The Heart Sutra is a teaching by Chenrezig (also knows as Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara), the Buddha of Compassion, to the monk Sariputta (disciple of Gautama Buddha).
This sutra is chanted frequently by followers of Buddhism at meetings and daily meditation practice. Although The Heart Sutra is very brief it contains fundamental concepts of Buddhist Philosophy. These include the four noble truths, the skandhas, the central concept of Mahayana Buddhism, Emptiness and the cycle of interdependence.
The Heart Sutra, belonging to the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) category of Mahayana Buddhism literature along with the Diamond Sutra (or Perfection of Wisdom), is perhaps the most prominent representative of the genre.
Mahayana means the great vehicle, it is the Buddhism of China, Japan, Tibet and Korea. It appears around the first or second century CE as a reaction against a few highly analytical schools of Buddhism which had developed in the 600 years since the time of the Gautama Buddha.
These Buddhist schools were referred to as Hinayana, the lesser vehicle by the Mahayanists. Zen (or pinyin), which appeared around 800, in China is acknowledged a school of Mahayana.
Heart Sutra Mantra translation:
„Gone, gone, gone to the other shore beyond. O what an awakening, all hail!”
Chanting Prajnaparamita Mantra benefits:
This pacifying mantra encapsulates the entire teaching of the Heart Sutra for the benefit of those of the sharpest mental faculties.
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha meaning:
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama explains the mantra both as a device for measuring one’s own level of spiritual attainment and as an instruction for practice, and translates it in English as „go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment”.
In the discourse (watch here), Dalai Lama gives a similar explanation to the four stages as in the previous paragraph.
Meaning on syllables:
- The syllable BODHI, a feminine noun in the vocative case, which signifies awakening. All the other words are also in the vocative feminine and consequently modify BODHI.
- GATE signifies gone.
- PARAGATE signifies gone to the further shore and is a stock Sanskrit expression used by Buddhists and Jains to refer to arahants. (The word PARA signifies the bank of a river opposite to the one on which one is presently standing)
- PARASAMGATE signifies completely gone to the further shore. (The syllable SAM is intensive in meaning: altogether, thoroughly, completely)
- The syllable SVAHA is an indeclinable part from Vedic Sanskrit. It is said to be the name of the wife of Agni, the god of fire. This syllable is used at the end of a chanting that accompanies a burnt offering made at a Vedic sacrifice (rather as “amen” is used at the end of a prayer in Christian liturgy). This syllable cannot really be translated, since it is a performative word, comparatively with a word that conveys meaning.
Thorough understanding of the Heart sutra requires working face-to-face with a real dharma teacher.