The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

The “Heart Sutra”, also known by it’s longer form of the “Heart of the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra” (Maka Hannya Haramitta Shingyō, 摩 訶 般 若 波 羅 蜜 多 心 經) is an extremely popular chant used in all of Mahayana Buddhism. It summarizes the much, much longer Perfection of Wisdom Sutra to its essential teachings: that all phenomena (lit. “all dharmas”) are empty. By empty I mean that:

  • They have no permanent identity; all things change, all the time.
  • They have no separate identity; all things depend on one another. Everything exists solely in relation to everything else.

The liturgy is used in many sects of Japanese Buddhism, but the specific one I am posting here comes from the “Kannon Bodhisattva” prayer book I purchased at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan, a Tendai Buddhist temple. The verses are broken out exactly as printed in the prayer book and I’ve managed to print all the right kanji.

The pronunciation of some characters varies just slightly from other online versions I’ve seen, but don’t despair. Many characters have multiple readings, so just use whichever version you’re familiar with. Because this text is so short, people sometimes chant it more than once in a single session, but the number is up to you. Choose what suits you. Feel free to print this out and use it on your own time. Enjoy!

Can’t read the characters?

If you’re having trouble reading the Kanji characters, you might have one or two problems with your computer:

  • Your computer may not have Asian fonts installed. In Windows you have to enable UTF8 and East Asian fonts under the Control Panel. Modern Mac computers are fully compatible already.
  • Your browser may be assuming the wrong character set. If you use a relatively modern browser and use UTF8 as character set, you should be able to read fine. IE, Firefox and Safari all read this fine as far as I can tell.

Even if not, then you can still use the romanized characters, and the (terrible) English translation of mine.

I struggled quite a bit with finding some characters. In the prayer book, the characters were sometimes really old versions, which were difficult to track down. In some cases, I failed and just had to use the more modern version. The sutra is still read the same, but you’ll see a few classical characters interspersed in what is otherwise a normal rendering of the text.

Disclaimer and Legal Info

I hereby release this into the public domain. Please use it as you see fit, but if you attribute it to this site, greatly appreciated. A print-friendly version can be found here.

Also, please bear in mind this is an amateur translation, and should not be taken too seriously, nor is it of academic quality.

Dedication

I dedicate this effort to all sentient beings everywhere. May all beings be well, may they all attain perfect peace.

Namu Amida Butsu
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu

The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

ma ka han- ya ha ra mi
ta shin gyo kan ji zai bo
sa gyo jin han– nya ha ra
mit– ta ji sho ken go un
kai ku do is– sai ku yaku
sha ri shi shiki fu i ku
ku fu i shiki shiki soku ze
ku ku soku ze shiki ju so
gyo shiki yaku bu nyo ze sha
ri shi ze sho ho ku so
fu sho fu metsu fu ku fu
jo fu zo fu gen ze ko
ku chu mu shiki mu ju so
gyo shiki mu gen ni bi zes–
shin ni mu shiki sho ko mi
soku ho mu gen kai nai shi
mu i shiki kai mu mu myo
yaku mu mu myo jin nai shi
mu ro shi yaku mu ro shi
jin mu ku shu metsu do mu
chi yaku mu toku i mu sho
toku ko bo dai sat– ta e
han– nya ha ra mit– ta ko
shin mu kei ge mu kei ge
ko mu u ku fu on ri
is– sai ten do mu so ku
kyo ne han san ze sho butsu
e han – nya ha ra mit– ta
ko toku a noku ta ra sam–
myaku san bo dai ko chi han–
nya ha ra mit– ta ze dai
jin shu ze dai myo shu ze
mu jo shu ze mu to do
shu no jo is– sai ku shin
jitsu fu ko ko setsu han– nya
ha ra mit– ta shu soku setsu
shu watsu gya tei gya tei ha
ra gya tei ha ra so gya
tei bo ji so wa ka han–
nya shin gyo

Translation

This translation of mine is far from perfect. I tried to consult other translations as well as online Kanji dictionaries, as well as Chinese online dictionaries to find some rarer characters, and cross-reference some definitions that were unclear. So, I believe this is one way to read the sutra in English. Other, much better, translations certainly exist, so please do not take my efforts too seriously. This was just a weekend effort:

The Buddha’s teaching: the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara,
while practicing the profound Prajña Paramita, the Perfection of Wisdom,
illuminated the Five Aggregates and found them empty,
by degress cutting off all afflictions and suffering.

