You are on page 1of 11

from Derge edition of Taranatha gsung ‘bum, vol. 4, pp.

757-781

A Textual Commentary on the Heart Sutra


by Venerable Taranatha

In Tibetan: sher snying gi tshig ’grel bzhugs so


In English: A Textual Commentary on the Heart Sutra

I prostrate to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas1

Namo Buddhaya

In discussing part of the meaning of the Heart Sutra, transcendent full knowing has many meanings,
but the actual and main meaning is the way all knowable phenomena are: non-dual wisdom, or Buddha
nature. In this sutra, the nature of this transcendent full knowing is characteristically free of elaboration,
characteristically unchanging, and characteristically all aspects.2 Because it teaches these three main
meanings with very few words, it is the heart. If you ask, how does it teach them, “There is no form…”
and so forth teaches freedom from elaboration, “Non-arising…” and so forth teaches unchanging, and
“Form is emptiness” teaches all aspects.
This sutra has three sections: (1) an introduction, (2) coming to certainty about the meaning, and (3)
rejoicing and praising.

Introduction
The introduction has two points: (1) the text of the introduction, and (2) the way this dharma arose.

First, the text of the introduction:


Thus have I heard at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling on Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha
together with a great sangha of monks and a great sangha of Bodhisattvas.

At the place of Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha,3 the Teacher, the Blessed Shakyamuni, was
staying with a retinue of a large assembly of the sangha of Shravaka, arhats and a large sangha of noble4
bodhisattvas assembled from various pure realms at one time, or in other words, together. This entire
assembly became vessels for this dharma, and at this one time that their beings ripened, thus have I, the
compiler Vajrapani, unmistakenly heard these words of dharma, the Heart Sutra. This is stated because
establishing the certainty of time and place with the assembled retinue as witnesses creates confidence in
the Teacher’s speech and creates wondrous faith.

1
Following the tradition of Tibetan translators, I have added a translator’s homage.
2
An “aspect” is what we perceive when we are aware of an object; it is like the appearance of the object in your mind. Since no
phenomenon can be established independent of its aspect, “all aspects” also means all phenomena. Thrangu Rinpoche explains
this passage to mean that from the dharma nature all different appearances can arise—good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant, etc.
3
In the Buddha’s time, Rajagriha (King’s Palace) was the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, whose kings were great sponsors
of the Buddha and sangha. It is in the north Indian state of Bihar, north of Bodhgaya.
4
Noble means a being who has attained the first Path of Seeing—a being who has directly perceived egolessness.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 2

Second, the way this dharma arose:


At that time, the Blessed One entered the samadhi of aspects of dharmas called “Profound Appearance.”
Also at that time the bodhisattva-mahasattva Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara, looking at the practice of
profound transcendent full knowing, fully saw that the five aggregates are empty by nature.

As it is difficult to realize, profound is the transcendent full knowing of the way things are. The
wisdom that directly realizes this is appearance, which is actually seeing this meaning, and the equipoise
that has this wisdom is samadhi. The Blessed One always abides in this samadhi, but in the appearances
perceived by the disciples gathered there, it appeared as if he newly entered that samadhi of Profound
Appearance.
Also, just after the Blessed One entered equipoise, at that time the bodhisattva mahasattva Noble Lord
Avalokiteshvara also rested (Tib. gnas pa) in the wisdom that directly realizes or practices the profound
transcendent full knowing, the wisdom that looks at or knows samadhi and the equipoise connected to it.
With wisdom looked at or meditated upon the cause of actually practicing that sort of transcendent
knowing, the five aggregates, as not established by nature, empty. By teaching this natural emptiness of
the five aggregates separately from the profound transcendent knowing, the profound transcendent
knowing is established as not empty of its own essence. For this reason, this is the first passage that clearly
teaches the Other-Empty Middle Way.
Just after teaching how Avalokiteshvara newly entered the meditative equipoise on transcendent
knowing, the word “Then” provides a link between the previous and the following.

Coming to certainty about the meaning


Second, coming to certainty about the meaning has two points: Coming to certainty through question and
answer, and dispelling doubt through confirmation. The first has two points: the question and the answer.

