The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

With the Standless Gathas and Explanation of
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Translated by Upasaka I Kuo Jung
Sponsored by The Buddhist Text Translation Society


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.


Last week I spoke about the character Tao (Way)1


ALL THE SUFFERINGS PRESSURE refers to all suffering, the three sufferings, the eight sufferings, all the limitless SUFFERINGS PRESSURE, EACH AND EVERY ATTACKING. The three sufferings come and pressure people and the eight sufferings also put pressure on people, as do all the limitless sufferings. Because these sufferings all pressure people, the gatha says, EACH AND EVERY ATTACKING.


Whatever affliction you have beckons that affliction. So they are HEAPED TOGETHER, (i.e. accumulated).


Only through extinction can the ultimate happiness of nirvana be attained.


Everyone should cultivate this Way and awaken to the emptiness of both people and dharmas. You should not be attached. Therefore, the Sutra says, NO SUFFERING, ACCUMULATION, EXTINCTION OR WAY; all must be emptied.

      THROUGH THREE TURNINGS OF FOUR TRUTHS, THE DHARMA WHEEL "TURNS: The three turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Truths were explained previously.


SEVEN AWAKENINGS refers to the seven shares of enlightenment, and UPRIGHT EIGHT to the upright eight-fold path. Also including the five roots and the five powers, the four fulfillments according to intention, the four dwellings in mindfulness, and the four proper diligences, there are seven divisions which altogether are called the thirty-seven categories of the Way.

The SEVEN AWAKENINGS are also called the seven shares of Bodhi. The UPRIGHT EIGHT are the eight up-right shares of the Way.

The Seven Shares of Bodhi

(1) selection of Dharma (method) share of enlightenment
(2) vigor share of enlightenment
(3) joy share of enlightenment
(4) rejecting share of enlightenment
(5) giving up share of enlightenment
(6) mindfulness share of enlightenment
(7) samadhi share of enlightenment

Your cultivation should be in accord with these seven dharmas, called the seven shares of Bodhi.

(1) By the selection of Dharma share of enlightenment is meant choosing a 'method'. The Chinese character translated AWAKENINGS in the gatha also means both 'understanding' and 'enlightenment', as here in 'share of enlightenment'. You should choose a method for cultivation. You should have the choosing Dharma eye which knows right Dharma and wrong dharma, good dharma and evil dharma, black dharma and white dharma. Having the power of selection, you are incapable of taking right as wrong, black as white, and good as bad. If you are capable of such, then you do not possess this choosing Dharma share of enlightenment and pick the wrong method.

(2) After you pick a method then you must cultivate according to it. If you cultivate according to Dharma, then you should have vigor, so there is the vigor share of enlightenment. If you have vigor, then it should be upright and not deviant vigor. Upright vigor perhaps refers to your sitting in meditation, or to your holding mantras, or studying the teachings, or maintaining the precepts, or cultivating patience under insult; all these kinds of vigor which help you. If you do not have vigor, then today you sit in meditation and tomorrow you do not; today you hold the precepts and the next day you do not; today you cultivate patience under insult and tomorrow you do not. This is being without the vigor share of enlightenment. If you have the vigor share of enlightenment, in the six periods, that is in the three periods of the day and in the three periods of the night, you are constantly vigorous and do not rest.

(3) After you have vigor, you can obtain the dhyana bliss, which is called the joy share of enlightenment. For instance, when you sit in meditation and develop a little ability, then you feel especially happy, especially free and at ease, especially comfortable; you feel happier than doing anything else. The attainment of this kind of happiness is called the joy share of enlightenment, a kind of clear, tranquil and especially happy state, which is attained in dhyana meditation.

Though some are true states, sometimes it is easy to "go into the fire so demons enter"? At that time, you produce the kind of heart, which attaches and chases. Chasing is "Oh, what was that experience like?" Your always thinking that it was not bad is just your attachment to it. Then since you are attached, it is easy to "go into the fire so demons enter." What is meant by going into the fire? Because of your attachment, the demon king comes to cause disturbance. If you do not have any attachment, then the demon king has no way. If you are attached, then the demon king is well off. No matter what you are attached to, then that state appears. And then what do you do? At that time you have a kind of joy enlightenment share.

(4) Afterward, you should in addition use the rejecting enlightenment share. 'Rejecting' refers to deeply investigating all evil, illumining and 'contemplating that which is not right, and rejecting it, while, of course, keeping and protecting the right.
Drawing near wise ones one removes the cover of stupidity.

