The Heart Sutra

I had been putting this blog off for quite some time. Attempting to write about The Heart Sutra, presenting it on this blog, seems like such a disservice to the spiritual, aesthetic, and cultural significance of this artifact. I feel completely inadequate trying to put it out here for readers and to attempt to explain or represent.

But here we are anyway.

I want to apologize for any errors in misrepresentation that occur from here on out. I very much would like to see more visitors to Shikoku, and to our home prefecture, Kagawa. There are some amazing and surprising things to see and hear when you explore these surroundings.

First time visitors to Shikoku, particularly those who venture out to visit any of the 88 temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage will inevitably see the Ohenro dressed in white, hear the sound of walking sticks tapping stone, the jangling of bells. And then they will hear the chanting of … something. Something deep and beautiful and reverent.

What you are likely hearing is the Heart Sutra:

Kan ji zai bo satsu. Gyo jin han nya hara mita ji. Sho ken.  Go on kai ku. Do issai 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. Shari 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 ze shin i. 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. Bodai sat ta e hannya haramita. Ko shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko. Mu u ku fu. On ri issai ten do mu so. Ku gyo ne han. San ze sho butsu. E hannya haramita. Ko toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bodai. Ko chi hannya haramita.  Ze dai jin shu. Ze dai myo shu. Ze mu jo shu. Ze mu to do shu. No jo issai ku. Shin jitsu fu ko ko setsu hannya haramita shu. Soku setsu shu watsu. Gya tei, gya tei, ha ra gya tei. Hara so gya tei.  Bo ji so waka. Hannya Shingyo.

Here is a very  nice modern performed version of the Heart Sutra. The priest in this video is Yakushiji Kanji who is an active priest in Ehime prefecture. You may very well meet him on your pilgrimage here.

Below is the translation of the Japanese. It does not flow so gently, but you can gather the meaning of the sutra itself.

Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, was deep through the Perfection of Wisdom, saw clearly that the five aggregates of human existence are empty, and so released himself from suffering.

“Sariputra! Form is nothing more than emptiness, emptiness is nothing more than Form. Form is exactly emptiness, and emptiness is exactly Form. The other four aggregates of human existence — feeling, thought, will, and consciousness — are also nothing more than emptiness.”

“Sariputra! All things are empty: Nothing is born, nothing dies, nothing is pure, nothing is stained, nothing increases and nothing decreases. So, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no thought, no will, no consciousness. There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. There is no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, no imagining. No plane of sight, no plane of thought. There is no ignorance, and no end to ignorance. There is no old age and death, and no end to old age and death. There is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no end to suffering, no path to suffering. There is no attainment of wisdom, and no wisdom to attain.”

The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, their hearts without delusions; they have no reason for delusion, no fear within, abandoning their confused thoughts, finally experiencing Nirvana.

The Buddhas, past, present, and future, rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, and live in full enlightenment. The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra. It is the wisest mantra, the highest mantra, the mantra of the rest. Remove all suffering. This is truth that cannot be falsity. The reason of the Perfection of Wisdom Mantra, The Mantra is thus: Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté. Bodhi! Svaha!

I want to leave this blog at that. The Heart Sutra and all its metaphysical implications is heavy material. You may want to think on this for yourself and see how it applies to who you are, where you are, what you want to do, and how you want to live. No lectures or “insights” from me.

Travel well. Travel safe.

All the best.

2 thoughts on “The Heart Sutra

  • Thank-you for writing about the Heart Sutra Mark. Readers of english with an interest in the sutra, like myself, will find it helpful. The modern rendition of the Heart Sutra was beautiful, and unexpected I must add (in a pleasing way). While I appreciated that the Heart Sutra is widely known in Japan, and I’ve seen it everywhere from tshirts to manga, I hadn’t realised that it was performed in concert settings. 🙂 I learnt the Hannya Shingyo so that I could join my Shugendo friends in prayer. It took a while to master the chant, now I recite it everyday. I listened to two versions while learning, both repeated the sutra several times which was useful. The first was a slower version by Shingon monks, then a faster version by Taisen Deshimaru as I became more familiar with the sutra. His passionate version has drumming in it which helped with the rhythm. There is something special about the Heart Sutra. As you say, it is deep and beautiful and reverent.

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    • Thank you very much for the great comment, Jann! I thought that it might be helpful to show the Heart Sutra in a way that is so charming and accessible. There are some other materials out there but a bit hard to access to newcomers. Yakushiji Kanji is the performer and here in Shikoku. We have not met, yet. But it is my plan to see if I can track him down next time I go to neighbouring Ehime.

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