Monday, July 23, 2007

Heart Sutra chant in English

Like most Zen groups, at the International Zen Association we chant the Heart Sutra in Japanese - or in archaic Sino-Indo-Japanese to be more accurate. It certainly gives a sense of something significant and exotic, arcane even and the act of chanting itself is good concentration. However, in my humble opinion, the meaning is important and is best understood in the context of practice rather than reading dry translations afterwards. So I can see a good case for chanting it in English. There are of course many English translations of this sutra, but mostly into prose.

So, by cross-referencing several translations I've produced this Heart Sutra chant in English - I may tweak it over time, so if anyone has any comments on my interpretation I'd appreciate hearing them.

Gassho

Maha – Prajna – Paramita – Heart – Sutra

A-va-lo-kiteshva-ra-Bodhi-satt-va-while-practicing-deep-Pra-jna-Pa-ra-mi-ta
Saw-all-five-skan-dhas-are-empty
transc-ending-all-suffering
Sha-ri-put-ra-form-is-not-different-from-emptiness
Emptiness-is-not-different-from-form
form-is-emptiness-emptiness-is-form
Feel-ings-per-cep-tions-vol-i-tions-consciousness-the-same-is-true-of-these
Sha-ri-put-ra-all-dhar-mas-are-marked-with-emptiness
They-are-not-born-nor-dest-royed
are-not-im-pure-nor-pure
do-not-in-crease-nor-de-crease
There-fore-in-emptiness-no-form
no-feel-ings-per-cep-tions-vol-i-tion-consciousness
no-eye-ear-nose-tongue-body-mind
no-col-our-sound-smell-taste-touch-ment-al-ob-ject
no-sight-sub-stance-and-so-forth-un-til-no-consciousness-sub-stance
no-ignorance-and-no-end-of-ignorance
and-so-forth-un-til-no-ag-ing-and-death-and-no-end-of-ag-ing-and-death
no-suffering-origin-cess-a-tion-way
no-know-ledge-and-no-att-ain-ment
With-no-thing-to-att-ain
the-Bodhi-satt-va-fol-lows-Pra-jna-Pa-ra-mi-ta
has-no-ill-u-sion
with-no-ill-u-sion-no-fear-exists
far-from-every-false-view
he-realis-es-per-fect-Nir-va-na
All-Buddh-as-in-the-past-present-and-fut-ure
there-fore-att-ain-per-fect-en-lightenment
So-know-the-Pra-jna-Pa-ra-mi-ta
is-the-great-tran-scendent-man-tra
is-the-great-bright-man-tra
is-the-high-est-man-tra
is-the-ut-most-man-tra
can-re-move-all-suffering-al-so-true-not-false
so-speak-the-Pra-jna-Pa-ra-mi-ta-man-tra
speak-the-mantra-that-says
gone-gone-gone-beyond
gone-fully-beyond-Bodh-i-Sva-ha!
Pra-jna-heart-su-tra

10 Comments:

At July 23, 2007, Blogger Jinzang said...

"has-no-men-tal-hindr-ance
with-out-an-y-hindr-ance-no-fear-exists"

The word you translate as hindrance literally means veil and is usually translated as obscuration. The two words are pretty close, but hindrance suggests something physical or external while obscuration suggests something mental or internal. Though the distinction is small, I think it's important.

"he-dwells-in-Nir-va-na"

The Sankrit word means grasp, apprehend, or obtain and is more active than dwell.

"All-Buddh-as-in-the-Three-Worlds"

The Sanskrit says three times: past, present, and future, and not three worlds.

 
At July 23, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for your feedback Jinzang - I'll take another look at these

:)

 
At July 24, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Jinzang,

I've made changes based on your latter two suggestions.

Regarding the first:

Most translations I can find give obstacle or hindrance, but some indeed give 'thought covering' or similar. However I can't come up with a snappy way to express that in English - literal accuracy isn't the only consideration - it has to be chantable and easy to follow. Can you suggest a replacement that's closer? I don't think 'obscuration' sounds any more internal than 'hindrance'. And I did say 'mental hindrance'.

Thanks again

 
At July 24, 2007, Blogger Jinzang said...

Citta-avarana could be translated as mental veil or mask, mental covering, or more freely as delusion or illusion.

The point is that hindrance suggests there's something you need to do, like getting out a chainsaw to cut up a fallen tree. But veil suggests that there's something that hasn't been seen correctly, or has been misunderstood. I think the difference is subtle, but significant.

 
At July 24, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

I see your point. For now it's 'illusion' but I might revisit it later.

