The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra
with the Standless Verse Commentary
of the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua

Translated by Ron Epstein
Revised by Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih

Translator's note: The original translation appeared in The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra with Verses Without a Stand and Prose Commentary, published by the Buddhist Text Translation Society in 1980. This translation will be included in the second edition.

[Text]The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra

[Commentary] Wonderful wisdom can reach the other shore right now.
The true mind itself is capable of merging with enlightenment’s source.
Dharma and analogy comprise its title which transcends the relative.
Empty of the attributes of all dharmas is this substance beyond words.
Its purpose and intent are fundamental non-attainability.
Its power and function: to eradicate the three obstacles entirely.
The real butter division is selected to describe the meaning of the teaching.
A maha propulsion against the current is the course of the Prajna boat.

When Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva

Reversing the light to shine within, Avalokiteshvara
Enlightens all the sentient beings, thus he is a Bodhisattva.
His mind is thus, thus, unmoving, a superior one at peace.
His total understanding of the ever-shining makes him a host and master.
When the six types of psychic powers become an ordinary matter,
Then even less can the winds and rains of the eight directions cause alarm.
Rolling it up retracts it and keeps it secretly hidden away.
Letting it go expands it so it fills the whole world entirely.

Was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita.

Practice the Way, cultivate yourself, and do not search outside.
The Prajna wisdom of your own nature is the deep, hidden cause.
White billows soar to the heavens, the black waves cease;
Effortlessly climb upon the other shore, which means reach Nirvana.
Time and again, time and again, don’t miss the chance.
Care for it, be diligent, take hold of the divine innocence.
Hazy, indistinct, an unclear mirage, thus the news arrives.
Now it’s there, now it’s not—see what is inherently esteemed.

He illuminated the five skandhas and saw that they are all empty.

The three lights shine everywhere, permeating the three forces.
The one returns to the place of union, yet the one comes forth again.
See that form is emptiness and see feeling the same way.
False thoughts are the shifting currents; formations, the arrangers of karma.
With consciousness, perceiver of differences, five aggregates, skandhas, are completed.
They are as flowers in a mirror, as the moon on water: beyond defiling dust.
When emptiness is not empty, one understands the great function.
To have vision and yet be without views is happiness indeed!

And he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

Across the sea of suffering, one leaves the revolving wheel of rebirth.
When the rains disperse, the heavens clear, and the moon is fully bright.
The qian source is the Way-substance, among people the sage.
An undecaying golden body is extremely rare in the world.
Cast off life; what need of thousand-year drugs?
Reach tranquil cessation; wait ten thousand kalpas?
Five dwellings ended, the two deaths disappear forever.
Roam at will from East to West, throughout the Dharma Realm.


Shariputra’s name means solid and enduring wisdom.
Another interpretation, “pelican,” describes the demeanor of his mother.
With precepts and samadhi perfect and bright, the pearl-light appears;
Understanding and practice interact, and his body becomes transparent.
How does there come to be great wisdom? Because the stupid make their mark.
While he was in his mother’s womb, a fine eloquence was evident.
This real wisdom is complete within all people.
Grasp it at Jeweled Wood Peak at Cao Creek.

Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.

“Form does not differ from emptiness” “is” is like “is not.”
“Emptiness does not differ from form”: the distinction is of substance and function.
“Form itself is emptiness”: its true source is fathomed.
“Emptiness itself is form”: the false flow dries up.
Mountains, rivers, and the great earth are but manifestations of consciousness.
“Dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows”—so it is!
Be careful not to seek outside maintain the Middle Way.
He who casts down strained threads of cause is the One Come Thus.

So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness. Shariputra, all dharmas are empty of characteristics. They are not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure, and they neither increase nor decrease.

Feeling, cognition, formations, and consciousness are also like emptiness and form.
Again he calls, “Shariputra, pay attention, listen well!”
“All dharmas are empty of characteristics,” lacking a nature of their own.
“Not defiled, not pure,” they remain apart form corrupting filth.
“They neither increase nor diminish”—enlighten to the Middle in all its profundity.
In the pure and deep ultimate stillness, when all creation is transcended,
Suddenly awaken to the primal interpenetration of self and dharmas.

Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness; no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas; no field of the eyes, up to and including no field of mind-consciousness;

Therefore in emptiness there are no characteristics of form.
Feeling, cognition, formations, and consciousness disappear as well.
So do the six faculties and six objects, together with six consciousnesses.
Three minds come to three ceasings, and three closures are pierced.
The great cart of the white ox turns with the sound lin-lin.
A little yellow-faced child jumps and thumps in agitation.
If you ask what instructive meaning is to be found in that,
The front double-three and the back double-three meet.

