The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

With the Standless Gathas and Explanation of
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua


Translated by Upasaka I Kuo Jung




All the sufferings pressure, each and every attacking.
Beckoning feelings are heaped together, each not the same.
Only extinction can verify the ultimate joy.
One should practice this Way, awaken to empty dharma.
Through three turnings of Four Truths, the Dharma wheel turns.
Seven awakenings, the upright eight, intention, mindfulness, and diligence.
One day all connects right through to realize the sagely fruit.
One-sided truth with residue is just the transformation town.

Now we are talking about the Dharma of the Four Truths, suffering, accumulation, extinction and Way. I have already spoken about the three sufferings, the eight sufferings, and all the unlimited sufferings, also about the Truth of accumulation, the six basic afflictions and the twenty subsidiary afflictions, which form part of the Truth of accumulation.

Now we will talk about the Truth of extinction. Extinction is explained as both 'unmoving' and 'such, such' When you have verified the Truth of extinction, you have then attained genuine happiness. The four attainments of nirvana are permanence, bliss, self and purity. Their attainment is verification of the fruit of still extinction, which, however, is still the fruit of the small vehicle, not the ultimately wonderful fruit of the great vehicle. It is a one sided truth-principle verified by Arhats. They cut off 'share-section' birth and death, but have not yet attained final liberation from 'change’ birth and death.2

What is 'share-section' birth and death? 'Share' means you have your share, and I have my share; every person has his share. 'Section' means I have my body section; you have your body section; he has his body section. Some people are six or seven feel tall, some four or five feet tall, and some are three or four feet tall. Everybody's proportions are different. ‘Section' also signifies the 'portion'3 (of time) from birth to the day of death. By ending 'share-section' birth and death, those of the two vehicles verify the bliss of still extinction, and destroy the delusions of views and thoughts.4

Deluded views refer to the arisal of greed-love for what you see. The greed-love which arises in your heart as a result of facing a certain state is called 'view delusion'; a state confuses you.

Thought delusion, on the other hand, refers to confusion about the principles of the Way. Because you do not understand them, your heart gives rise to discrimination. When discrimination arises, the more you discriminate, and the farther away you get. The farther away you get, the more you discriminate. This "taking the wrong road" is what is referred to as thought delusion. When you verify the bliss of still extinction, you cut off the delusions of both thought and views. Nonetheless, because you are still only able to make ignorance surrender, you have not yet cut it off. Not only in the state of Arhatship has ignorance not been cut off, but all the way to the equal enlightenment Bodhisattva there still exists a very last portion of ignorance characterized by production5 which has not been destroyed. Therefore, even when one has verified the states of the fruition of still extinction, ignorance still exists; however, it does not manifest. Although ‘share-section’ birth and death has already been ended, ‘change’ birth and death still exists.

      What is called ‘change’ birth and death? ‘Change’ refers to the thoughts to which we give rise; latter thought follows former thought; the thought after follows it. This unending shifting and flowing of thought after thought is called ‘change’ birth and death. The production of one thought is a birth. The extinction of one thought is a death. Thought follows after thought, unceasingly.

These states called 'birth and death' do not indicate the arrival of genuine samadhi. When one arrives at a samadhi state, then even thought stops. When the first dhyana state called the ground of bliss born of separation, is attained, the pulse stops.7 When you get to the state of the second dhyana, called the ground of bliss born of samadhi, your breath stops. At the third dhyana, called the ground of wonderful happiness which is apart from bliss, your thought stops.8 In the state of the fourth dhyana called the ground of clear purity, which discards thought, there is no thought. However, these four dhyana states9 are not verification of the fruit. They are nothing more than realizations, which come as a result of cultivating the Way. Moreover, these four kinds of dhyana are not very high levels. Most ordinary people who cultivate the Way probably can attain the state of the fourth dhyana. This finishes the explanation of 'extinction'.

