Heart Sūtra Outline

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Ngulchu Dharmabhadra


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Concise Explanatory Outline of the Heart of Wisdom

by Ngulchu Dharmabhadra

Namo Mañjughoṣāya!

This brief explanation of the Heart of Wisdom has four sections: 1) the meaning of the title; 2) the translators' homage; 3) the meaning of the text itself; and 4) the meaning of the conclusion.

I. The Title

In the language of India: bhagavatī prajñāpāramitā hṛdaya
In the language of Tibet: bcom ldan 'das ma shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i snying po

II. Translator's Homage

Homage to the Bhagavatī Prajñāpāramitā!

III. Text Itself

This has two parts: 1) the setting in which the sūtra arose; and 2) the actual sūtra that came into being.

A. Setting

This has two parts: 1) the common setting and 2) the uncommon setting.

1. Common Setting

This has four parts: 1) the perfect time; 2) the perfect teacher; 3) the perfect place; and 4) the perfect retinue.

a. Perfect Time

Thus have I heard. At one time...

b. Perfect Teacher

...the Blessed One...

c. Perfect Place

...was dwelling in Rājgṛha at Vulture Peak mountain...

d. Perfect Retinue

...together with a great community of monks and a great community of bodhisattvas.

2. Uncommon Setting

At that time, the Blessed One entered an absorption on the categories of phenomena called ‘perception of the profound’. At the same time, noble Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva and great being, beheld the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom, and saw that the five aggregates are empty of nature.

B. Actual Sūtra

This has four parts: 1) the question asked by Śāriputra; 2) the answer given by Avalokiteśvara; 3) the approval granted by the teacher; and 4) the commitment to uphold made by the retinues.

1. Śāriputra's Question

Then, through the Buddha's power, venerable Śāriputra said to noble Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva and great being: “How should a child of noble family who wishes to practise the profound perfection of wisdom train?”

2. Avalokiteśvara's Answer

This has four parts: 1) the transition; 2) specific teachings for those of duller faculties; 3) revealing the mantra in a few words for those of sharper faculties; 4) summarizing advice for training.

a. Transition

This is what he said, and the noble Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva and great being, replied to venerable Śāriputra as follows: “O Śāriputra, a son of noble family or daughter of noble family who wishes to practise the profound perfection of wisdom should regard things in this way...

b. Duller Faculties

This has two parts: 1) showing how to train in the five paths; and 2) showing how this is the single path traversed by all the buddhas.

i. Five Paths

This has four parts: 1) how to train in accumulation and joining; 2) how to train in the path of seeing; 3) how to train in the path of meditation; and 4) how to train in the path of no-more-learning.

1. Accumulation and Joining

This has two parts: 1) brief summary and 2) elaborate explanation.

a. Brief Summary

...they should see the five aggregates to be empty of nature.

b. Elaborate Explanation

This has two parts: 1) how to train in relation to the form aggregate; and 2) applying this logic to the other aggregates.

1. Form Aggregate

Form is empty; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is not other than emptiness.

2. Other Aggregates

In the same way, sensation, recognition, conditioning factors, and consciousness are emptiness.

2. Seeing

Therefore, Śāriputra, all dharmas are emptiness; they are without characteristics; they are unarisen and unceasing; they are not tainted and not untainted; they are not deficient and not complete.

3. Meditation

This has two parts: 1) how to train in the path of meditation in general; and 2) how to train in the vajra-like samādhi at the end of the continuum in particular.

a. General

This has seven parts: 1) the non-appearance of the five aggregates; 2) the non-appearance of the twelve sources; 3) the non-appearance of the eighteen elements; 4) the non-appearance of the twelve links of dependent origination; 5) the non-appearance of the four truths; 6) the non-appearance of the essence of paths that bring attainment; and 7) the non-appearance of the fruition to be attained.

1. Five Aggregates

Therefore, Śāriputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no recognition, no conditioning factors, no consciousness;...

2. Twelve Sources

...no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no visible form, no sound, no odour, no taste, no texture and no mental objects;...

3. Eighteen Elements

...there is no eye element up to no mind element and as far as no mental consciousness element;...

4. Twelve Links

...there is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance up to no old age and death, no extinction of old age and death.

5. Four Truths

Likewise, there is no suffering, no origin, no cessation and no path,...

6. Paths

...no wisdom...

7. Fruition

...no attainment, and no non-attainment.

b. Vajra-Like Samādhi

Therefore, Śāriputra, since bodhisattvas have no attainment, they rely on and abide by the perfection of wisdom.

4. No-More-Learning

Since their minds are unobscured, they have no fear. They completely transcend error and reach the ultimate nirvāṇa.

ii. Single Path

All the buddhas throughout the three times fully awaken to unsurpassed, genuine and complete enlightenment by means of the perfection of wisdom.

c. Sharper Faculties

This has two parts: 1) showing the greatness of the mantra; and 2) revealing the actual mantra that possesses such greatness.

1. Mantra's Greatness

Therefore, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom—the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the mantra that equals the unequalled, the mantra that pacifies all suffering—is not false and should thus be understood as true.

2. Actual Mantra

The mantra of the perfection of wisdom is proclaimed as follows:

[oṃ] gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhisvāhā.

d. Summarizing Advice

Śāriputra, a bodhisattva and great being should train in the profound perfection of wisdom in this way.”

3. The Teacher's Approval

Thereupon, the Blessed One arose from that absorption and commended Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva and great being: “Excellent, excellent indeed, O son of noble family, that is how it is. That is just how it is. One should practise the profound perfection of wisdom just as you have taught and then even the tathāgatas will rejoice.”

4. The Retinue's Commitment

When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Śāriputra, and noble Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva and great being, together with the whole assembly and the world of gods, human beings, asuras and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the speech of the Blessed One.

IV. Conclusion

Thus concludes the Mahāyāna Sūtra of the Blessed Mother, the Heart of the Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom.

This was written by the bhikṣu Dharmabhadra.

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2019.


Primary Sources

"Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i snying po" in bKa' 'gyur (dpe bsdur ma (BDRC W1PD96682). Vol. 34: 426–429. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa'i dpe skrun khang /, 2006–2009.

Dharma bhadra. "shes rab snying po'i bsdus don sa bcad" in D+harma b+ha dra'i gsung 'bum. (BDRC W6493). Vol. 4: 49–51. [s.l.]: [dngul chu bla brang], [2000?]–.

Secondary Sources

Dalai Lama, the Fourteenth. Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings. Translated and edited by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.

Lopez, Jr., Donald S. Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sūtra. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

______. The Heart Sūtra Explained: Indian and Tibetan Commentaries. Albany: State University of New York Press. 1988.

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