Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra (Hannya Shingyo) (般若心経)

"Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra (Hannya Shingyo, Prajñā-pāramitā-hṛdaya in Sanskrit)" is one of the Buddhist sutras that preaches the Ku (Buddhism) of Mahayana Buddhism and Prajna thought. There are various names depending on the sect, so it is also called Bussetsu Maka Hannya Haramitashin-gyo Sutra, Maka Hannya Haramitashin-gyo Sutra and Hannya Haramitashin-gyo Sutra. It is abbreviated as "Heart Sutra (心経)."
Additionally, a Chinese title accompanies the word '経 (sutra),' but in the title of Sanskrit text there is no word 'sutra' that corresponds to '経.'

It is said that in the text of less than 300 characters the essence of Mahayana Buddhism is preached, and it has been used as one of the sutras for recitation without regard to whether one is a priest or a lay person (except for certain sects).


"Hannya Shingyo" is generally said to be the essence or a representation of the 600 volumes of "Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra (Daihannyaharamitta-kyo Sutra)," but it consists of the abstract from "the Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra" ("Dai-Hannya-kyo Sutra") and "Maka Hannya Haramitsu-kyo Sutra"("Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra") with the addition of a litany (Sktdhāranī), which is included in "Darani Jikkyo Sutra" at the end. While it summarizes the themes of the Prajnaparamita-sutras as 'Ku (Buddhism),' it preaches its importance and glorifies the attainment of enlightenment; moreover, it emphasizes the magical aspect of Buddhism, especially with the litany added at the end.

The 'Heart' of Hannya Shingyo is a translation of 'hṛdaya' in Sanskrit (which means 'heart'), or an important thing, but it also means magic (litany, mantra). Therefore, while Hannya Shingyo is said to be a Buddhist sutra that preaches the view of Ku, it is also said to be a Buddhist sutra of litany. Generally speaking, the Prajnaparamita sutras do not include magical words except for what became Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism) in the latter stage. Considering the above, "Hannya Shingyo" is extremely peculiar as one of the Prajnaparamita sutras. Additionally, there is a theory that since the original title of the Sanskrit text does not include the word "sutra," an invocation text made for litany (soji, 総持) came to be considered as a sutra in China.

Moreover, in "Shuri Shu-kyo Mokuroku" (mostly included in "Shutsu Sanzo Kishu, the Chu sanzang ji ji" edited by Soyu, a priest of Liang (Nanchao)) edited by Doan SHAKU in eastern Jin, the oldest catalog of Buddhist sutra, there are titles of "Maka Hannya Haramitsu Shinju Vol. 1" and "Hannya Haramitsu Shinju Vol. 1, alternative version"; thus there is a theory that a magic ritual had been established before Hannya Shingyo was established as a sutra.

Additionally, while in the dainibun-Kudokuhon (第二分功德品) No. 32 of "the Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra (Dai-Hannya-kyo Sutra)," 'Hannya Haramita' (a word or an idea itself) is considered to be the great spell (大明呪), in "Hannya Shingyo," the phrase 'Hannya Haramita Shu' is set in to add the litany of Zo-mitsu (Mixed Esoteric Buddhism).

Various theories on the meaning of litany have been proposed by such people as Shoko WATANABE and the philosopher Hajime NAKAMURA, but there is no authorized translation.


It is said that Ryuju in India wrote "Daichidoron," a commentary on the Prajnaparamita-sutras during the second to third centuries, and there is a theory assuming that Hannya Shingo was established around this time. However, the oldest existing Sanskrit book is the Baiyo-bon edition housed at Horyu-ji Temple, which is said to be a manuscript from the latter part of the eighth century (introduced in 609 according to a legend), and it was written in a later age than the time when Buddhist sutras were translated into Chinese. Moreover, manuscripts that remain in Tibet and Nepal were also made in a subsequent age and their original forms aren't known, so it is suspected that they might be fake sutras.