(5) What is not right is whatever you are attached to. You should get rid of attachment too. When the attachment goes, that is the giving up share of enlightenment. 'Letting go* teaches you to give up your false thinking and attachment too. If you do not, then you can not attain samadhi and do not- obtain the giving up share of enlightenment.

(6) If you give up your attachment to false thinking, then you are able to guard vigorous mindfulness in thought after thought. This is again the vigor mentioned before. You should not forget it, but should be mindful of the immediate as present, in thought after thought never forgetting.

(7) If you cultivate in such a way with vigor, then you will attain the samadhi share of enlightenment. These seven shares of Bodhi are also called the seven shares of enlightenment.

The Upright Eight-fold Path

(1) Upright view. 'View' refers to your opinions. They have not yet gone outside, but are still inside. In your mind's thought there is upright views. In other words, you should have an accurate viewpoint. If it is not upright, then it is easy to go on a deviant road. If it is upright, then you go on the right road. Which views are called upright and which deviant? An upright view is "I should study the Buddhadharma because the Buddhadharma is upright." What is called a deviant view? For instance, your gambling or doing whatever is enjoyable and leisurely, your being lazy and harming people are the practice of deviant view. Therefore, upright views are very important.

(2) Upright consideration. If you have proper opinions, no sooner' do they come into being than you think." Is this right or wrong?" This is upright consideration: "I think that studying the Buddhadharma is the most genuine business of humanity, and there is nothing wrong with it."

Perhaps you have deviant considerations; "I am afraid that now this business of studying the Buddhadharma is not of any use. Now it is the scientific age. Buddhadharma talks back and forth, teaching people to do good deeds and be good people. Nowadays, who is a good person? There are not any. What everybody does is bad. I see that not only do people do all sorts of evil, but they also have money to use and liquor to drink." Since they have everything, they think that studying the Buddhadharma is not that good; thereupon they run off down this deviant road. If your consideration is upright, you will not.
Singlemindly getting rid of distractions one removes the cover of greed.

(3) Upright speech. If you have upright thought, then you are capable of upright speech. Your speech does not induce people to enter deviant roads, nor is it drunken or mad. It is always very precisely actual. You make everybody listen, like listening, and like acting in accordance with what you say.

      (4) Upright occupation. Upright speech leads you to an upright occupation, which is to say, one, which most people think, is wholesome and not one, which is against the law.

(5) Upright living. If your occupation is upright, then your living will also be upright.

(6) Upright vigor. You should be vigorous in doing that which is upright and not that which is improper.

(7) Upright mindfulness.

(8) Upright samadhi.

These are the eight upright ways.

The Four Fulfillments According to Intention

(1) The fulfillment of desire according to intention. This desire is wholesome, a hoping for good things.

(2) The fulfillment of vigor according to intention.

(3) The fulfillment of heart according to intention.

(4) The fulfillment of thought according to intention.

The Four Dwelling of Mindfulness

The four dwellings of mindfulness are body, perception, heart, and dharmas:

(1) Contemplate that body is impure.

(2) Contemplate that perception is suffering.

(3) Contemplate that the heart is impermanent.

(4) Contemplate that dharmas have no self.

The Four Types of Upright Diligence

The four types of upright diligence are:

(1) Good roots which have not yet been produced are caused to be produced

(2) The good roots already produced are caused to grow.

This is the good side. To speak about the evil side:

(3) Not yet produced evil is caused not to be produced.

(4) Already produced evil thought is caused to be cut off.

These are called the four proper diligences. In cultivating there, are four proper diligences. The four fulfillments according to intention, the four dwellings in mindfulness, the seven-bodhi shares and the eight proper ways, add the five roots, which are:

The Five Roots

(1) the faith root
            (2) the vigor root
            (3) the mindfulness root.
            (4) the samadhi root.
            (5) the wisdom root.

These five roots are produced and then they have five kinds of power:

The Five Powers

(1) faith has faith power.
            (2) vigor has vigor power.
            (3) mindfulness has mindfulness power.
            (4) samadhi has samadhi power.
            (5) wisdom has wisdom power.

So these are called the five powers.

Together 5 roots

   5 powers

   4 dwellings in mindfulness

   4 fulfillments according to intention

   7 bodhi shares

   8 proper ways

  makes 37 categories of the Way.


If you cultivate the thirty-seven categories of the Way, then one day you will "suddenly connect right through" 13 and verify the sagely fruit.


