Jayarava

This Sūtra consists of about two hundred and fifty characters. It is repeated in the course of the daily worship of the Buddhists, by rote, as a mantra would be repeated (according to Colebrook, pp.8,9, Relig. of Hindoos,) by the Hindoos. In its composition it resembles, or appears to resemble, the sacred writings of the Brahmans. No authors name is attached to it. It does not even begin with the usual preface “thus have I heard” (evam mayā śrutam). But we have mentioned in it the Rishi to whom it was communicated, and the Devatā from whom it proceeded. In this particular, at any rate, it strongly resembles the Vedic model. And when we recollect that the later Buddhists attempted in every possible way to absorb the system of the Brahmans in their own, yielding so far as they dared to popular superstitions, we shall not wonder in finding so many similarities, in externals at least, between the two religions.

From its brevity we may suppose that this Sūtra is a condensed form of the larger Pāramitā works, abbreviated for the sake of frequent repetition, or, it is possible, that the larger works are but an expansion of this or some other equally curt production (Wassiljew, Der Buddhismus, s.145).

This sūtra was probably first translated by the celebrated pilgrim Hiouen Thsang [i.e. Xuanzang]. At any rate, it stands first in the authorized Chinese collection. Some interest attached to it, moreover, on account of the numerous commentaries on its text, which have been published by a succession of learned Chinese Priests. This work is the key, as it were, to the [26] doctrines of the contemplative of mystic school of Buddhists. This school has taken firm root in the southern districts of China. Hence we find that the most numerous and important editions of the “Heart Sūtra” have issued from monasteries in the southern provinces. The most ample, and perhaps the most learned (if tedium is a proof of learning) commentary I have met with is that of a priest (Chan sse) called Tai Teën [大顛寶通; Dàdiān Bǎotōng]. He was the instructor of a celebrated person, called Han-chang-li [Han Changli], otherwise named Han U [韓愈 Han Yu], or Han-wen-kung [Han Wengong], who was vice-president of the Board of Punishment during the reign of the 11th Emperor of the Tang dynasty [i.e. Tang Xianzong 唐憲宗]. “This officer was originally a strict Confucianist. The Emperor had sent (A.D. 819) some mandarins to escort a bone of the Buddha from a place called Fung-tsian-fu, in the province of Shensi, to the capital. All the court, common people, eunuchs and ladies, vied with each other in their idolatrous adoration of this relic. Han-chang-li, however, indignant at their conduct, took this opportunity of presenting a strongly worded remonstrance to the Emperor, which he styled ‘Fuh-kuh-hin’ [諫迎佛骨表 Jiàn yíng fú gǔ biǎo], i.e. Memorial on the bone of Buddha. For this honest exposition of his feelings, he was degraded from his post, and appointed prefect of a distant department, called Chiu Chau [Py Chaozhou], in the province of Kwang Tung.” After a year’s residence in this place he fell sick, and was thus brought in contact with a priest called Tai Teen. To him the exiled mandarin confided his thoughts. A lasting and close friendship ensued. The consequence was, that the celebrated Han-chang-li became a believer in the Buddhist doctrine he had once despised and protested against. We may reasonably suppose that the “Heart Sūtra” of Tai Teen was the subject of frequent and earnest consideration with this conscientious officer; and his appeal against the worship of the relic of Buddha is still authoritatively published and read to the common people, to dissuade them from such superstitions, the fact of the author of that tract having himself become a Buddhist through a consideration of the sūtra we now are about to translate, becomes at least an interesting circumstance in connection with it. [27]

The text and commentary of Tai Teën, which I have used, were republished in 1850 by a scholar (Tau jin), named Woo Tsing Tseu.


Avalokiteśwara (The Devatā of the Sūtra)
When the Prajnā Pāramitā has been fully practised, then clearly behold that the five skandhas are all empty, vain, and unreal. So it is we escape the possibility of sorrow or obstruction.

Śāriputra (The Rishi of the Sūtra)

That which we call form (rūpa) is not different from that which we call space (ākāśa). Space is not different from form. Form is the same as space. Space is the same as form.

