The Heart Sutra

Prajnaparmita Hrdaya Sutra

Translated by Tripitaka Master

Hsuan Tsang of the Tang Dynasty

With Commentary by Grand Master Tan Hsu

Of the seven known translations of the Heart Sutra the one by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang is the most popular. Tripitaka is a Sanskrit term designating Buddhist canon, a Buddhist text which consists of three sections: 1. Sutras or original texts, or in other words, Buddhadharma. 2. Vinaya or rules of discipline and 3. Sastras or commentaries related to theory and practice, as well as to the teachings in relation to non-Buddhist argument. Dharma master Hsuan Tsang understood the Tripitaka thoroughly and therefore the title of Tripitaka Master was bestowed upon him. He did not study canonical texts primarily for personal satisfaction; his purpose was to make them available to others and he acted in compliance with a direct order from the emperor. Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang is a very famous sage from the T’ang Dynasty. The description of the arduous way he obtained the scriptures is known to every family and household and there is no need to delve into it at this time.

The Prajna literature is very extensive; it covers approximately twenty years of the Buddha’s teaching career. The seven translations of the sutra display minor differences but the essential meaning was respected in each case. There is no major difference between the seven of them. According to the Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva’s translation, this sutra was spoken by the Buddha.

Every translation of the Heart Sutra includes a commentary which consists of three parts: i) The reason for the sutra; 2) the method used to convey the meaning; 3) the sutra’s history. The Heart Sutra was composed of excerpts from the Mahaprajnapdramita texts, and simple words were carefully employed to convey profound meanings. Although the Chinese version contains only two hundred sixty single characters, nevertheless it embodies the entire Prajna literature in all its depth and subtlety. As to the reason for this sutra, we only need to look at the method used to put the text together and we realize that the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was chosen as the model for the rest of us, and that the sutra was spoken by the Buddha. To understand it thoroughly is to understand all of the Prajna literature. We are not going to address the sutra’s history at this time.