First, the question:


Then through the power of the Buddha, Venerable Shariputra said this to the bodhisattva mahasattva
Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara: “Son of Noble Family, how should any son or daughter of Noble Family,
who wishes to practice the practice of the profound transcendent knowing, train?”

Of course, Shariputra and the other listeners through their own power do not know to ask about such
profound dharma, but through the power of the Buddha’s blessing, Venerable Shariputra spoke thus to the
bodhisattva mahasattva Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara. What did he say, you ask? Whether a son of noble
family—a man—or a daughter of the noble family—a woman—whoever it might be that arouses the mind
of enlightenment and wishes to practice or meditate upon the practice of the profound transcendent full
knowing through listening, contemplating, and meditating, how do they need to train in the method of
meditation?

Second, the answer


This has six points: (1) A brief teaching on the practice of transcendent knowing, (2) an extensive
explanation of the essence of transcendent knowing, (3) a teaching on the benefits of the path of realizing
it, (4) the way the result attained through the path manifests, (5) teaching the mantra and its benefits, and
(6) advice on training in transcendent knowing through a summary.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 3

First, the brief teaching on the manner of practicing transcendent knowing:


Thus he spoke, and the bodhisattva-mahasattva Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara spoke these words to the
Venerable Son of the Sharadvatis.5 “Shariputra, any son or daughter of noble family who wishes to
practice the practice of transcendent knowing should fully look like this. The five aggregates should be
correctly viewed as empty by nature.

Thus Shariputra spoke, and in answer, the bodhisattva mahasattva Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara spoke
the following to Shariputra. What did he say, you ask? The son or daughter of Noble Family who wishes to
practice the practice of the profound transcendent full knowing should look fully or completely in this
way, or meditate. Here, “to practice” is the way of practicing or the verb, and “the practice” is the direct
object of the verb, so “What is the way of practicing transcendent knowing, the object of practice.” In
other words, “In what manner do those who wish to do meditation meditate on whatever object of
meditation, transcendent knowing, and with what methods of meditation?”
How should one fully look, you ask? Since the five aggregates and also the elements(Skt: dhātu, Tib.
khams), sense fields(Skt: ayatana, Tib: skye mched) and other classifications—all the generally accepted
dharmas6—are not established by nature or in their essence, the unerring, correct fundamental nature is
viewed and meditated upon by the subject7 meditative wisdom in accord with the fundamental nature.

Second, the extensive explanation of the essence of transcendent knowing


The extensive explanation of the essence of transcendent knowing has two points: (1) coming to certainty
about natural transcendent knowing, and (2) the way to meditate on path transcendent knowing.

First, coming to certainty about natural transcendent knowing:


Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is also no other than
emptiness. In the same way feeling, conception, formations and consciousness are empty. Shariputra,
therefore all dharmas are emptiness: no characteristics, unborn, unceasing, no stains, no freedom from
stains, no decrease, and no increase.

If you take the two truths together, in this locus which appears to ordinary individuals8 as the form
aggregate, the form aggregate does not exist, because that form is but mere deluded appearance—it is
empty of its own essence. Therefore from the self-isolate of form9 it is emptiness that does not exist and is
not. The abiding of the dharma nature (Skt: dharmatā, Tib: chos nyid) that is empty of any trace of form is
itself actual emptiness. This is true emptiness that exists and is. In the emptiness dharma nature that exists
in the fundamental state, it appears to childish ordinary individuals as the form aggregate, but other than
mere deluded appearance, it has no essence.
If you make form the basis, the dharma expanse10 emptiness does not abide separately from it, because
the location where form appears is itself the dharma expanse; because the basis form aggregate itself is not