Translation into Chinese
According to the documents of a later age, "Maka Hannya Haramitsu Shinju Vol. 1" was translated by Zhi Qian, who came from Central Asia in the third century, and "Hannya Haramitsu Shinju Vol. 1, alternative version" was translated by Kumaraju; however, "Shuri Shu-kyo Mokuroku" states that their translators are unknown, so it is doubtful that they were translated by these people. The former no longer exists, and the latter is regarded as "Maka Hannya Haramitsu Daimyo Jukyo" translated by Raju included in Tripitaka, but since Raju began to translate in 402 it could not have been translated in 385, when Doan SHAKU died. Additionally, the majority of the text corresponds to the text of "Maka Hannya Haramitsu-kyo Sutra" translated by Kumaraju of Tripitaka in the Sung, Yuan and Ming editions, but since So-ban Daizo-kyo Sutra (Tripitaka in the Sung edition) was published in the latter part of the twelfth century it is doubtful that this text was translated by Raju.

It is said that Genjo, who had returned from India in 649, also translated "Hannya Shingyo." As an idea on the history of sutra translation, Buddhist sutras translated into Chinese before Kumaraju are called 'ancient translations,' those after Kumaraju and before Genjo are called 'old translations' and those after Genjo are called 'new translations' (as per the classification of sutra translations).

However, in the aspect of philology the majority of the text was an abstraction from "Maka Hannya Haramitsu-kyo Sutra" of Tripitaka in the Korean edition (in the first part of the thirteenth century) translated by Kumaraju, and was different from the corresponding part of the "Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra" translated by Genjo, so that there is also suspicion about whether it was translated by Genjo, as well as the Buddhist sutra, which was said to be a translation by Raju.

The oldest text that is currently considered to be a translation by Genjo is the text that is added to the end of "Shogyojo" in the Shuo Shogyojo (Ji wang shen jiao xu, Shuji Shogyojo) monument at Hongfusi Temple (Kofukuji Temple), which was built in 672. However, because it had been a long time since 648 when Taiso (Tang tai zong) gave "Shogyojo," and there is a description in the afterword that 'embroidered by order of the Emperor," there is a theory that this epigraph came to be assessed as a translation by Genjo based on Kumaraju's translation in order to glorify Genjo's great work after his death. Additionally, in "Hannya Haramitashin-gyo Sutra Yusan," written by Jion Daishi Ki, a disciple of Genjo, there is a description to indicate that theory.

Moreover, although "Hannya Shingyo," which is said to be a translation by Genjo, became the most widespread for reading and invocation, this is unusual considering that the Buddhist sutra translated by Raju had since ancient times been used more often than the Buddhist sutra translated by Genjo. Additionally, sloppy reading of "the Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra" is often performed but the text of the Buddhist sutra itself is rarely read and recited.

Representative texts

Representative widespread texts that have additional punctuation marks are as follows:

Moreover, in both Raju's and Genjo's translations, 'Hannya Haramitsu (Hannya Haramita),' 'Sariputra,' '阿耨多羅三藐三菩提,' 'Bosatsu (菩提薩&22517)' and the last 'shu' were not translated into Chinese and showed transcriptions of Sanskrit without changes.

Moreover, in the text that is said to be a translation by Genjo there are more than 10 differences in words depending on the edition, examples of which are as follows:

空即是色受想行識等亦復如是 (lineage of the Hosso-shu sect such as the Horyu-ji Temple edition)

In various sects

In Japan various sects, especially the Hosso-shu, Tendai, Shingon and Zen sects, use Hannya Shingyo and interpret it individually. However, the Jodo Shinshu sect regards "Three Sutras of the Pure Land (Jodosanbu-kyo Sutra)" as the fundamental Buddhist sutra, and the Nichiren and Hokke sects regard "Myohorenge-kyo" as that, so they don't recite the Hannya Shingyo. This is because they don't need to use it from the viewpoint of their dharma, not because they deny the Heart Sutra. For example, Kozui OTANI, who was a chief priest of the Jodo Shinshu sect at Nishi Hongwan-ji Temple, wrote a commentary on the Hannya Shingyo.