You should not dwell in the kind of nirvana, which is one-sided truth and has residue. This nirvana is a city produced by transformation, and is not a genuine city. When you verify this kind of nirvana, which is not ultimate nirvana, you still must go forward and cultivate. So the gatha says,




The store-teaching Bodhisattva—six phenomenal paramitas.
            The perfect cultivates to wonderful enlightenment, noumenon suddenly

            Not having wisdom destroys attachment and empties all appearance.
            Without attainment, no verification: Dharma fusion is understood.
            On a tip of a single hair the jeweled field appears.
            Sitting atop a speck of dust, one turns the Dharma wheel.
            These words are spoken, yet few have faith.
            I know not how many recognize my sound.


KNOWING means wisdom. ATTAINING is verifying a particular fruit. When you arrive at this kind of state, you neither want wisdom, nor have a fruit, which is verified. There is not any hope at all. Most people who study the Buddhadharma suppose that they should first study wisdom, and that only after they have learned wisdom, will they then realize the fruit of Buddhahood. This Sutra says that prajna wisdom is nonexistent. There is nowhere to attain. All is empty. It is not that there is no wisdom and no attaining; there is no attachment to wisdom, and no attachment to the place, which one has attained. This part of the commentary talks about 'store teaching' Bodhisattvas, those of the Tripitaka teaching." The doors of 'having wisdom' and 'having attainment' which Bodhisattvas of the 'store teaching' cultivate are called the phenomenal paramitas.

There are six phenomenal paramitas and six nominal paramitas. The six nominal paramitas lack all phenomenal character, and are without attachment to anything. However, the six phenomenal paramitas entail attachments. To what? There is attachment to living beings who can be saved and to the Buddha Way, which can be realized. To be attached to living beings which can be saved is 'having wisdom'. To be attached to the Buddha fruit, which can be realized, is 'having attainment'. Now the Sutra says, NO KNOWING OR ATTAINING, which indicates that there is no attachment to the six phenomenal paramitas.

Although the Chinese character tu, which means 'to cross over', is used to translate paramita, the crossing over refers to the six phenomenal paramitas and not to the nominal ones. The six phenomenal paramitas have a visibly manifest appearance. For instance, though you give and are not miserly, you are still attached to the thought, "Oh, I can give and am not miserly." If you practiced the six nominal paramitas, then your giving would be just the same as your not having given. You should not be attached.

The six phenomenal paramitas are: 

(1) Giving which crosses over miserly greed. If you cultivate the paramitas of giving, then you will not have miserly greed. You have miserly greed, then you do not give. So as soon as you give, you cross over this miserly greed heart.

(2) Maintaining the precepts, which crosses over defilement and injury of transgression. When you cultivate and maintain the precepts, you become very, very pure and clear, like a bright, precious pearl. Maintaining precepts is being without defilement. If you do not maintain the precepts, then you will become dark and dirty from defilement. Maintaining precepts 'crosses over' defilements. If you do not maintain the precepts, you will become a white piece of paper smudged with black ink. The more stain, the blacker. If you maintain the precepts, then the white piece of paper retains its original clarity and purity.

(3) Patience under insult, which crosses over anger. If you cultivate patience, you do not have any temper. If you have temper, then you do not have patience. So when you cultivate patience,' you do not have any anger; you cross it over.

(4) Vigor, which crosses over laziness. Why do you have to be vigorous and not lazy? Just as if you are not vigorous, you are lazy, if you are vigorous, your laziness is crossed over. You should be vigorous everyday. Be vigorous and brave, then in so far as you are vigorous you will not be lazy.

(5) Dhyana samadhi, which crosses over distraction. If you wish to cultivate dhyana samadhi, you must first sit for a long time until you acquire the ability to enter samadhi. When you have entered samadhi, you will no longer be distracted and will have the power of samadhi.

(6) Prajna which crosses over stupidity.

No attachment anywhere is the six nominal paramitas, for instance, the non-doing of the six paramitas, which is cultivated in perfect enlightenment. Basically, because there is no attachment at all to what is done, it is equivalent to not doing. "When I have not done, can I say that I have done? If you can say that my giving is like non-giving, can we then say-that non-giving is like giving?" If you give, it is all right to think that it is like not giving, but you cannot say that your not giving is equivalent to your having given. Because the six phenomenal paramitas are cultivated by 'store-teaching' Bodhisattvas, the gatha says:



The Bodhisattvas of the perfect teaching, who are just the same as the Wonderful Enlightenment Bodhisattvas, cultivate the six nominal paramitas. Because both they and the Bodhisattvas of the special teaching cultivate the six nominal paramitas, the gatha says, WONDERFUL ENLIGHTENMENT—NOUMENON SUDDENLY CLARIFIED. They completely understand that giving is the same as not giving, and that crossing over is the same as not crossing over. Therefore, the Sutra says, there is NO KNOWING AND NO ATTAINING. Because any attachment to the six phenomenal paramitas is fundamentally non-existent, the gatha says,


NOT HAVING WISDOM. There was still the attachment to prajna, but now all appearances have been emptied. Therefore, the Sutra says, NO KNOWING AND NO ATTAINING.


