Avolokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, doing deep Prajna Paramita, clearly saw that the five skandhas are Sunyata, thus transcending misfortune and suffering.

O Sariputra, form is no other than Sunyata, Sunyata is no other than form. Form is exactly Sunyata, Sunyata is exactly form. Feeling, thought, volition, and consciousness are likewise like this. O Sariputra, remember, Dharma is fundamentally Sunyata. No birth, no death, nothing is defiled, nothing is pure. Nothing can increase, nothing can decrease. Hence in Sunyata, no form, no feeling, no thought, no volition, no consciousness, no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, no thinking; no world of sight, no world of consciousness, no ignorance and no end to ignorance, no old age and death and no end to old age and death. No suffering, no craving, no extinction, no path, no wisdom, no attainment. Indeed, there is nothing to be attained; the bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita with no hindrance in the mind. No hindrance, therefore no fear. Far beyond upside down views, at last Nirvana. Past, present, and future, all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, rely on prajna paramita and therefore reach the most supreme enlightenment. Therefore know: prajna paramita is the greatest dharani, the brightest dharani, the highest dharani, the incomparable dharani. It completely clears all suffering. This is the truth, not a lie. So set forth the prajna paramita dharani. Set forth this dharani and say: ga te ga te pa ra ga te para sam ga te, Bo dhi sva ha Heart Sutra...

The Heart Sutra is the touchstone text of Zen Buddhism, and is chanted at nearly every gathering of the sangha. (Serving a function somewhat similar/somewhat altogether different from the Apostles' Creed for Roman Catholics.) The above translation is the one we use at my temple in Seattle, Dai Bai Zan - Cho Bo Zen Ji; but more often we chant the kanji transliteration, which looks like this.

MA KA HAN NYA HA RA MI TA SHIN GYO

KAN JI ZAI BO SA GYO HAN NYA HA RA MI TA JI SHO KEN GO UN KAI KU DO IS SAI 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 SHA RE 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 ZES SHIN NI 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 TOK KO BO DAI SAT TA E HAN NYA HA RA MI TA KO SHIN MU KE GE MU KE GE KO MU U KU FU ON RI IS SAI TEN DO MU SO KU GYO NE HAN SAN ZE SHO BUTSU E HAN NYA HA RA MI TA KO TOKU A NOKU TA RA SAN MYAKU SAN DO DAI KO CHI HAN NYA HA RA MI TA ZE DAI SHIN SHU ZE DAI MYO SHU ZE MU JO SHU ZE MU TO DO SHU NO JO IS SAI KU SHIN JITSU FU KO KO SETSU HAN NYA HA RA MITA SHU SOKU SETSU SHU WATSU GYA TE GYA TE HA RA GYA TE HARA SO GYA TE BO JI SOWA KA - - HAN YA SHIN GYO...

These syllables are supposed to have been repeated over and over, in an unbroken verbal legacy from when the Sanskrit original was first spoken, but of course, like the children’s game of Telephone, they have been skewed and altered so that they are essentially nonsense sounds now. All the better, since that seems to be the heart of the matter that the Heart Sutra’s getting at.

When I first heard the passage, “no ignorance and no end to ignorance, no old age and death and no end to old age and death” I knew instantly that I’d caught a whiff of something deeply true at the core of things and deeply, deeply affirming. I’ve been stalking this ever since in my Zen Practice.

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