The Tendai sect values it highly as a 'fundamental Hokke (根本法華).'
Moreover, there is a commentary that is said to have been written by Saicho.

In the Shingon sect it is read and recited, and is a subject of 観誦. It uses it as one of the Buddhist sutra for daily use (see the article of Hannyashin-gyo Hiken).
In the case where one reads and recites it repeatedly, traditionally he starts reading from 'Bussetsu' in the beginning for the first time but begins reading from 'Maka' for the second time without reading 'Bussetsu.'
Because Kukai, the founder of the sect, emphasized Hannya Shingyo, various priests of this sect have written commentaries. Among those, the works by Kakusho TAKAGAMI, Yuko MIYASAKA and others in the postwar period of Japan are well known. "Lecture on Hannya Shingyo" by TAKAGAMI, which was broadcasted via NHK radio in the prewar days, was very popular at that time. It is considered very highly among the commentaries written in modern Japanese, and it receives high praise from scholars and priests of other sects.

In the Jodo Shu sect it is recited at mealtime and so on.

In the Jishu sect it is necessary to recite it three times in front of the shelf of gods that enshrines the soul of Kumano Taisha Shrine after worship of the shrine and morning devotions. It is also used daily in some cases.

The Rinzai sect regards it as one of the daily Buddhist sutras. Additionally, Ikkyu, Bankei and Hakuin have made interpretations. It is often asserted that Hannya Shingyo is a Buddhist sutra that reveals the primary figure of one's heart.

The Soto sect regards it as one of the daily Buddhist sutras. While the founder Dogen interpreted it, Tenkei's interpretation 'Kanjizai Bosatsu is yourself' is famous. In addition, many priests such as Ryokan and Santoka TANEDA have tried to implement Hannya Shingyo. Ryokan left numerous manuscripts of the Hannya Shingyo, and TANEDA made haiku from the Hannya Shingyo.

In the Shugen-do mountaineering ascetic, practitioners (such as itinerant Buddhist monks) recite it when they practice.

In the Shinto religion, some sects recite it. When it is read and recited in the shrine (in front of the gods), it is read from 'Maka' without reading 'Bussetsu' at the beginning.

Lay people

For ordinary people it is regarded as a Buddhist sutra of 'miracle-working mantra' instead of a Buddhist sutra that preaches 'Ku,' and some people interpret that it 'erases (空ずる)' the power of evil spirits. There is an old belief that Hannya Shingyo benefits the recovery from illness, which is seen in "Nihon Ryoiki." Many people carried it as a charm or hand-copied it in order to pray for recovery from illness.

Additionally, it was recited at shrines. It is well known that Hokiichi HANIWA read Hannya Shingyo at Kameido Temmangu Shrine and prayed for the success of "Gunsho Ruiju."

During the Edo period, E-shin-gyo (Heart Sutra in Picture Version), was produced for illiterates. According to "Hannyashin-gyo no Nazo," written by Meiji MOMOSE, this was created by Genemon YAWATA in Ninohe-gun, Iwate Prefecture from 1688 to 1703 for the sake of illiterates and became popular in various provinces through essays, and even literate people enjoyed it as a kind of rebus.

It is often hand-copied concurrently with the practice of manuscripts. It is also printed on towels and is very common.

Although numerous commentaries have been published, some of them make the mistake of interpreting the original intension of Hannya Shingyo, so that Buddhist scholars sound the alarm. As the major translation and commentary in modern times, a book of Iwanami-bunko, a translation from the original Sanskrit by Hajime NAKAMURA and Kazuyoshi KINO, "Lecture on Hannya Shingyo," written by Kakusho TAKAGAMI and "Hannyashin-gyo Nyumon," written by Taido MATSUBARA, which interprets from the viewpoint of a priest of the Rinzai sect, have been published and reprinted many times so that their paperback editions are easily obtainable.

Moreover, Jun MIURA proposed outdoor Hannya Shingyo, which is near to pleasure.

[Original Japanese]