And no ignorance or ending of ignorance, up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death.

“No ending of ignorance” means that its basic nature is empty.
False activity, discrimination, followed by name and form;
The six entrances, contact, feeling, love, grasping, having;
Rebirth, old age and death are each that way too.
For thousands of miles the sky is clear, without a cloud or a shadow.
Still water fills a deep pool and reveals the light of the moon.
Like people who drink when thirsty perceive for themselves the hot from the cold,
Merely talking about food or helping things grow: the work is always wanting.

There is no suffering, no accumulation, no cessation, no Way.

Each of the sufferings exerts pressure, and all attack together.
Accumulation is feelings which beckon, each unlike the other.
It is only through tranquil cessation that ultimate joy can be attained.
This is the Way that should be practiced to awaken to the emptiness of dharmas.
With three turnings of the Four Truths the Dharma Wheel revolves:
Seven Shares in Enlightenment, the Eight-fold Path, with Psychic Skills,   Mindfulnesses and Efforts.
One day connect right through and realize sagehood;
Partial truth with residue is no more than a conjured city.

And no understanding and no attaining.

Six Paramitas involving phenomena belong to the Store-Teaching Bodhisattvas.
Sudden awakening to principle; the Perfect’s practice of Wonderful Enlightenment.
 “No understanding” destroys attachment and empties every attribute;
“No attaining” is non-verification, and comprehends the fusion of dharmas.
Then, a jeweled realm appears on the tip of a single hair.
The Dharma Wheel is turned while one is seated in a mote of dust.
These words are spoken, yet few indeed will truly believe them;
I do not know how many know my sound.

Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind.

There is no cultivation, no verification, no attainment.
All that is conditioned and has characteristics is destined to demise.
Bodhisattvas, awakened beings, in becoming enlightened to this truth,
Place trust in prajna to bring them even with the other shore.
The mind without impediments leaves the retribution-obstacle behind.
A nature totally, truly empty puts an end to words and thoughts.
I send these words to those of future worth: seek it in yourself;
A head piled on top of a head is the height of stupidity.

Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind.

“There is no impediment” means truly letting go.
When “he is not afraid,”  obstacles made by karma depart.
With distortion left far behind, the characteristic of production is broken through.
Coarse, fine, and dust-and-sand delusions of your dream-thoughts become Thus.
As three obstacles finally dissolve, three virtues are perfected.
The interchangeable use of six faculties brings certification to six psychic powers.
To be able to fathom this wonderful truth is to directly enjoy its use.
Those who know easily enlighten the dark and difficult path.

Ultimately Nirvana!  All Buddhas of the three periods of time Attainanuttarasamyaksambodhi through reliance on Prajna Paramita.

Virtue is nowhere incomplete, and all the obstacles perish.
This ultimately final perfect stillness is called Nirvana.
Those passed by, not yet come, and now existing,
All Buddhas of the three periods of time, rooted in a common source,
Having placed their reliance on this very Prajna Paramita,
Reach genuine enlightenment equal to that of the Supreme Immortal.
If only those who practice remain capable of diligence and vigor,
What worry can there be about not attaining the field of the Dharma nature?

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is a great spiritual mantra, a great bright mantra, a supreme mantra, an unequalled mantra. It can remove all suffering; it is genuine and not false.

This “great spiritual mantra” is hard to fathom fully.
This “great bright mantra” illumines the trichiliocosm.
This “supreme mantra” leads to the utmost fruition of enlightenment.
This “unequalled mantra” helps us reach the ultimate peak.
It can remove all suffering and bring the turning wheel to a stop.
Since it is “genuine and not false,” it enables us all to progress.
What has been spoken here discloses the depths of profound Prajna,
And briefly explains the dhyana of the Patriarchs found in the East and West.

That is why the mantra of Prajna Paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!

As part of the esoteric, the mantra cannot be thought about;
Much like the edict of a monarch, its mandate is followed by one and all.
Similar as well to a secret password used among the troops,
If one’s reply the question is not fitting, one is quickly put in line.
The wonderful truth of the Great Vehicle entirely transcends distinctions.
Yet ordinary people see false conditioned cause as true.
Guided by the finger, gaze at the moon; the finger is not the moon.
Borrowing the mantra, light up the mind; the mantra is the mind.