O Shariputra,
Emptiness is not different from form;
form is not different from emptiness.
That is to say, form is emptiness,
[and] emptiness is form.
Sensation, perception [of sensation], volition, consciousness:
the same holds true for these as well.

O Shariputra,
all phenomena [lit. "various dharmas"] have the aspect of emptiness,
[they are] neither produced nor destroyed,
neither filthy nor pure [lit. sparkling],
neither increasing nor decreasing.
It is for this reason that in emptiness there is no form,
no sensation, perception [of sensation], volition, and consciousness,
no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind,
no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no objects of mind,
no realm of eyes.
This extends [to the other sense-realms] until there is no realm of mind-conscious either.
No ignorance, also no ending of ignorance.
This extends to old age, death as well as no ending of old age and death.
No suffering, no interdependent-origination, no extinction, no path,
no wisdom, no attainment.

Now, since there is no attainment,
the bodhisattva, the one who is firm in his pursuit of Enlightenment,
relies, therefore, on the Perfection of Wisdom.
His mind has no hindrances.
Since he has no hindrances,
he has nothing to fear.
Far apart from all such confused illusions,
he has even reached Nirvana.
The Buddhas of the Three Time Periods [past, present, future],
rely, therefore, on the Perfection of Wisdom,
and attain anuttara-samyaksam-bodhi, Full Unsurpassed Enlightenment.

Therefore, know that the Perfection of Wisdom
is a truly mysterious mantra,
is a brilliant mantra,
is an unsurpassed mantra,
is the mantra without any equal,
which relieves all suffering,
and which is both true and real, not false.
Therefore, expound the mantra of the Perfection of Wisdom,
by speaking the mantra like so:

Gone, gone, everyone gone
everyone completely gone to the Other Shore [Enlightenment], Awakening Hail!

[this ends] the Heart Sutra


8 Comments on “The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra”

  1. Lorem ipsum says:

    Thank you for this illuminating translation. I hope you don’t mind, but I have copied, pasted and printed it off. I’ve not saved the electronic copy and will not reproduce it anywhere else. Just for my own use.

  2. Doug says:

    Hi Lorem and welcome to the JLR. I probably should specify that this is public domain, so do what you see fit. It’s not a great translation, so I think better one’s exist, but if it’s useful, then enjoy!

  3. Dominick says:

    I was listening to a Soto recitation of this and I noticed that the ha ra syllables on the second to last line were just one syllable, hara. Do you have any idea why this is, or if it changes the meaning?

  4. Doug says:

    Hi Dominick and welcome to the JLR. In regards to your question I would imagine that it is just a difference in style. The text is the same across all Asian Buddhism but how it gets recited varies. The version I heard was Shingon Buddhist style and it sounded like above. Same meaning in any case. :-)

  5. Marcus says:

    Hi Doug,

    “The text is the same across all Asian Buddhism”

    Well, yes, but not quite. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but if you compare the Japanese Heart Sutra with the Korean, you’ll see that at some stage in history the Japanese added two extra characters. No one knows why!

    They are characters number 176 and 177, is sai, = all all.

    All the best,

    Marcus

  6. Shinyo says:

    Hi Doug,

    I am studying the Heart Sutra now and would like to find an audio clip to hear how the chanting sounds. I’m reading commentaries by Rev. Gyomay Kubose and the Dalai Lama. Thank you.

    In Oneness,
    Shinyo

  7. Doug says:

    Hi Shinyo,

    Look for a post on this blog titled “Tendai Liturgy” which includes a link to a sound clip for the Heart Sutra. SHould be able to find your way from there. Good luck!


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