WITHOUT ATTAINMENT. There is nowhere (nothing) to attain. Nor is there attachment to the verification of the Buddha fruit. In other words,

"Above there is no Buddha Way which can be realized.

Below there are no living beings who can be crossed over."

Collecting one’s thoughts in the mountains and forests one removes the cover of sleep.

Work hard living beings who can be crossed over.23 This is not to say that there are not any living beings to cross over, but that "crossed over, they are still not crossed over". "Although all living beings have been crossed over to extinction, there is not a single living being who has been crossed over to extinction." It is not that there are no living beings to be crossed over, but that there is no attachment. There is not this kind of knowledge and attainment. This enlightenment is the great perfect mirror wisdom, in which there is not any attachment at all. The gatha says, DHARMA FUSION IS UNDERSTOOD.


      When this state has been verified, on the tip of a single hair the jeweled field of the king can then appear. This is the great manifesting within the small.


This is the doctrine of the Surangama Sutra.



      Since there are very few people who believe, I do not know how many people there are who "know the sound". Those who "know the sound” are ones who understand this principle; I do not know how many people there may be.

      The Aged High Master Hsu Yun said: "Having gone everywhere within the boundaries of the heavens to find someone who knows ‘me’, I do not yet know if anyone recognizes my sound." "Someone who knows me" is a friend who knows 'oneself’. The one who “recognizes my sound" knows the meaning of what I say. If they do not recognize my sound, then no matter what I say, there is nobody who understands it. If there are people who understand the principle of what has been said, then they are said to recognize my sound.

      You say, "Dharma Master, I understand what you are saying." Then you are one who "recognizes my sound." If you say that you do not understand, then you are not one who recognizes my sound. If you say, "I understand, yet do not understand." Then you are one who recognizes my sound, yet are not one who recognizes my sound. So whether my sound is recognized or not, I still proclaim these gathas, these doctrines. Whoever cultivates according to them recognizes my sound. Whoever is not in accord with these principles and does not cultivate either does not recognize my sound. Whether you recognize my sound or not is just whether or not you believe. If you believe in the doctrine, which I have proclaimed, then you are one who recognizes my sound. If you do not believe, then you are not one who recognizes my sound. What doctrine am I proclaiming?


On the very tip of a small hair is manifest a Buddha-country, a country where the Buddha proclaims Dharma to teach and transform living beings.


Sitting upon a very, very small speck of small is that?    You turn the great Dharma wheel to teach and transform living beings. In this kind of state the large appears within the small. If you understand this state, you are one who recognizes my sound. If you do not understand, then you should study the Buddhadharma. Study until you too can sit atop a speck of dust and turn the Dharma wheel. Then you will understand.

—to be continued—


  1. See VBS #21

  2. chi (Skt. samudaya)

  3. see VBS #19, pp.2-3

  4. San shih ch'i tao p'in, also known as the 37 Wings of Enlightenment (Skt. bodhipaksa). They are listed and explained in the section of our text immediately following. See also Prof. Lewis Lancaster's translation of "The Thirty-Seven Limbs of Enlightenment" section of the Ta Chih Tu Lun beginning in VBS??. A listing of both Sanskrit and Chinese for the 37 is found in L. Hurvitz, pp. cit.

  5. Fa ‘dharma' or 'Dharma', here explained specifically as fang fa, 'method'. It is translated variously according to context in the following section of our text.

  6. ming pai (understanding); chiao wu ('enlightenment')

  7. kung fu

  8. tzu tsai. See VBS #10, p.14, pp. 18-19, note 17

  9. See for example the explanation of the fifty deviant states in the final roll of the Surangama Sutra. (T.945)

  10. (Chinese)

  11. i chien, lit. 'mind-view'.

  12. See Prof. Lancaster's translation of the Ta Chih Tu Lun section on 'The Application of Mindfulness to the Body' in VBS # II, pp. 21-24.

