The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

With the Standless Gathas and Explanation of
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Translated by Upasaka I Kuo Jung


      This passage of text empties the Four Truths, suffering, accumulation, extinction, and Way. These are Dharmas cultivated by ‘sound-hearers’.

      Why are people called ‘sound-hearers’? “Upon hearing the sound of the Buddha, they are enlightened to the Way.” At the very first, the Buddha transformed these living beings who had causal connections with the small vehicle opportunity.

      When Sakyamuni Buddha first realized Buddhahood, he spoke the Avatamsaka Sutra. Though they had eyes, those of the two vehicles did not see; though they had ears, they did not hear. Why did they not see? Because this kind of Dharma is too wonderful, too high, and too great. Because this kind of Dharma is too wonderful, those of the two vehicles fundamentally do not understand. They do not know that which is called the inconceivable.   'Because it is too high' refers to the ten thousand-foot high Nisyanda body which Sakyamuni Buddha manifested. Those of the two vehicles were all like little children. Because the Buddha body was so high, they did not see it. So it is said,

The more they bored, the harder it was.
The higher they gazed, the higher it was;
The more they bored, the harder it was.
Gaze at it in front; suddenly it is in back.

You see it in front of you and then suddenly it is behind you. For instance, Kuo Ning now is about to obtain the penetration power of the heavenly eye. Sometimes when he sees things in front, which suddenly run around in back of him, he thinks, “originally this light was coming from behind, but now it is coming from in front. There is a light which was coming from the left, but then it went to the right.” It is like Sakyamuni Buddha emitting light to the left and Ananda looking to the left; then emitting light to the right and Ananda looking to the right. “Gaze at it in front; Suddenly it is in back.” Because this Dharma is inconceivable, those of the two vehicles have no way to deal with it, no way to fully understand. Although they have ears, those of the two vehicles do not hear the perfect, sudden teaching. Because it is too deep, they do not understand.

      Thereupon, Sakyamuni Buddha, hiding the great and revealing the small, appeared in the body of a sixteen foot tall old Bhiksu and spoke the Dharma of the Four Truths: suffering, accumulation, extinction, and Way.

      There are three turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Truths.

      A. The first is the manifestation turning.

      B. The second is the exhortation turning, which urges you to study
         this Dharma.

      C. The third is the verification turning.

Turning here suggests the revolving of a wheel. These are called the three turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Truths, because they are like the revolving back and forth of the wheel of the six paths.

      The Three Turnings

      A. First, the 'manifestation' turning:

            1. This is suffering; its nature is pressure.

            2. This is accumulation; its nature is beckoning feeling.

            3. This is extinction; its nature can be verified.

            4. This is the Way; its nature is that it can be cultivated.

      B. Second, the ‘exhortation’ turning:

1.    This is suffering: you should know.

2.    This is accumulation: you should cut it off.

3.    This is extinction: you should verify it.

4.    This is the Way: you should cultivate it.

C. Third, the 'verification' turning:

1. This is suffering: you should know: I already know and need
   not know more.

In other words you should know this suffering, but I already know it. I do not need to know it again, to add head on top of head.

2. This is accumulation: you should cut it off: I have already cut it off and need not cut it off again.

I am telling you that you should cut it off I need not cut it off more. Now I am just waiting for you to cut it off.

3. This is extinction: you verify it; I have already verified

I have already verified this extinction, the happiness of Nirvana. I do not have to verify any more. I am just waiting for you to verify.

4.   This is the Way: you should cultivate it: I have already cultivated and need not cultivate more.

This is called the 'verification' turning. It verifies that he himself has already attained and tells you to cultivate. If he had not attained, it then would not be necessary to teach you to cultivate. These are the three turnings of the Dharma wheel of the Four Truths.

      You say, “What suffering should I know?” Suffering is the first Truth. Would you say it is real or not? This suffering is real, as Kuo I told her ‘guest dust’, “Oh! ‘guest dust’, quickly go away. I am suffering too much. If you do not go, I will suffer too much.” This is just appearing in a body to speak the Dharma. There really is this kind of phenomenon. If this ‘guest dust’ does not go, then you will suffer. Would you say that this is strange or not? The guest dust goes, making it possible for the suffering to decrease.

There are three kinds of suffering:

1. the suffering of suffering

2. the suffering of decay

3. the suffering of process

There are also the eight sufferings:

1. the suffering of birth

2. the suffering of sickness

3. the suffering of old age

4. the suffering of death.

