Click here for a line-by-line commentary on the Heart Sutra, with explanatory notes for terminology.
1-1. The practitioner
When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
1-2. The practice method
is practising the profound Prajna-paramita,
1-3. The result of the practice
He sees and illuminates to the emptiness of the five skandhas, and
Thus attains deliverance from all suffering.
2. Explaining the essence of the Prajna-paramita practice
2-1. The relationship between physical dharmas and emptiness
Sariputra, form is not different from emptiness, and
Emptiness is not different from form.
Formis emptiness and emptiness is form.
2-3. The ultimate character of all dharmas cannot be comprehended
through delusive and/or discriminative thinking, nor does it fall into
duality. It is, by its own nature, non-arising
Sariputra, the emptiness character of all dharmas,
neither arises nor ceases,
is neither pure nor impure, and
neither increases nor decreases.
2-4. Therefore, in the emptiness character, there is nothing obtainable
Therefore, in emptiness: there is no form,
no sensation, perception,
impulses or consciousness,
no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind,
no sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles, or dharma,
no field of the eye up to no field of mental consciousness,
2-4-2. There is no existence of the forward and backward cycles of
the twelve links of Dependent Origination
no ignorance or the ending of ignorance up to
no ageing and death of the ending of ageing and death,
2-4-3. There is no existence of the four noble
no suffering, no cause of suffering,
no ending of suffering, and no path,
2-4-4. There is no existence of wisdom or attainment
no wisdom and also no attainment.
2-5. Summarizing that in emptiness there is not a thing obtainable,
and because there is nothing obtained, you attain the unsurpassed fruit
Because there is nothing obtainable,
3. Explaining that from practising prajna-paramita you can obtain the ultimate fruit
3-1. The Final Nirvana
Bodhisattvas through the reliance on Prajna-paramita
have no attachment and hindrance in their minds.
Because there is no more attachment and hindrance,
there is no more fear, and
Far away from erroneous views and wishful-thinking,
Ultimately : The Final Nirvana.
3-2. TheSupreme Enlightenment
Buddhas of the past, present, and future all rely on Prajna-paramita
to attain Annutara-samyak-sambodhi.
4-1. Glorification of the wondrous merits of the Prajna-paramita
Therefore, realize that Prajna-paramita
is the great wondrous mantra,
the great radiant mantra,
the unsurpassed mantra, and
the unequalled mantra.
It can eradicate all suffering, and
It is genuine and not false.
Therefore, utter the Prajna-paramita mantra -
Gate Gate Paragate Parasmagate Bodhisvaha!
The Three Classifications:
The fundamental reason that Buddha taught was to provide ways and methods for sentient beings to escape the realm of unending suffering. The essence of his teaching is the Law of Dependent Origination. This law states that when conditions are ripe, phenomena come to be, and when conditions change, the phenomena fade away. However, sentient beings attach to these impermanent phenomena and erroneously conjure up the notions of "self" and/or "this is mine".
To remedy this, the Buddha used the Three Classifications to show that a person is nothing more than a combination of various elements which come together under suitable conditions. Therefore a person is also dependently originated; and hence empty of "self".
The Three Classifications are:
The Five Skandhas
Skandha [i.e. aggregates, heaps, or groups]: has the meaning of accumulation and grouping together of similar physical and mental phenomena.
The file aggregates [i.e. form, sensation, recognition, volition, and consciousness] come together to form one interdependent unit. This combined unit is unstable and transient, but we attach to this interdependent unit and/or the five aggregates as the self.
The first skandha represents physical elements, and the remaining four represent the mental activities of a person.
Form(rupa Skandha): refers to physical things. These physical things do not exist independently. Their existence depends on the coming together of the four classical elements. (i.e. earth [solid], water [liquid], air [gas] and heat [energy]). Although, form takes up space, it is empty of self-nature: it arises and comes to be, and it fades away and ceases to be.
Sensation (vedanna Skandha): is the acquiring of data through sensory organs (including the mind) and the interpreting of such sensations as pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent.
Recognition (sanjna Skandha): has the function of conceptualizing and recognizing sensory data and mental phenomena. The mind then identifies them and turns them into concepts. This conceptualizing process generates notions and, hence establishes names and words.
Volition (samskara Skandha): implies intention and mental action. These mental activities lead to karmic results. When we perceive an image, the mind analyzes and formulates a decision accordingly. These decisions initiate mental, verbal and/or physical actions which will produce karma. Some examples of volitional actions include: attention, will, determination, confidence, concentration, wisdom, energy, desire, hatred, ignorance, conceit, idea of self, etc.
Consciousness (vijnana Skandha): is the ability to be conscious of the differences and to be aware of the existence of mental and physical phenomena, i.e. the awareness of the previous four skandhas.
The Twelve Bases
Bases (ayatana) [sources, places] imply the meaning of germinating and nourishing. That is, mental functions and activities can be germinated and nourished from these twelve bases. They are the six internal bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind), and the six external bases (sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles and dharma). The six internal bases are also called the six sensory organs, on which mental activities rely to function. The six external bases are sometimes referred to as the six objects and are what mental activities process and act on.
The Eighteen Fields
Fields (dhatu) imply the meaning of groups and classifications. These fields form the foundations and conditions of all mental activities. That is, a person can be divided into eighteen fields, each having its own properties, characteristics, and area of activity. The eighteen fields are the six internal bases, the six external objects, plus the six consciousness which arise when the six internal bases interact with the six corresponding external objects.
The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
Dependent origination means that the arising or the becoming of a phenomenon is dependent on the coming together of conditions and/or other phenomena. When conditions are ripe, a phenomena arises; when these conditions change, the phenomenon ceases to be.
The twelve phenomena (links) of dependent origination illustrate the causal relaitonship and interdependence of the twelve links, which together constitute the existence and continuation of life.
The forward cycle of these twelve links is the unending transmigration of a living being in the wheel of reincarnation. On the other hand, the backward cycle implies that once this interdependent chain is broken, liberation is attained. These twelve links are :-
The Four Noble Truths
Truth here implies reality. The Four Noble Truths are four principles that enlightened beings see and understand as reality. The Four are:
See [Buddhist Dictionary], pg. 151, by Nyanatiloka. (1987)