Friday, June 27, 2008

The Heart Sutra

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The Heart Sutra is the best known and most popular sutra among Buddhist practionners.

(From Wikipedia) The Heart Sutra describes the experience of liberation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara, as a result of insight gained while engaged in deep meditation to awaken the faculty of prajña (wisdom). The insight refers to the fundamental emptiness of all phenomena, the five aggregates of human existence (skandhas) — form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), volitions (samskārā), perceptions (saṁjñā), and consciousness (vijñāna).

Heart Sutra by Taiwanese artist Hung-Chih Peng

Avalokiteśvara famously states that "Form is emptiness (Śūnyatā). Emptiness is form" and declares the other skandhas to be equally empty — that is, empty of an independent essence. Avalokiteśvara then goes through some of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings such as the Four Noble Truths and explains that in emptiness none of these labels apply. This is traditionally interpreted as saying that Buddhist teachings, while accurate descriptions of conventional truth, are mere statements about reality — they are not reality itself — and that they are therefore not applicable to the ultimate truth that is by definition beyond dualistic description. Thus the bodhisattva, as the archetypal Mahāyāna Buddhist, relies on the perfection of wisdom, defined in the larger Perfection of Wisdom sutras to be the wisdom that perceives reality directly without conceptual attachment. This perfection of wisdom is condensed in the mantra with which the Sutra concludes.

The "Wisdom Path" in Hong Kong is the Heart Sutra (心經) carved on wooden posts and placed in the shape of infinity. One post near the top of the arrangement is blank. It symbolizes the concept of "emptiness".

The Heart Sutra has been translated into many languages of course, but the mantra is always recited in the original Sanskrit, because it is believed that sounds have their own powers, transcending the meaning of words.

So the mantra for the Heart Sutra goes: Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bhodi Svaha (meaning: Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, Praise the awakening).

The Heart Sutra has been put to music or integrated into songs:
American composer Lou Harrison set Esperanto language texts translated from the Heart Sutra to music in his 1973 cantata La Koro Sutro.

The Band Akron/Family set the English version to music entitled Gone Beyond on their album, Meek Warrior.

Peter Rowan incorporated a musical setting of the Heart Sutra in the chorus of "Vulture Peak" on his 2001 album Reggaebilly.

Cantonese new age musical arranger Imee Ooi also performs electronic versions of Buddhist sutras, notably the Heart Sutra, in Sanskrit, and Mandarin.

Chloe Goodchild, British singer and composer, completed a version of the Heart Sutra on her album "Fierce Wisdom"

American Hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan has included the Heart Sutra in their album the 8 Diagrams. It was performed in Mandarin by Shifu Shi Yan Ming in the last track titled "Life Changes" as a tribute to the late Old Dirty Bastard.

Salmon Heart Sutra by Sandy Eastoak

Here are a few other versions.

Chanting by Tibetan Monk:

As sung by Imee Ooi:

"Emptiness is Form" by Kavyasiddhi

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