     These four kinds are produced from your own body. Then there are four sufferings from outside (states):

5. the suffering of being apart from those you love

6. the suffering of being together with those you despise

7. the suffering of not obtaining what you seek

8. the suffering of the flourishing blaze of the five

These come from outside states. Then there are all the measureless sufferings. The Truth of suffering includes a lot of suffering.

Sufferings oppress people so they can barely breathe. The sufferings press down and cut off the breath (energy) until it is unbearable. "Guest dust, go away fast, go fast; I am suffering too much." This is the Truth of Suffering. I have spoken about it a lot before, so I need not speak about it in detail now. 

Now I will talk about the Truth of Accumulation. What does accumulation mean? All suffering, ALL THE BITTER PRESSURES, EACH ATTACKING THE OTHER, the three pressures, the eight pressures, all the measureless pressures, ALL THE BITTER PRESSURES (i.e. all the pressures of suffering) press down on you and do not let your breath (energy) escape. They all attack you as if they were fighting with you. The ‘guest dust’ comes, everything comes, grabbing a little here, grabbing a little there. From outside the six consciousnesses and the six dusts, all kinds of states come to where you are and attack you.

      ALL THE BITTER PRESSURES, EACH ATTACKING THE OTHER. Each kind of suffering attacks you. It is too much suffering. This is adding suffering to suffering.

BECKONING FEELINGS HEAPED TOGETHER, EACH NOT THE SAME. They all gather together; what gathers together? Afflictions. Afflictions are even fiercer than guest dust. Guest dust can only give you a little external provocation.  The guest dust causes affliction to attack from the inside. When the attack of the 'guest-dust' is carried to the inside, affliction is produced. Affliction is even fiercer than the guest dust.

Why is there affliction? The host dust moves too. Originally you are the host, now you are shaken. By what? You are shaken up by the 'guest-dust' to the point of not knowing that you yourself are the host (in charge). Then you lose your temper and there is affliction. Would you say that this is fiercer than guest dust or not? You can say to the guest dust, "Guest dust, go away a little quicker. If you do not go, then I will suffer too much." You can push the guest dust aside, but where are you going to push this host dust? Because it is already in your home, you cannot push it away. It is extremely fierce.

How many afflictions are there? Afflictions are what I least want to speak about. Why? Through my speaking of them, I am afraid you will have even more afflictions. Before I speak, you do not know how many there are and can still be unclear about them. You can nonchalantly be afflicted and that is that. Unknowing, unaware, you let them go by. If I speak clearly about them, then you will ask, "Which affliction is this and which, that?" Then you will add affliction to affliction. So I have lectured on Sutras for such a long time and still have not talked about how many afflictions there are.

You say, "Oh, I heard you speak about them." When? “Did you not say that there are eighty-four thousand kinds of afflictions?” Not bad. Yes, there are eighty-four thousand kinds of affliction; nonetheless, eighty-four thousand kinds of affliction are too many to name one by one. Now I want to tell you the names of the afflictions. When you know their names, it will be even easier than before for you to be afflicted. This is why I have not told you before.

      Today, I should speak about the afflictions. The right time has come; the conditioned causes for this opportunity have ripened. Today is a day to speak about much affliction, because today I have affliction. Why do I have affliction today? How can I tell you? My affliction is my affliction and I cannot talk about it with you. Nonetheless, I am going to speak about a lot of afflictions. How many? Twenty.

Twenty afflictions. These twenty afflictions are called subsidiary afflictions. Among these twenty are small afflictions, middle afflictions, and great afflictions. There are ten small afflictions, two middle-sized  afflictions, and eight great afflictions. Altogether, small, middle, and great, there are twenty.

How many do you want? I will give you as many of these twenty as you want. If you want one, I will give you one; if you want ten, I will give you ten; if you want fifteen, twenty, I'll give them all to you. That is alright too.

What are the small afflictions? I originally could let you know what the characteristics of these small afflictions are, but it would take a lot of time. If I truly wanted to let you know what the small afflictions are, I would hit you once. Hitting people is affliction.

1. First is 'upset'. Upset means that the heart has lost its equanimity. Would you say this is affliction or not? This truly is being messed up.  Do you like this first one or not? If you like it, then take it. I do not like it, so I think I will give this affliction to others. Are there people to take it? If there is no one to take it, then I will wait and slowly give it to someone. 'Upset' is the first.

2. Second is 'enmity.' "I hate you: I hate you right through. "Why? 'Hate' is the other side of love. Why do you hate someone?

It is because you love them and your love is not successful. I have a disciple who had a boyfriend. As soon as he heard that she wanted to go forth from home, his hate arose and on the telephone he said to her. “I hate you!”

This really surprised and frightened this disciple (who said), "Oh, really terrible!" The second affliction is 'enmity.'