  13. Ho jan kuan t'ung. From the lost' fifth chapter of the Ta Hsueh supplied by Chu Hsi.
    ("One day suddenly all connects right through and then nowhere, whether external or internal, fine or coarse, are the myriad substances unreached. The great function of the enlightened heart's entire substance is nowhere without clarity!")

  14. This refers to the nirvana attained by those of the two vehicles, which is characterized by one-sided clinging to emptiness. (See VBS #11, p. 13, “Emptiness of analyzed dharmas”.)

  15. In the “Transformation City” Chapter of the Lotus of the Wonderful Dharma Sutra (Ch. miao fa lien hua ching, Skt. Saddharmpundarikasutra, T. 262) this type of nirvana is likened to a great city full of pleasures and nourishment which is conjured up as a temporary resting place for those frightened and weary on the steep and dangerous mountain path.

  16. “Store” is an abbreviation for the three stores or storehouses, Skt. Tripitaka, Ch. san tsang, which is the name of the Buddhist canon. However, here the reference is merely to the canon of the small vehicle (Skt. hinayana).

  17. shih liu tu and li liu tu.

  18. See also VBS #12, p.26, note 1; VBS #8, p. 13, note 16.

  19. sat paramitah       liu tu (po lo mi to)

  20. wu tsuo

  21. Miao chiao. The second two lines of the gatha are contrasting the cultivation of the store teaching Bodhisattva with that of the perfect teaching Bodhisattva. The former is at a stage only a little higher than the fourth-stage Arhat and Pratyekabuddha; the measure of his heart is not yet great because he has just brought forth Bodhi in his heart. He cultivates the six phenomenal paramitas; his practice still has form, his actions are observable. So in this sense he is still within the small vehicle.
    On the other hand, the perfect teaching Bodhisattva has attained to the stage of cultivating the six nominal paramitas, and therefore, dwells in the true Mahayana. His wonderful activity is beyond appearances and when it is finished, no traces remain.

  22. pieh chiao, one of the four periods of the Buddha's teaching according to the t'ien t'ai school. See VBS # 5, pp. 11-12

  23. (Chinese)

  24. (from the Diamond Sutra, chin kang ching, Skt. Vajraccedikasutra, T 235). For translation from the Sanskrit, see E. Conze Buddhist Wisdom Books, P.25.

  25. See the Surangama Sutra, shou leng ching, Roll 10,
    (In wonderful brightness, I am neither extinguished nor born. Uniting with the Tathagata store just that (is) the Tathagata Store. It is only wonderful enlightened brightness, completely illumining the Dharma realm. For this reason within the One is the infinite: the infinite is the Once. In the midst of the small appears the large; in the midst of the large appears the small. Not moving, the platform of the Way reaches everywhere the limits (realm) of the ten directions. My body contains the inexhaustible empty space of the ten directions. On the tip of one hair appears the jeweled field of the king. Sitting within a speck of dust, I turn the great Dharma wheel. I destroy the dust and unite with enlightenment. For this reason I produce true thusness—the wonderful enlightened bright nature.)

  26. For a summary biography see VBS #17, pp. 1-2.

  27. (Chinese)

  28. The term chih yin, lit. “one who recognizes my sound”, is usually reserved for a very close friend who deeply understands you. Its origin is found in the story of Chung Tzu Ch’i and Pai Ya. One version is quoted below:
    Pai Ya was a good lute-player, and Chung Tzu-Ch’i was a good listener. Pai Ya strummed his lute, with his mind on climbing high mountains; and Chung Tzu-Ch’i said:
    “Good! Lofty, like Mount T’ai!”
    When his mind was on flowing waters, Chung tzu-ch’i said,
    “Good! Boundless, like the Yellow River and the Yangtse!”
    Whatever came into Pai Ya’s thoughts, Chung Tzu-ch’i always grasped it.
    Pai Ya was roaming on the North side of mount T’ai; he was caught in a sudden storm of rain, and took shelter under a cliff. Feeling sad, he took up his lute and strummed it; first he composed an air about the persistent rain, then he improvised the sound of crashing mountains. Whatever melody he played, Chung Tzu-ch’i never missed the direction of his thought. Then Pai Ya put away his lute and sighed:
    “Good! Good! How well you listen!
    What you imagine is just what is in my mind. Is there nowhere for my notes to flee to?”
    “The Questions of T’ang”, p. 109, The Book of lieh-tzu: a new translation by A.C. Graham, John Murray, London, 1960.