the title chapter two




    This is the full title of the Heart Sutra.   Looking at its component parts, Arya means “saintly” or “holy”, a noble one who has attained, is accomplished or is liberated.

    Bhagavati is the key to the structure and method of the Heart Sutra text, and especially the abstract meaning of its mantra.

    Prajnaparamitahridayasutra means “Sutra on the Heart of the Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom.”

    To explore these aspects it is appropriate to begin with the following quote from the sutra:

“All the Buddhas of the three times have fully awakened into unsurpassed complete enlightenment through relying on the Profound Perfection of Wisdom.”

     This line in the Sutra tells us that all buddhas are born into bodhi from the matrix womb of the Mother (Bhagavati) who herself is prajna.  The One Hundred Thousand Line Sutra on Perfect Wisdom explains, in the Buddha’s words, that, just like a woman with many children is well looked after by them and protected by them because they know she is their mother and has taught them how to live in the world, in the same way the Tathagatas are always mindful of the Perfection of Wisdom.  The Tathagatas know very well that prajna is the mother of buddhas, and instructs them in realization of Buddhadharma, which is completed in full enlightenment.

    This is the implication of the full title and use therein of the term Bhagavati, the feminine grammatical form of Bhagavat, the name usually used to refer to the Buddha Sakyamuni.   Bhagavat means blessed or one who has acquired omniscient wisdom through enlightenment, one who has finished with becoming and perfectly developed himself by doing away with all fears and troubles and by abolishing all defilements like hate, anger, and delusion.   All defects have been overcome and such a blessed one is fit to be venerated and relied upon.   The term Bhagavati in the title is an obvious clue that indicates the proper way to understand the strange grammatical ending of the progressive series of words in the Heart Sutra mantra, “gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate. . . .” The verbal ending “te” is the feminine vocative in Sanskrit grammar and has to refer to Bhagavati, Mother Prajnaparamita and her five prajnas just explained in relation to the poem.

 The Mahayana iconography of the anthropomorphized Mother Prajnaparamita depicts her sitting in meditation (bhavana) with a book (sruti) and a sword (prajna), the sword of wisdom, double-edged to cut through deceptive conceptual error and the false notion of self.   Sometimes there is pictured a vase containing memory (cinta) and the elixir of bodhi (adhiprajna).  Her curious smile is not one of humor but one of undeniable certainty (niscaya) and definite incontestability concerning knowledge of the truth.   Her halo is the saintly awakened wisdom of bodhi.

    The pra in Prajnaparamita or prajna is an intensifier, while jna means knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  The Prajnaparamita texts describe prajna as the highest, supreme, unequaled, incomparable, unsurpassed, superior wisdom. Prajna-wisdom reveals error and unreality and is necessary for the realization of nirvana.  Prajna is correct and thorough discrimination, and intense (pra) and profound knowledge (jna) pertaining to three levels of knowing, mundane knowledge, supramundane knowledge, and unsurpassed knowledge.

    Mundane knowledge is polluted or wrong knowledge, primal ignorance, getting the real confused with what is unreal.  This kind of knowledge usually refers to the Four Perverted Wrong Views explained in Mahayana Buddhism as perversions of perception: thinking that what is actually impermanent is permanent; that what is really a mode of suffering is not so; deeming something lovely when it really is not so; and presuming there is a self when there is really no self.

    Supramundane knowledge is knowledge that arises in sravakas and pratyekabhuddas: knowledge of impermanence, of suffering, of selflessness, and that nirvana is peace.   A sravaka is a disciple or student, a hearer of the dharma teachings.   A pratyekabuddha is an undeclared enlightened one.

   In the foundational doctrine of the Hinayana the awakening experience is described as being any of four basic degrees:

1.  Stream-enterer, in which the stream or path to nirvana is entered which transcends the self-view, uncertainty, and clinging to practices and habits.   The Stream-enterer will be reborn seven times more at most.

2.   Once-returner, which is a very substantial overcoming of greed, anger, and delusion. The Once-returner gets reborn only once more.

3.   Non-returner, in which sense passions and associated irritations are done away with. The Non-returner goes to the pure abodes or higher heavens and attains nirvana, never again to be reborn in this kind of world.

4.   Arhat, which transcends all passion for form and formlessness, self-conceit, restlessness, and ignorance.  An Arhat is liberated from the rebirth cycle completely.

5.  Pratyekabuddha, which is yet another degree of awakening; one who is privately awakened by understanding the Four Noble Truths but does not teach the path to others.

   The third kind of knowledge is called unsurpassed knowledge. It is the knowledge of Tathagatas or Buddhas, those who to thusness (tathata) have gone (gata).   This is holistic knowledge based on emptiness, that all persons and all phenomena whatsoever are selfless, signless, in a state of wishlessness, and perfect emptiness.

    Prajna is the sixth paramita (perfection).   The other five paramitas essential to the practice of bodhisattvas are the perfections of giving, morality, patience, vigor, and concentration.  Prajna arises as fundamental wisdom only when the veil of ignorance has been overcome and no longer serves as a foundation for errant cognition. Prajna is also analytical wisdom, discriminative excellence, dispassionate clear observation and discernment, knowing things as they really are.   Prajna-wisdom is the most crucial of the six perfections because without it the other five cannot be developed.  Prajna is the immediate and direct understanding of emptiness and all its implications.  Prajna is the ultimate knowing that there is a multiplicity of objects and events but that not a single one of them exists in its own-being since each thing exists only according to prior conditions, dependent on previous conditional factors.   So prajna is the knowing of what exists and what does not exist and how things really exist, described profoundly by the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness.

    Paramita in the title of the Sutra means perfection, excellence, beyond to consummation.   Param means beyond and ita is that which goes beyond, that which transcends.  The Perfection of Wisdom is that final perfect wisdom that directly and correctly discerns all modes and diversities of phenomenal manifestation. It is the buddha-wisdom that overcomes and conquers all conceptual errors and directly and profoundly realizes emptiness. Whosoever else may desire such knowledge and wisdom must study, thoughtfully reflect, and practice meditation.

   Hridaya. This word means organism or organized system.  The heart is always a functional center of any process or system; without it a system could not function. The system of awakening in Mahayana Buddhism revolves around its heart also, and that is the understanding of emptiness.  This word in the title is translated as Heart, meaning center, essence, basis, the core, the pith, the root, the vital part, the essential part, the gist.

    Sutra.  The meaning of this Sanskrit term is similar to the English word “suture”, which is a thread that sews parts together.  The suttas and sutras of Buddhism are thus the connected parts of Buddhist doctrine and writings that fit together as to associated meaning and subject matter, way of exposition and explanation. These writings can be short, like the Heart Sutra, or of a middle length, sometimes dozens of pages, or quite long as is found in the Prajnaparamita Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Lines, or the great Avatamsaka and Lotus Sutras which have thousands of pages of scrolls.

   This completes the comments on The Title.


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arya bhagavati prajnaparamitahrydayasutra

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