5
Another name for Shariputra. His mother’s name was Sharika, so he was called “Son of Sharika” or Shariputra in Sanskrit. He
came from the clan of the Sharadvatis, and therefore was also called “Son of the Sharadvatis.”
6
Dharmas are things that can be known. Dharma and phenomenon are synonymous.
7
Tib: yul can. An subject is a thing that has any sort of object: a cognition, a person, or spoken word. In this case, it means that
the meditative wisdom is the perceiver.
8
Literally, “childish individuals” because they have not yet matured by directly seeing the truth.
9
The isolate is what we actually perceive when we perceive an object—you might think of it like the name or image. Here the
“self-isolate of form” means form itself.
10
( This note got lost. Apologies. CM)
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 4

experienced as existing, so in the dharma nature of the form aggregate neither of the two can be
individually established; because the awareness of dharma nature is also free of elaboration; and because
form and its companion that occurs as the essence do not have the characteristic of being separate. If you
take the dharma expanse of emptiness itself as the basis, there is no form that exists other than that,
because dharma nature abides but form does not exist, and because of the previous reasons.
For example, if someone with jaundice looks at a conch, they do not see a white curling object, but a
yellow curling object. Even though it is seen, the yellow curling is but a mere deluded appearance, and
from the beginning does not exist. But the white one does exist, so if you consider that whatever appears
yellow and what appears white are alike in that they do not have a separate foundation or basis. This is like
saying, “What you see as yellow is not another conch. The conch is what you see as yellow. Other than
what you see as yellow, there is no conch. Other than the conch, the yellow you see cannot be established.”
This completely fits the meaning.
Since proponents of the Self-Empty (Tib. Rangtong) view propose that ultimate truth is pervasive11 in
the empty, it follows that the form aggregate becomes ultimate truth. It is logical to state that emptiness is
neither form nor other than form, but this statement that form is emptiness and emptiness is form becomes
unreasonable. Therefore this is the second passage that clearly teaches the great Other-Empty Middle Way
(Tib. Shentong).
In this explanation, it appears as if the explicit teaching in this sutra only uses negative words, but to
explain it in terms of the implicit meaning, there are only affirmative words: “The dharma nature ultimate
form, whatever it may be, is the wisdom of emptiness. The wisdom of emptiness, whatever it may be,
appears as the dharma nature of form.”
If you understand merely that these two have a common basis,12 you might think that it is possible for
there to be a wisdom of emptiness that is not the form of the ultimate, and that is possible for there to be a
form of the ultimate that is not the wisdom of emptiness. In order to refute this doubt: Emptiness is no
other than form; form is also no other than emptiness. Here “empty” is not merely empty, but wisdom
empty of dualism. The form aggregate of the ultimate is of course not the form aggregate. The ultimate
aspect of the form aggregate within all aspects of the dharma expanse is called the form aggregate of
dharma nature or the ultimate form aggregate.
The other aggregates follow the same logic: In the same way feeling, conception, formations and
consciousness are empty. Emptiness is from feeling to consciousness. Emptiness is no other than feeling
up to consciousness. Feeling up to consciousness is also nothing other than emptiness.
As a conclusion to this explanation of emptiness: “Therefore all dharmas are emptiness.” As the Lord
Maitreya said:

Because there’s no dharma outside of


The dharma expanse, for that reason…13

As for saying there are no characteristics:14 because the Relative level (all-concealing)15 is empty of its
own nature, neither it nor its characteristics exist, just as since vases do not exist in truth, vases’

11
Pervasive is a logical term that means in all situations. For example, vases are pervasively round-bellied and flared-footed: if
it is a vase, it must be round-bellied and flared-footed, and there is no vase that is not round-bellied and flared-footed.
12
A common basis is something which is both one thing and another. For example, a gold vase is a common basis between gold
and vase because it is both gold and a vase. In this instance, there is a common basis between the wisdom of emptiness and the
dharma nature ultimate form, but to phrase it like this implies that there is something which is one but not the other.
13
From the dbus mtha’ rnam ‘byed. Taranatha misquotes here. Should be: chos kyi dbyings ni ma gtogs par / ‘di ltar chos yod
ma yin te.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 5

