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Thread: A new look at the Heart Sutra

  1. #1

    A new look at the Heart Sutra

    I came across this article on the Lion's Roar website:


    A New Look at the Heart Sutra, from Thich Nhat Hanh and Norman Fischer

    Zen teacher Norman Fischer looks at the famed Heart Sutra and explains why compassion and emptiness go hand in hand. Plus, Thich Nhat Hanh offers his new translation of the Heart Sutra, which teaches the transcendent wisdom that frees us from fear, wrong perceptions, and suffering.

    Continues at the link:

    https://www.lionsroar.com/love-wisdom-buddha/


    Any thoughts about the article ?


  2. #2
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    I don't personally like the translation, which I find clunky and awkward, for a sutra central to my own heart.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    I don't personally like the translation, which I find clunky and awkward, for a sutra central to my own heart.
    Do you have a translation you like which you can share, Phil?....and what did you think about Zen teacher Norman Fischer's comments in the article which were written before Thich Nhat Hanh's translation ?

    I have a copy of the Dalai Lama's book "Essence of the Heart Sutra" translated and edited by Geshe Thubten Jinpa and containing a translation of the sutra ...but can't reproduce any of it because of the book's copyright restrictions.

  4. #4
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    This is the one I used for about 20 years:

    The Heart Sutra

    The Bodhisattva of Compassion,
    When he meditated deeply,
    Saw the emptiness of all five skandhas
    And sundered the bonds that caused him suffering.

    Here then,
    Form is no other than emptiness,
    Emptiness no other than form.
    Form is only emptiness,
    Emptiness only form.
    Feeling, thought, and choice,
    Consciousness itself,
    Are the same as this.
    All things are by nature void
    They are not born or destroyed
    Nor are they stained or pure
    Nor do they wax or wane

    So, in emptiness, no form,
    No feeling, thought, or choice,
    Nor is there consciousness.
    No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
    No colour, sound, smell, taste, touch,
    Or what the mind takes hold of,
    Nor even act of sensing.
    No ignorance or end of it,
    Nor all that comes of ignorance;
    No withering, no death,
    No end of them.
    Nor is there pain, or cause of pain,
    Or cease in pain, or noble path
    To lead from pain;
    Not even wisdom to attain!
    Attainment too is emptiness.

    So know that the Bodhisattva
    Holding to nothing whatever,
    But dwelling in Prajna wisdom,
    Is freed of delusive hindrance,
    Rid of the fear bred by it,
    And reaches clearest Nirvana.
    All Buddhas of past and present,
    Buddhas of future time,
    Using this Prajna wisdom,
    Come to full and perfect vision.

    Hear then the great dharani,
    The radiant peerless mantra,
    The Prajnaparamita
    Whose words allay all pain;
    Hear and believe its truth!
    Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate
    Bodhi Svaha

    As a translation I think it scans better and leads you through the whole idea of letting go. You only find everything when you let go of everything you can sense or even think about. I prefer the original, which, before it was 'improved', read 'All things are the primal void' instead of 'All things are by nature void', mainly because it is later reflected by 'dwelling in Prajna wisdom' which is where you access the primal void.

    For me, Fischer's comments are a bit limited in that he concentrates on the emptiness aspect as a positive quality of the sutra rather than a negative. It is, but my own view is that the sutra is mainly a reminder for the more advanced practitioner, looking back from the point of view of someone who has been through insight experiences, who has 'gone beyond everything' and is trying to describe the necessary conditions for the journey. Where we have to let go of everything, even the idea of attaining wisdom.

    For beginners it's a bit confusing to read something which is about letting go of everything, even letting go of the idea of attaining 'wisdom', so as a practical guide to Buddhism it's not helpful at all until you've spent a few years meditating and studying the Dharma. My best guess is that it's best used as a kind of checklist of where you are, to be looked at regularly over the years to see how much you understand of the sutra, not cerebrally but from the heart. How much are you willing to let go of? How much of Buddhism and the path? Are you willing to take the next step off the top of the ladder, the one that isn't there?

    I follow debates about translations of the sutra, but my favorites are at Jayarava Attwood's blog (triratna, but pretty much at odds with the organisation) such as this one here: http://jayarava.blogspot.com/search/label/Heart%20Sutra

    This link https://plumvillage.org/news/thich-n...a-translation/ is the official explanation of why Thich Nhat Hanh thought a new translation was necessary.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post

    I follow debates about translations of the sutra, but my favorites are at Jayarava Attwood's blog (triratna, but pretty much at odds with the organisation) such as this one here: http://jayarava.blogspot.com/search/label/Heart%20Sutra
    I always keep an eye on Jayarava's Raves, he writes some interesting stuff. There was a previous topic about one of his articles on the Heart Sutra in our Independent Buddhists forum which disappointingly only got a response from one member.

    https://www.buddhismwithoutboundarie...he-Heart-Sutra

    If you put his name in the search box you'll probably find other topics based on his blog material.

  6. #6
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    Thanks. I occasionally email him about some of his comments (the ones I can follow, not being a scholar) and, although he is pretty busy, he sends me some useful replies.

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