This is the EXTINCTION, which one should, verify. This is the Way, which one should cultivate.10

Now I will speak about the Way. In discussing the question of the Way, I will first explain the Chinese character Tao (which we translate 'Way') The character Tao is composed of an element indicating 'going' or 'walking', which tells you to practice then the Way is of use. Because you need to cultivate according to the Way, it is said, " The Way is practiced; if you do not practice, what use is the Way?" If you do not cultivate, the Way is the Way, you are you, and the two cannot be united to make one. If you cultivate according to Dharma, if you practice the Way, then the Way is you, you are the Way, and the Way and you are basically inseparable. So it is said of the virtuous nature; "Virtue is done; if it is not done then how can there be virtue?" This is not to say, "Day in and day out I say, 'Do virtue, do virtue, do virtue."' You 'do virtue' with your mouth, but actually you do not do any virtue at all. Not only do you not do virtue, but you create bad karma. You made ‘virtue’ from your mouth, but your body creates bad karma; so basically there is no virtue. Thus the saying, “Hanging out a sheep’s head and selling dog’s meat.” If you speak about doing virtue, then it is necessary to do virtue. For this reason, it is said, “Virtue is done; if you do not do it, where is there virtue?”

This character Tao shows if you want to cultivate the Way, you must practice according to whatever method you have. On top of the element which designates 'going' is added a character shou, which is defined as that which is 'a-head', or foremost. In other words cultivation is the most important business in the whole world. If you wish to end birth and death, then you must cultivate the Way. If you do not wish to end birth and death, then you need not cultivate the Way. Ending birth and death is certainly not being afraid of birth and death. The person who is afraid of birth and death really likes being alive, but when he is dying, he is extremely afraid. This is being afraid of birth and death. Ending birth and death means causing there to be no birth and death. If you wish to end birth and death, cultivation of the Way must be foremost; therefore, there is a character shou. If you do not cultivate the Way, then you cannot end birth and death.

We will now divide the character shou some more. There are two dots on top and then there is a line. We will take that part and put it aside and not talk about it yet. Now I will only speak about the bottom part, that is, the character tze, which means ‘self’.15 In cultivating you must cultivate yourself. This does not mean you tell other people to cultivate. "You should cultivate; you should end birth and death. You should act virtuously." This is not what is meant; you must cultivate the Way yourself. The one important matter is for you to do it yourself, so there is the character for self, tzu.16 Do it yourself!

Above there is a line, which is the character for 'one'. What should you do? Find this 'one'. Of what use is it? From the 'One' everything in the world is produced. What is the beginning? 'One' is the beginning. Only after there is one are there two, then three, then four, and then five...up to an infinite number. They are all produced from the number 'one'. The limitless if produced from 'one'. The limitless is just the one. If there is not the 'one', then there is not the limitless. If there is no limitless, then there is no 'one'. I believe that no one at all has a method to oppose this principle which I am explaining. Why? Because anyone who understands mathematics knows mathematics begins from ‘one’. ‘One’ is limitless; limitless is ‘one’.

      We want neither the ‘one’, nor the ‘limitless’. There is no one’ and there is no ‘limitless’. There is no ‘limitless’ and there is no ‘one’. Into what is there change? Change into nothing at all, which is a zero. In English this number zero is an O. This O contains all existence. True emptiness is in this O; wonderful existence is also in this O. From where does this O come? It is a shape transformed from the ‘one’. You make a circle and that is a O; you open it up and it turns into a ‘one’. So this O is the original substance of ‘one’. Not only is this O the original substance of everything between heaven and earth. This O is also the great bright store; it is also the Tathagata store nature; it is also the Buddha nature. The Buddha nature is just the O. In Chinese it is called ling17 and in English it is called ‘zero’.

One evening when Kuo Tsun and I were walking down the road, there was a little boy who asked his mother, "What has no beginning and no end?"

The mother said, "I don't know."

The little boy said, “A circle."