characteristics also do not exist in truth. The ultimate exists in its essence, but the characteristics of the
ultimate are not established in their own nature, as the characteristics, the characterized, and the example16
are merely imposed by the mind—in the fundamental nature they do not exist.
In the same way, “Because there is no birth, there is no cessation.” These two, no birth and no
cessation, are like the previous. In the all-concealing, the characteristics of birth and cessation exist just in
appearances, but they are merely deluded appearance. If the relative level (all-concealing) has never
existed, in it there can be nothing to be born and nothing to cease, and therefore there is neither birth nor
cessation. The ultimate exists empty of its own essence; however birth, cessation, and abiding cannot be
established in it, so it is unborn and unceasing.
In that way, emptiness has the meaning of “empty of composites”, so composite, characteristic, birth
and cessation are all merely imaginary,17 and so are taught not to exist—dharma nature has the meaning of
empty of the imaginary. You might think that it is inappropriate to call mere composite itself imaginary.
Composites are not pervasively imaginary;18 however the characteristic of imaginary applies to all
composites, because all composites, in brief, are either object or subject. In relation to the subject, the
seeming appearance that the subject can be established independently from the perception of the object is
itself imaginary, so imaginary applies to all cognitions. It appears as if there is an external perceived object
separate from cognition, but that is imaginary, and that applies to form and all other objects and the eyes
and all other faculties. Other than those, it is not necessary to say that all things with imputed existence19
and all no-things20 are imaginary. For that reason, the characteristic of imaginary applies to all composites.
Therefore, dependence has the characteristic of imaginary, and imaginary has the characteristic of
dependence. The actual wholly-established is not like that; however, the imputed wholly-established21 is
similar to those two.
To move on from there, stains are samsara: the samsaric stains that by power of karma and the
afflictions appear to arise as various sufferings also do not exist in their essence. Freedom from stains is
nirvana. By meditating on the path, obscurations are abandoned and then enlightenment attained, but if

14
A characteristic is an attribute which identifies a particular phenomenon. For example, the characteristic of a thing is that it is
functional, and the characteristics of a vase are that it is a round-bellied, flared footed, water-carrying functional object. A
characteristic is like a definition, but it is different from a definition in that it is intrinsic in the phenomenon it characterizes,
rather than just being words one reads in a dictionary.
15
Skt: samvriti and Tib: kun rdzop. Often translated as “relative,” here it is translated as “all-concealing,” which is more
accurate to the etymology of the Sanskrit and Tibetan words.
16
Tib: mtshan nyid mtshon bya mtshan gzhi. For example, round-bellied, flared footed, water-carrying functional object are
characteristics, vase is the characterized, and gold vase is an example.
17
Imaginary is one of three characteristics of phenomena: imaginary, dependent, and wholly-established. All phenomena can be
classified as one of these three characteristics. In Taranatha’s extended commentary on the Heart Sutra, imaginary is described
as all the relative (all-concealing) phenomena that we perceive, such as forms, sounds, and so forth. They are imaginary because
they do not have any real existence and are delusive in all ways. Dependence is cognition with perceiver and perceived. This
also does not have any real existence, but it forms the valid basis for accepting and rejecting—based on this, one can make
choices about what to do or not to do to progress along the path. The wholly-established is the fundamental dharma nature—
ultimate truth itself.
18
I.e., composites are not always imaginary. Some composites are dependent, e.g. dualistic cognition of perceiver and
perceived.
19
Tib: btags yod. A thing with imputed existence has no substantial existence of its own—it is imputed or imagined based upon
other things. For example, a sentient being is imputed based upon the five aggregates, but there is no substance or thing that you
can say is the actual sentient being.
20
Tib: dngos med. No-things are non-compound phenomena that are not able to function, such as the sky or the absence of a
vase.
21
The imputed wholly-established is what ordinary individuals conceive of as wholly established. Since it is the conception
of an ordinary individual, it is not actually wholly-established.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 6