And so with the other skandhas, whether vedanā, or sanjnā, or sanskāra, or vijñāna, (they are each the same as their opposite).

All these things around us (ye dhammā) being thus stript or devoid of qualities (lakshaṅa [sic]), there can be no longer birth or death, defilement or purity, addition or destruction. In the midst then on this void (ākāśa), there can be neither rūpa, vedanā, sanjnā, sanskāra, or vijnāna (i.e., neither of the five skandha), nor yet organs of sense, whether the eye, or nose, ear, or tongue, body of mind (chitta), nor yet objects of sense, i.e. matter (rūpa), or sound, odour, or taste, touch, or ideas (chaitta), nor yet categories of sense (dhātu), such as the union of the object and subject in sight, in smell, in touch, in taste, in apprehension.

So there will be no such thing as ignorance (avdiyā), nor yet freedom from ignorance, and therefore these can be none of its consequences (viz., the twelve nidānas. Colebrooke p.255); and therefore no such thing as decay or death (jarā or maraṅa), nor yet freedom from decay and death. So neither can there be a method (or way) for destroying the concourse of sorrows. No such thing as wisdom, and no such thing as attaining (happiness or rest), as there will not be ought that can be attained.

The Bodhisatwa resting on this Prajnā Pāramitā, no sorrow of obstruction can then affect his heart, for there will be no [28] such thing as sorrow of obstruction. Therefore, having no fear or apprehension of evil, removing far from him all the distorting influences of illusive thought, he arrives at the goal of Nirvāṅa.

The Buddhas of the three ages, relying on this Prajnā Pāramitā, have arrived at the “unsurpassed and enlightened” condition “samyak-sambodhi”).

Therefore know that this Prajnā Pāramitā is the the Great Spiritual Dhāraṇī,–it is the Great Light-giving Dhāraṇī. This is the unsurpassed Dhāraṇī. This is the unequalled Dhāraṇī, able to destroy all sorrows. True and real, (i.e., full of meaning), not vain (i.e., unmeaning). Therefore we repeat (or let us repeat) the Prajnā Pāramitā Dhāraṇī.
Then also say–

Ki-tai, Ki-tai,
Po-lo, Ki-tai,
i.e. [according to M. Julien’s system]:
Gati Gati, Paragati, Parasangati, Bodhisatvah,
[words I cannot attempt to explain.]


Notes .

Han Yu (768-824) master of Chinese prose, outstanding poet, and the first proponent of what later came to be known as Neo-Confucianism, which had wide influence in China and Japan.

大顛寶通; PY Dàdiān Bǎotōng (732–824). Commentary is named Bo-ruo xin jing zhu-jie  (Z1, 42, 1, 34d-35d). Biography obscure according John McRae (1988: 92), but the commentary is extant and McRae provides an overview and excerpt from this commentary (1988: 96-98).

McRae, John R. (1988). “Ch’an Commentaries on the Heart Sûtra: Preliminary Inferences on the Permutation of Chinese Buddhism”. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 11, no. 2: 87-115. Online: https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/jiabs/article/view/8741/2648

Colebrook, pp.8,9, Relig. of Hindoos. This appears to be a reference to

Colebrooke, H. T. (1858) Essays on the religion and philosophy of the Hindus. Williams & Norgate.

On page 8-9, Colebrooke discusses the Ṛgveda and mantras (i.e. the hymns of the Ṛgveda, not the later magical formulas recited by Buddhists). This is confirmed by Beal’s use of terminology deriving from Colebrooke, i.e. referring to Śāriputra as “The Rishi of the Sūtra”. Colebrooke’s essay introduces the phrase “rishi of the mantra”, which Beal seems to copy.

Wassiljew, Der Buddhismus, s.145. Is probably

W. Wassiljew (1860) Der Buddhismus Seine Dogmen, Geschichte Und Literatur. St. Petersburg, Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften.

The modern spelling of the name is Vasl̄iǐ Pavlovīch Vasīlév.


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