 
At July 25, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

I've changed 'Be-cause-of-non-att-ain-ment' to
'With-no-thing-to-att-ain'. Another tricky one.

 
At July 31, 2007, Blogger TedinAnacortes said...

Justin, thanks for the post. The Heart Sutra is an amazingly inclusive teaching. I think if I could only practice/realize it fully I would not need any other practice/realization...

Having said that, here are a couple of things I thought about while reading your transcription:

Where you wrote:

"...Saw-all-five-skan-dhas-are-empty
and-passed-be-yond-all-suffering..."

I thought I might word it thus: "Saw all five skandhas are empty
transcending all suffering..."

In this reading, not only is Shariputra released from suffering, but also the implication that the "five skandhas" themselves transcend all suffering is retained.

Just a thought...

Also, where you wrote:

"...are-not-born-or-dest-royed...
...-not-im-pure-or-pure...
...-or-de-crease..."

I would eliminate the "or" and use some form of "no" or "not". Not born, not destroyed, etc. The "no" being a reference to "emptiness" or "shunyata" which implies more than just "not this or that", but something like, "emptiness this, emptiness that." In other words, "Birth is a manifestation of emptiness, death is a manifestation of emptiness, etc."

What do you think?

Another thing I thought about was where you wrote:

"far-from-every-false-view
he-brings-him-self-to-Nir-va-na"

I might change to:

"far from every false view
all things are Nirvana"

For it seems to me that "Nirvana" is synonomous with transcending delusion...

Hmmmm...

Well, that's my 2 cents worth...

Thanks again,

Gassho, Ted

 
At August 03, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks very much Ted for your comments. It's a balancing act between literal accuracy, accuracy of meaning (as I understand it) and making it work as a chant.

I thought I might word it thus: "Saw all five skandhas are empty
transcending all suffering..."
In this reading, not only is Shariputra released from suffering, but also the implication that the "five skandhas" themselves transcend all suffering is retained.


I'm not sure this more subtle meaning is in the original (even if it wouldn't be out of place). It seems to be a simple statement about Avalokiteshvara. But 'transcending' is fine.

I would eliminate the "or" and use some form of "no" or "not". Not born, not destroyed, etc. The "no" being a reference to "emptiness" or "shunyata" which implies more than just "not this or that", but something like, "emptiness this, emptiness that." In other words, "Birth is a manifestation of emptiness, death is a manifestation of emptiness, etc."
Again, although it would not be out of place, I don't see this more subtle meaning in the original text and I don't want to distort it too much according to my (or our) ideas. If I changed it too much I'd lose the negation of paired opposites. Nevertheless I changed 'or' to 'nor'.

I might change to:

"far from every false view
all things are Nirvana"

For it seems to me that "Nirvana" is synonomous with transcending delusion...


Once again, I don't want to project our notions onto it too much, even if what you say is true. But I have changed the wording to 'he-realis-es-per-fect-Nir-va-na'.

Thanks again.

 
At August 04, 2007, Blogger TedinAnacortes said...

Justin,
Thanks again for your thoughts and ideas. Sharing our experience strenth and hope with one another in this way seems to me to be of much greater value to my own practice/realization than the study of any text could ever be.

I believe I understand your points as you have described them. They are surely valid. Having said that I would just say about the "or", "no", "not" points we reflected on earlier that it seems to me that there is more than just a subtle difference in meaning. Also that the "no" or "not" way of reading it stands closer to the original in style as well as intent... The Japanese reading for instance is so full of "mu" "fu" and "ku" that chanting it sometimes sounds like nothing but "no, no, no..." As one of Hakuin's verses on the Heart Sutra says:

The earth, its rivers and hills, are castles in the air;

Heaven and hell are bogey bazaars atop the ocean waves.

The "pure" land and "unpure" world are brushes of turtle hair,

Nirvana and samsara, riding whips carved from rabbit horn.
(Hakuin's commentary on the Heart Sutra, trans. Norman Waddell)

Just some food for thought...

Gassho, Ted

 
At August 06, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Hi Ted

Also that the "no" or "not" way of reading it stands closer to the original in style as well as intent... The Japanese reading for instance is so full of "mu" "fu" and "ku" that chanting it sometimes sounds like nothing but "no, no, no..."

OK interesting, I see what you mean, however the Japanese is a translation from Chinese which is a translation from Sanskrit. The Sanskrit to English translations I read did't tend to have this meaning - they tended to have negated pairs.

Thanks for you input.

 

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