meditating on the path does not exist in truth and obscurations do not exist by nature, then for that reason
the appearance of freedom from stains is no more than the way it appears to the mind, and does not exist in
its essence. Complete buddhahood is truly established; however, the appearance of attaining it is the way it
appears to the mind, and so is merely an all-concealing illusion. Therefore, both the thoroughly afflicted
and the utterly purifying path are dependent, and taught to not exist by nature, so in the dharma nature,
there are no stains of dependence, and dependence is taught to be empty of its own essence.
In the ultimate expanse, it appears as if qualities decrease in the period of samsara and as if
obscurations are abandoned and decrease in the period of nirvana, but this is just the way it appears in the
minds of samsaric beings and yogis. In the way things are, there is no decrease. In the time of samsara
faults appear to increase, and in the time of nirvana qualities appear to increase, but as above this is not
truly established. For that reason, because obscurations are not established from the beginning and because
qualities intrinsically abide from the beginning, the appearance of augmentation and reduction is merely
false appearance. This teaches that the ultimate wholly-established is empty of the all-concealing samsara
and nirvana. This wisdom of the wholly-established ultimate pervades all of samsara and nirvana, but
without being stained by either samsara or nirvana. Without those, there is no transition or change, and for
that reason it is taught to be permanent. This is the third passage that clearly teaches the Other-Empty
Middle Way (Shentong).
In this way, emptiness, no characteristics, unborn, unceasing, no stains, no freedom from stains, no
decrease, and no increase are known as the eight profound characteristics. The natural transcendent
knowing, wisdom of emptiness, is all of them from emptiness up to no increase.

Second, the way to meditate on path transcendent knowing:


“Shariputra, therefore in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no conception, no formations, no
consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no form, no sound, no smell, no
taste, no sensation, no dharmas; from no element of eye to no element of mind and up to no element of
mind consciousness. There is no ignorance, no exhaustion of ignorance, up to no old age and death and
also up to no exhaustion of old age and death. In the same way, there is no suffering, no origin of
suffering, no cessation and no path; no wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment.

In terms of training in the six ways to be skillful, first is the training in being skilled in the aggregrates:
“Shariputra, therefore in emptiness there is no form…” The basis of emptiness is the essence of the one
gone to bliss,22 the mind of the ultimate itself. In that wholly-established great emptiness, on the dharma
base23 of transient stains, there is no aggregate of form, no aggregate of feeling, no aggregate of
conception, no aggregate of formation, and no aggregate of consciousness. The reason for this is given by
the “Therefore:” because they have the nature of the eight profound characteristics from emptiness to no
increase. “Shariputra” is said as an address. The phrase “in emptiness” can be added to everything up to
“no non-attainment;” it clearly indicates the beginning.
This takes the wisdom of emptiness as a basis. In that, it teaches that there are no all-concealing
phenomena at all, so this is the fourth passage that clearly teaches the great Other-Empty Middle Way.
According to those who are known as proponents of the Self-Empty, it is inappropriate to say that in
emptiness there is no form, because the basis emptiness is not established. On that basis it is completely

22
i.e., Buddha-nature.
23
Tib: chos can. A dharma base is a phenomenon that is the basis for other phenomena that are its particulars. The Tibetan
word literally means “dharma possessor,” and means a phenomenon that has other characteristics. For example, sound is a
dharma base that has the particular dharma of impermanence. This term often refers to all-concealing phenomena in contrast
to dharma nature.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 7