3. The third is even fiercer than 'enmity': 'perturbation. As soon as you are perturbed, you are not at all 'free and easy.' What is meant by perturbation? The Chinese character is related to the character for 'brains,' that is, your head. As soon as you become distressed, you feel that your head hurts and your eyes burn. You do not know how big your head is. This is being disturbed. The more disturbance, the bigger your head. Disturbed..."aoou"...extremely disturbed. Then you get water on the brain from which you can die. The disturbance of water on the brain is extremely fierce. Your head swells up, bigger and bigger and the extreme...and then the water pours out from your head and you die. You can get this water on the brain sickness because of the perturbation in your head.

The Chinese character for perturbation is also used in the compound which means 'affliction.' Are there people who like it? If there are, I am going to give them all twenty afflictions.

4. Fourth is 'repression', literally 'covering' as in "Heaven covers over and the Earth contains". Repression is even fiercer than 'upset', 'enmity', and 'perturbation', which are all externalized. 'Repression' on the other hand, means not wanting others to know. The covering up and hiding away inside is very harmful to you. What harm does it do?  It makes you have ulcers. Americans rarely get them, but a lot of Chinese, especially those who have left home, get them. Why? Because they repress and do not let others know. They are very clearly afflicted, but they hide it inside, they cover it up so it cannot flow out. So inside they get ulcers, "uh, uh". When people have this sickness, you know they have repressed affliction. In this fourth one, repression, the person does not let people know him. That is still not important, but he always keeps it rolled up inside.

5. fifth is ‘lying’. The character for ‘lying (k’uang) is made up of two characters, one meaning speech and the other, crazy. False speech becomes an affliction. When you are upset and someone asks you, “Why are you afflicted?” You even ask, “Who is afflicted?” The fire of ignorance inside you even attacks and destroys the heavens. Asked again, you still deny any affliction and who has affliction. This is the fifth, lying.

     I did not want to tell you about this affliction, because I was afraid that when the time came to speak falsely, you might be like a certain one of my disciples. When he gets angry, if I ask whether he is angry, were he to say, "No, no, I did not get angry", and then he would be lying. First repressing his anger, he would then speak falsely. If I had not explained this, then because he did not understand the method, I would be keeping him from lying. But now I have spoken about it. This is the fifth.

6. Sixth is 'subservient flattery', in your heart you plainly do not like the person but when you see him, you still want to speak nicely to him. So there is a current expression, "pat the horse" which refers to this sort of flattery. When the poor see the rich, they are particularly liable to say, "Aaah, Mr. Chaang, where are you goooing".  This line is all in the tone of voice. Their manner is one of subservient flattery, always flattering. They pat you on the shoulder and laugh in an ugly way. So this flattery which is like people coming to pat the horse is the sixth.

7. The seventh small affliction is 'arrogance'. "I do not even pay any attention to you. If you have money that is your business. I pay attention to whatever business I have. You see, I am really big; in this world I am Number One. My body is even bigger than Mount Sumeru.  Why do I have to be polite to you? This kind of arrogance makes you suppose that your body is bigger than Mount Sumeru. “You pat the horse, so I don’t pay any attention to people.” Now there is arrogance.

8. What is the eighth? Now there is malevolence. “You have power (authority); you have money. “Ha! I will knife you to death and then we will see of what use you will be.” Here he thinks to harm people, but does not actually perform the kinds of deeds, which harm people. His thinking this way is called ‘harm’. In your heart think about harming people. This is your own eighth small affliction.

9. Although I have not previously given you the ninth, you have all had it for a long time. I do not know from where you stole it. What? 'Jealousy'. Therefore, I did not speak about this jealousy before. I know a lot of people have jealousy. You are jealous of him and he is jealous of you, jealous of each other. Yet, since you do not understand where the jealousy came from, I said you stole it. Lack of-clarity about how it came is the sane as its being stolen. Since you do not know where your jealousy came from, I will tell you. It came from the ten small subsidiary afflictions, which is to say, jealousy is categorized with the small subsidiary afflictions. It is the ninth. 

10. The tenth is just about the same. Some people have it and some people do not. It is 'stinginess'. Stinginess means you cannot bear to give things up. You cannot stand to give. Since you have a penny, you clutch it in your palm and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until it turns to water. Then you cry, "Oh, my penny has disappeared. I did not spend it; where did it go?" In fact, it has turned into water. Stinginess is the tenth affliction.

There are remaining ten subsidiary afflictions, of which two are middle-sized afflictions and eight are large-sized. Wait and I will tell you about them when there is more time.