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The Heart Sutra of Prajna Paramita 般若婆羅密多心經

The Heart Sutra of Prajna Paramita 般若婆羅密多心經


According to the Dharma (teaching of the Buddha), there are six realms of existence (六道). They are God, Asuras, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghost and Hell realm (天道, 阿修羅道, 人道, 畜生道, 餓鬼道和地獄道). The sentient beings in god realm (天人) are said to indulge into too much happiness and do not see the need to cultivate Buddhahood. On the contrary, Asuras (阿修羅) indulge much in anger and revenge. They are always waging war with the God realm. The animal realm does not possess enough intelligence to comprehend the Dharma. The sentient beings in the hungry ghost realm have bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food such that attempting to eat is also incredibly painful. Hence they are in too much in pain to practice the Dharma. In the hell realm, the sentient beings are in extreme pain, fear and suffering from the punishments of their bad karma. These sufferings have caused them to be unable to practice the Dharma. Therefore, among the sentient beings (form and formless) in the six realms, the human realm is in the best and privileged position to cultivate Buddhahood through Dharma.

The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra (般若波羅多心經) is a popular Dharma for many who follow the Mahayana Buddhism (大乘佛法). The core of the Heart Sutra emphases emptiness (空). Emptiness in Buddhism is impermanence. The sutra points out that one is always in the state of impermanence and ever changing. For instance, after attending a talk on a particular subject, one’s perspective towards that subjective matter changes. This change itself within demonstrates the impermanence of self. Clinging to impermanence result in countless cycle of rebirth. Achieving Nirvana through the Dharma is the only way to break away from this cycle.

In pursing the impermanence of the material world, one is constantly creating karma through actions/thoughts. As Shakyamuni Buddha said "All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states". Therefore, karma is the consequence of our own creation. There are two types of karma, short-term and long term-karma. Short-term karma takes place within a short space of time. For example, when a person returns a lost wallet to the owner, he is immediately rewarded by the owner. On the contrary, long-term karma takes a much longer time. It can be months, years or a different lifetime for it to take effect. Hence, karma has its own time and space for it to take effect (惡有惡報, 善有善報, 不是不報, 時辰未到).

Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra history and key tenets:

Prajna in Sanskrit is wisdom (), understanding (), tranquillity (清淨) and shunning (遠離).

Wisdom is the realisation of Emptiness (Impermanence). Understanding clears away ignorance. Tranquillity prevents the distraction of the body and mind from the six sense object. Shunning or staying away from the egocentric self so that one does not cling on to the false self. Paramita is the transcendent action or bases of training towards enlightenment (從此岸超越而到彼岸). There are three key notions to paramita: alleviating oneself and other sentients beings to higher states (超度), breaking away from the cycle of birth and death (度脫), and completion of cultivating good karma (修福) and wisdom (修慧) leading to Nirvana (事究竟). Thus, Prajna Paramita (般若波羅多) is the teaching of the Buddha (Dharma) that leads one into Nirvana. It is a pathway to end all sufferings and breaks away from the cycle of birth and death.

There are six paramitas: Dana paramita (布施波羅蜜: generosity, giving of oneself), Sila paramita (持戒波羅蜜: virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct), Ksanti paramita (忍辱波羅蜜: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance), Virya paramita (精進波羅蜜: energy, diligence, vigour, effort), Dhyana paramita (禪定波羅蜜: one-pointed concentration, contemplation) and Prajna paramita (般若波羅蜜 : wisdom, insight). Among the six paramitas, Prajna paramita is the most important(般若波羅蜜).

There are a total of eight versions of the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra (般若波羅多心經). Tripitaka Master Kumārajīva ( 鳩摩羅什) and Tripitaka Master Xuanzang (玄奘三蔵) are the two versions that are very similar to each other in their original translations from Sanskrit. Most sutras are written in three sections: introduction (序分), content (正宗分) and conclusion (流通分). In the introduction section (序分), the sutra is introduced in brief. The location where the sutra is being spoken is correspondingly revealed. Those who were present are likewise cited. In the content section (正宗分), the main sutra is presented. In the conclusion section (流通分), the merits of the sutra are declared. Allegiance from the other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors and other sentient beings are narrated. It will also mention how the congregation would return to their respective realms in high spirits. The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra version translated by Tripitaka Master Kumārajīva ( 鳩摩羅什) and Tripitaka Master Xuanzang (玄奘三蔵) only contain the content section (正宗分). It does not have introduction (序分) nor conclusion (流通分) like the other six versions. The one that is commonly use is the version by Tripitaka Master Xuanzang (玄奘三蔵).

There are three key tenets in the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra, five Skandhas (五蘊), twelve

Nidanas (十二因緣) and negation of the eighteen spheres (十八界). The five Skandhas (五蘊): form (material), feeling, conception, volition and consciousness (色受想行識) are the five aggregates that take part in the rise of craving and clinging. The twelfth Nidanas (十二因緣): ignorance, volitional impulses, sensual consciousness, name-and-form (body and mind), sixfold sense bases, contact, feeling (sensation), craving ("thirst"), clinging (attachment), becoming (behaviour serving craving and clinging), birth (arising of feeling of distinct self), and aging and death are conditions arising of rebirth in this Samsara world ( 娑婆世界). The twelfth Nidanas also resultant in endless suffering, pain and satisfactoriness. The eighteen spheres (十八界), Six sense objects(六根) (sights , sounds, scents, taste, tactile sensations and mental objects ), six faculties (六境)(eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mental), and six consciousness (六識) (eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness and mental consciousness) are taught to counteract the error with respect to a false self and moving towards Nirvana.

I will share the explanations of the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra (般若波羅多心經) content in next.

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