illogical to separately negate form, because in the mind of the Self-Empty proponent, emptiness has been
proven, so if you negate form it follows that you are negating what has already been negated. According to
them, you would need to change the words of the sutra to read “No form is emptiness.”
Second is training in skill in the sense fields. In the wisdom of emptiness, there is no sense field of eye,
and, to continue in the same way, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, and no sense field of mind. There is
no sense field of form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, and no sense field of dharmas.
Third is training in skill in the elements. In the wisdom of emptiness, there is no element of eye up to
no element of mind. There are no six elements of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; no six elements of
form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or dharmas; and no element of visual consciousness, sound consciousness,
smell consciousness, taste consciousness, or touch consciousness up to no element of mind consciousness.
Fourth is training in skill in interdependence. In the wisdom of emptiness, there is no ignorance up to
no aging and death. There is no link of ignorance, and to continue in the same way, no link of formation,
and no links of consciousness, name and form, sense fields, contact, feeling, craving, grasping, becoming,
birth, or aging and death. Through meditating on the path, there is no exhaustion of the link of ignorance,
so no cessation of it. To continue in the same way, there is no cessation of the link of formation, no
cessation of the link of consciousness, no cessation of the link of name and form, no cessation of the link
of the six sense-fields, no cessation of contact, cessation of feeling, no cessation of craving, no cessation of
grasping, no cessation of becoming, no cessation of birth, up to no cessation of the link of aging and death.
Fifth is training in skill in the truths. Just as in relation to emptiness there are no aggregates, elements,
sense fields, or links of interdependence, in the wisdom of emptiness, all of the truth of suffering, all of the
truth of origin, newly-attained truth of cessation, and the truth of path do not exist in essence. The truth of
cessation that is the basis for accepting and rejecting is emptiness, but the four truths by which one accepts
and rejects are all negated.
Sixth is training in skill in what is possible or impossible. In the wisdom of emptiness, there is no
wisdom generated by the path, and no true release through that wisdom. There is also no attainment of
either the state of cause or result of things, but there is also no state of attaining a result from something
that is not a cause. These points are all demonstrated in this sutra as follows: the expanse of dharma
appears variously to all samsaric beings and meditators on the path as delusions of ground dharmas such as
form and so forth or as dharmas of path and result, but in the way things are, they are not seen in the actual
form of the true nature, and so all these appearances of ground and path are nothing, but they appear. After
coming to certainty about this during the period of listening and contemplating, phenomena from the form
aggregate up to non-attainment are released to their own places in the essence of awareness through
meditation. This teaches the need to come to meditative equipoise in that wisdom of natural emptiness.
Explaining this passage as the three absences of essence24 and the above explanation are essentially the
same. The meaning established by explaining it as the three absences abides correctly in the ultimate
expanse, because it only arises as the mere emptiness of the transient all-concealing. Therefore some
people’s idea that these two explanations are contradictory is a great misunderstanding. In that way, among
the six points, training in aggregates, elements and sense fields is skill in the characteristics of dharma
nature. Training in interdependence and the four truths is skill in accepting and rejecting, engaging and
reversing. Training in what is possible and impossible is skill in causes, conditions, and results.

24
Tib: ngo bo nyid med gsum. Rinpoche explains as imaginary, dependent, wholly-established.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 8

Third, the benefits of the path of realizing it:


“Shariputra, therefore because the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide in reliance upon
transcendent knowing; as there is no obscuration of mind there is no fear; they completely transcend the
mistaken and reach ultimate nirvana.

The clause “Because… [they] have no attainment” indicates the end: it includes everything from no
form up to here, but the reason to say attainment specifically is that in the fundamental nature a cause that
produces and a result that is produced cannot be established as either able or unable to produce, and so the
meaning is that all the others are contained within this one.
And so in this way nothing from form up to non-attainment can be established as the nature of things,
and practitioners of the Great Vehicle need to meditate on this. Therefore because in the mind-stream of
the bodhisattva’s wisdom of equipoise, the causes and results of things along with their functions cannot
be established from the beginning, in the confused mind-stream the obscurations that appear to one’s mind,
along with their latencies, also do not exist in the nature from the beginning. The suffering of samsara and
fear and terror caused by karma and afflictions also do not exist in the nature, and if one directly realizes
their non-existence, the mistaken appearances of the delusion of perceiver and perceived are successively
abandoned. Finally, after completely transcending all delusions, one reaches or gets to the ultimate
nirvana, the complete state of buddhahood. The succession of transcending the mistaken is to progress
from the levels of aspiration through the ten Noble levels and finally to the Vajra-Like Samadhi.

Fourth, the way the result attained through the path manifests:
All the buddhas dwelling in the three times fully and clearly awaken to unsurpassed, true, complete
enlightenment by relying on this transcendent knowing.