I asked him, "Why do you have this thought of a circle?" This child did not answer. This 0 represents both the Tathagata store nature and everything produced and transformed in the world: true emptiness and wonderful existence, wonderful existence and true emptiness. The 0 has no beginning and also has no end. If you want to destroy this circle, cut it and it will turn into a 'one'. What is 'one'? Ignorance. The change into 'one' is the change into ignorance. When there is no one, the circle, which has not been destroyed, is the Tathagata store nature. When the circle is destroyed, it turns into ignorance. 'One' is the beginning of ignorance. Did I not say before, 'one' makes the limitless, the limitless makes the 'one'.

This one bit of affliction then produces limitless afflictions. Limitless afflictions are produced because of one little bit of affliction. Why do you do so many muddled things? It is because of this little bit of ignorance. All your muddled deeds, so much muddled business, so much karma, so much affliction, are produce from the 'one'. Therefore, if you want to cultivate the Way, then you must return the one to the original source and turn it onto a 0. Only when you turn it into a 0, can you return to the original source, return to the Tathagata store nature, return to true emptiness and wonderful existence. This is what the 'one' is about.

The two dots on top are one yin and one yang. The Book of Changes says, "One yin and one yang are called the Way.”18 "One-sided yin and one-sided yang are called sickness."19 The one yin and the one yang are the Way. Perhaps there is pure yin and then it changes into a ghost. Pure yang changes into a god. So it is said, "One-sided yin and one-sided yang are called sickness." They are divided. These two dots are divided up from the character 'one'. So ignorance produces view delusion and thought delusion. These two dots are also view delusion and thought delusion. I spoke before of cutting off view delusion and thought delusion. These two dots, (representing) view delusion and thought delusion, together produce limitless, numberless delusions. They are all produced from the 'one'.

If you wish to return to the original source, take this 'one' and again turn it into a 0. How do you change it? It is not very difficult. You need only apply effort (work hard) daily in cultivating the Way, in sitting and investigating dhyana (i.e. meditate), and then you can return to the origin; you can change into a 0, and also change your state to that of the great bright treasure of your original nature.

You say, "I do not believe it." Therefore, you are still in darkness. If you do believe it, then you can return to your great bright treasury. Because you do not believe in this Dharma door, day in and day out ignorance and affliction never leave you, you change into what insists Ch'an parlance is called a "black energy barrel".20 If you believe in this Dharma door, then you can return to your originally existent wisdom, return to the source, and attain to the great bright treasury. Then you can return to your great perfect mirror wisdom, to the peaceful and equal nature wisdom, to the wonderful investigating wisdom and to the realization of deeds wisdom.21 What I have now spoken about the character Tao is just a very little bit, not even one ten thousand ten-thousandth of one share. Were I to speak about Tao in detail, I am afraid that it would take a very long time, and I would not be able to finish. Why? Because it is so wonderful. Because it is wonderful, you can speak about it and never finish. The Great Master Chih Che22 spoke for ninety days about (the Chinese character for) 'wonderful'.23 If one were to speak clearly about the character Tao, not only could one not finish speaking about it in ninety days, I am afraid that in ninety years one could not finish speaking about it. You see, I am afraid that in this lifetime my life span would not be that long, so I can only say a little bit.

      I will now say a little bit more about the character Tao. Before I said that the two dots are one yin and one yang. This one yin and one yang is the Chinese character for ‘person’.24 The Way is not in the heavens, nor is in the hells, nor is it with the animals or the hungry ghosts, it is among people. Every person can cultivate the Way; every person can realize the Way; every person originally has the Way. It is not obtained from outside. Your successful cultivation of the Way is just the realization of the Way of the Buddha. Since you now have not yet cultivated the Way to realization, has this Way of yours been lost or not? It has not been lost. Every person is the fulfillment of this Way.

