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.
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
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.
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.
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