“Dwelling in the three times” means that all the buddhas who arose in the past, are currently dwelling,
or who will appear in the future have all awakened, or will awaken, to complete and perfect enlightenment
by relying transcendent full knowing with its eight profound characteristics and meditating on the six ways
of being skillful.
In all of this, only the egolessness of phenomena is explicitly taught; the egolessness of the individual
is understood to arise implicitly by virtue of that. The teaching that bodhisattvas should not meditate upon
the egolessness of the individual means that they should meditate on individual egolessness by taking the
basis of negation, the aggregates, as existent and meditating on egolessness in relation to that basis.
Bodhisattvas meditate only on the individual egolessness that has the aspect of freedom from elaboration.
This is because individual egolessness is the fact that no self or me can be established in the fundamental
state; phenomenal egolessness is the fact that no knowable sights or sounds are experienced as existing in
the fundamental state; and the former is included in the latter.

Fifth, teaching the mantra and its benefits:


Therefore, the mantra of transcendent knowing, the mantra of deep insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the
mantra equal to the unequalled, the mantra that completely pacifies all suffering should be known as truth,
for there is no deception. The mantra of transcendent knowing is proclaimed:

TADYATHA OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SWAHA

After awakening completely perfectly, in the aspect of the wisdom that directly realizes the natural
transcendent perfect knowing that appears, the mantra arises; it is causally compatible with the Dharma
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 9

Body. Because this great mantra accomplishes all desired ends and actions, it is the secret mantra of deep
insight. As the essence of this mantra transcends everything worldly and overpowers the foundation
vehicle, it appears as knowing mantra of the unsurpassed wisdom itself. There is no need to mention that it
does other desired actions: for one’s own benefit it is equal to the unequalled, as it is the mantra by which
one attains buddhahood, which has no rival in either existence or peace. For the benefit of others, it is the
mantra that completely calms all suffering. The Dharma Body is without deception, so it is not a lie, and
since its essence is unchanging and permanent, it is established as truth. The meaning of this is that
because this mantra is the same essence as that Dharma Body, it is undeceiving and not a lie, so it should
be known as truth. This is the fifth passage that clearly teaches the great Other-Empty Middle Way.
The actual mantra of transcendent knowing resides within the continuity of the Buddha’s mind, and so
it is the actual Dharma Body and actually truly established, but the mantra that appears within the mind-
streams of disciples and ordinary individuals is not like that actual mantra. However, since it is the cause
for attaining the actual, it is undeceivingly true for attaining the result. Mantras such as this that are spoken
by the Triumphant, from those that appear in the minds of ordinary individuals who have not entered the
path on up, are included in the wholly-established, and said to be undefiled.
The Noble Lord of the World25 spoke and explained the mantra of transcendent full knowing and its
benefits thus: TADYATHA means It is like this. GATE means went, or realized. Reciting it twice means the
realization of both the all-concealing and the ultimate. PARA means supreme, or the fundamental nature,
and GATE realized. Once again PARA means supreme, SAM means complete, GATE means realized, and
BODHI means enlightenment: the wisdom that unmistakenly realizes the fundamental nature of the two
truths. This says that enlightenment is the same flavor as the dharma expanse. SWAHA forms the basis: it
establishes the end of the mantra.

Sixth, advice on training in transcendent knowing through a summary:


“Shariputra, this is how a bodhisattva-mahasattva should train in profound transcendent knowing.”

After “Shariputra” it says that this is how bodhisattva-mahasattvas should train in the profound
transcendent full knowing with its eight profound characteristics by way of the six ways of being skillful
and other such methods.

Second, dispelling doubt through confirmation


Then the Blessed One arose from that samadhi and praised bodhisattva-mahasattva Noble Lord
Avalokiteshvara, “Well done,” he said. “Well done, well done, Son of Noble Family. It is so. It is just so.
Profound transcendent knowing should be practiced just as you have taught, and all the tathagatas will
rejoice.”

After this explanation, the Blessed One displayed the manner of arising from the samadhi of aspects of
dharmas called “Profound Appearance” and said to the bodhisattva-mahasattva Noble Lord
Avalokiteshvara, “Well done,” as a concise teaching. As it is said:

Out of surprise or dispute,


Anger, discouragement, or
Emphasis, joy or else faith,
From these one word is said twice.