If you are talking about the heavens, you can say that the sun and the moon are in these two dots. One dot is the sun and one dot is the moon. Speaking of people, you can say that the two dots are the two eyes. Ultimately, it is necessary to use your wisdom eye to cultivate the Way. Since stupid people are unable to cultivate the Way, it is necessary to have wisdom to return the one to the origin and change it into a 0. 0 is the Tathagata store nature; it is the great bright store. It is the Buddha nature you and I fulfill together. If you are able to return to that Buddha nature, then in this very body you will immediately realize Buddhahood, and will not have to wait' 'to cultivate blessings and wisdom for three asankheya kalpas, to develop marks and minor characteristics for a hundred." You will not have to wait for such a long time, but can realize Buddhahood immediately. Why have you not realized it? Because you did not know the Way; you have not cultivated the Way; there was no one who taught you the Way. Therefore, up until now you have been born and then died, died and been reborn, birth and then death, death and then birth. Your turning back and forth in the revolving wheel of the six paths, is also jumping into the 0.

Into what 0 do you jump? Into the 0 of the revolving of the six paths, which turns you back and forth. Suddenly you are in the heavens; suddenly you are on the earth; suddenly you are a hungry ghost; suddenly you are an animal; suddenly you are a god; suddenly you are in the hells; suddenly you are an asura; suddenly, you are again a person. You revolve back and forth inside of it, unable to jump out of this revolving. If you jump out of the revolving, destroy the one and return to the Origin, then you will have returned to the great treasury of the Thus Come One, which is just your original ground, your originally existent homeland.

(to be continued)


1. ‘Extinction’ is a translation of the Sanskrit nirodha and its Chinese translation mieh. The Sanskrit has the meanings ‘restraint’, ‘suppression’, ‘destruction’, from nivrudh ‘to hold back or stop’. The Chinese graphically indicates its etymological signification, ‘extinguishing of fire’. Our explanation further specifies the meaning in terms of the Four Truths as ‘unmoving’ (Chinese pu tung) and ‘such, such’ (Chinese ju ju).

2. see the previous discussion in VBS #11,pp.13-14

3. tuan lo

4. i.e. the 88 delusions of view and the 81 delusions of thought.

5. sheng hsiang wu ming is the only ignorance which still remains for the 'equal enlightenment' Bodhisattva (Ch. teng chiao)

6. Dhyana is a Sanskrit word from the root dhyai, ‘to think’. The closest English equivalent is probably ‘meditation’. The most frequent Chinese translations were ssu wei hsiu (‘the cultivation of thought’) and ching lu (quiet consideration). The Chinese soon shortened the transliteration ch’an no to the familiar ch’an (Zen’ in Japanese pronunciation)

7. External breathing ceases and so-called ‘internal breathing takes over.

8. In other words it becomes so faint it is imperceptible.

9. ssu ch'an

10. See the explanation of the ‘three turnings’ in VBS #19, pp. 2-3.

11. Hsing. See VBS #11, p. 19, note #1.

12. (Chinese)

13. (Chinese)

14. (Chinese)

15. An earlier form illustrates that the character was originally a
 picture of the human head.

16. As in tzu chi, ‘self’. Earlier forms, indicate that the character was originally a picture of the nose. Many Chinese still point at their noses when referring to themselves.

17. ling

18. (Chinese)

19. (Chinese)

20. hei ch'i t'ung. See VBS #11, p19., note #14

21. catvari-jnanani
 a. adarsa-jnanam
 b. samata-jnanam
 c. pratyaveksana-jnanam
 d. krityanusthana-jnanam

    ssu chih
 a. ta yuan ching chih
 b. p'ing teng hsing chih
 c. miao kuan ch'a chih
 d. ch'eng so tsuo chih

22. See VBS #8, p.14, note #33

23. Miao (in the title of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra).

24. By putting the left stroke on the right and the right on the left the character for ‘person’ is formed.

25. So it is said of sakyamuni Buddha.