25
Another name for Avalokiteshvara.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 10

Out of complete joy, he says, “Well done, well done,” and then, “Son of Noble Family,” to address
Avalokiteshvara. “This explanation of yours is unmistaken. It is just like that. This is just like that, and for
that reason just as you, Avalokiteshvara, have taught, Shariputra and all whole assembly gathered here
should practice the profound transcendent full knowing by means of the six ways of being skillful and so
forth. Not only do I, the present Blessed One Shakyamuni, rejoice in what Avalokiteshvara has explained
and what the rest of the assembly have accomplished in accord with that, but all those of the ten directions
who have gone to suchness rejoice,” said the Teacher, the Glorious Lion of the Shakyas, out of pleasure.

The third root topic, rejoicing and praising:


After the Blessed One spoke these words the venerable Son of the Sharadvatis, the bodhisattva-
mahasattva Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara, that whole gathering and the world with its gods, humans, asuras
and gandharvas rejoiced and greatly praised the words of the Blessed One.

The gathering had previously doubted whether there might be more to transcendent knowing than what
Avalokiteshvara taught, and so when they heard from the mouth of the Blessed One that in the teachings of
the buddhas of the ten directions, the meaning of transcendent knowing is just this, the questioner
Shariputra, the answerer bodhisattva-mahasattva Noble Lord Avalokiteshvara, and that whole gathering—
of different countries, different castes, different beings, different bodies, different riches, different
languages and so forth—the whole gathering with all this rejoiced. That whole gathering is principally, in
terms of normal distinctions, gods who act in the sky, humans who act on this earth, asuras who act below
ground, and gandharvas who act in all three areas. The immeasurable common worldly gathering indicated
by mentioning these principal four groups rejoiced out of joy and delight: they relied upon and greatly
praised the words of the Blessed One that confirmed the teaching of Avalokiteshvara. They held them to
be very important and had confidence in them.
If Blessed One had not given such confirmation, the gathering would not have had confidence, and so
would not have been pleased and satisfied. The student in the perception of others, Shariputra, might have
thought it was not an appropriate time for his question. Avalokiteshvara might have thought that maybe he
had not given a good answer, and become discouraged and doubtful. Because the Blessed One said, “Well
done,” in confirmation, Shariputra was pleased, as his question was good, Noble Avalokiteshvara also,
knowing that “Well done” had been said about his response, was extremely delighted, and the rest of the
gathering gained confidence and removed any doubts, and so were gladdened and satisfied.
One might say here that if this profound sutra is included within the middle wheel,26 it is inappropriate
for it to teach the Other-Empty Middle Way, or that if it does teach it, that there is no difference in
profundity between the middle and last wheel. If such is said, then this must be stated: the intention of all
three wheels is the Other-Empty Middle Way, and in reading the first and middle wheels literally there are
some words that teach it clearly. In the wheel that fully defines the ultimate, it is much clearer and more
extensive than in the first two wheels, and rather than being implied, it is directly stated, or told in a
boundless, vast way. There is a distinction of higher and lower among the three wheels, but since the
intention is the same, those two faults do not exist. Therefore, in what is explicitly taught in this sutra, the
common points of the Other-Empty are clearly taught, but the uncommon meaning of Buddha nature, and
aspects of the permanent, stable swastika27 are explained implicitly.

26
The Middle Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. There are three wheels of dharma. The first is the Wheel of the Four
Truths—the teachings of the Listener vehicle. The middle is Wheel of No Characteristics—the teachings on emptiness such
as the Prajnaparamita sutras. The last is the Wheel of the Well-differentiated—the teachings on buddha nature.
27
The swastika is a traditional symbol of what is permanent and unchanging.
Brief commentary on the Heart Sutra Page 11

This miraculous explanation of the words of the Heart Sutra were spoken by the vagabond Taranatha.
May virtue prosper.

Translated by Karma Choephel in February, 2005, at the Vajra Vidya Institute, founded by the Precious Lord of Refuge
Thrangu Rinpoche less than one earshot away from where the Teacher first turned the wheel of dharma in Sarnath, Varanasi, in
the Noble Land of India. The translation of the sutra itself is based upon the translation by Sarah Harding.