Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh (1)

Dear CACC,

As promised, here is the first part of my exposition on Bat Nha Tam Kinh. It contains the introduction, the three versions of the kinh (han viet, Vietnamese, English), and an explanation of the title. Here are my suggestions to facilitate your reading:

If you are not familiar with this sutra, chances are no version of the kinh means much to you. However, you should glance over each version quickly, just to have a feel. The han viet is obviously foreign, but if you just read outloud the sound, you will feel the beautiful sound and rhythm of a master piece of poetry.
The Vietnamese and English vesions will give you a very vague idea of what it is about.

The Vietnamese version is my version. There are still lots of Han viet in the Vietnamese version, but trying too hard to have all Vietnamese in there may make it so clumsy and even more vague than just staying with Han Viet at times. Vietnamese language and Chinese (verbal) language are so entwined that trying too hard to separate them may do more harm than good.

The English version sounds a bit clumsy, but instead of using my version, I decide to use it because it is one of the "official" versions.

In this exposition, I will build the new parts on top of the old parts, gradually one by one. So, you need to read the entire series in the posting order. If you miss one part, chances are the later parts will become extremely confusing.

As mentioned earlier, I have 2 goals in this writing: (1) Introducing Bat Nha Tam Kinh and, through it, the entire outline of the Buddhist thought (already contained in the Kinh) (2) in a very simple and clear way. If you don't understand something, it means I fail to make it clear. So please kindly do me a favor by sending me a note. (Your comments are my wages).

And of course, I am a student of Buddhism, but not a scholar by any means. However, I just have to write this for many of our brothers and sisters. Though I try to be as accurate as I can in everything, if there is some misstep that need to be correct, I hope that our scholar friends and readers out there will pha't ta^m tu+` bi and send me a note. Many thanks in advance.
Have a great day!

A Brief Exposition on Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh is the apex of Mahayana Buddhism thought (Phật giáo đại thừa). Buddhism developed from Theravada (Phật giáo nguyên thủy, hay tiểu thừa) to Mahayana (Đại thừa). Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos are essentially Theravada. Vietnam, China, Japan, Korea, Hongkong, Singapore are essential Mahayana. However, Theravada has also had presence in Vietnam as early as Mahayana.

In this long development of Buddhism, the key concept of Không (Sũnya in Sankrist, "emptiness" or "void" in English) developed along. Life is non-permanent (vô thường) because everything comes and goes, depending on nhân duyên (the law of causation). Life is therefore illusory, not real. In other words, life is không or hư không.

This concept of Không may easily lead to the negative thought of nihilism. The Mahayana Buddhism takes us back out of this extremist concept of Không to the middle road (trung đạo). This road still commits to the idea that "life is Không"; however không here is not different from có (existence), "không mà là có, có mà là không" (emptiness is existence, existence is emptiness). This middle road definitely takes away any inkling of nihilist negativism. It is realistic and positive about life.

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh presents this middle road while going swiftly through all teachings of the Buddhist tradition from Theravada to Mahayana. Studying Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh is really the studying of the whole Buddhism.

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh is so central to Phật giáo đại thừa (Mahayana) that it is recited daily (kinh nhật tụng) by monks and nuns. In Vietnam, Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh is recited in hán việt (the Vietnamese transliteration of Chinese language). The hán việt version has the advantage of being a beautiful poem with good rhythm and sound and very concise language, therefore it is easy to memorize. The problem is that it is still a foreign language to most Vietnamese. However, since most Vietnamese Buddhist terms are hán việt anyway, it would be better for students of Buddhism to be familiar with some hán việt. For these reasons, in this study, we will use the hán việt version as the main version, along with the Vietnamese and English translations to facilitate the understanding.

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh

Prajñāpāramitā Hdaya Sūtra

Heart Sutra, Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra, Essence of Wisdom Sutra

Hán Việt

Quán-tự-tại Bồ-tát, hành thâm Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa thời chiếu kiến ngũ-uẩn giai không, độ nhất thiết khổ ách.

Xá-Lợi-Tử! Sắc bất dị không, không bất dị sắc; sắc tức thị không, không tức thị sắc; thọ, tưởng, hành, thức, diệc phục như thị.

Xá-Lợi-Tử! Thị chư Pháp không tướng, bất sanh bất diệt, bất cấu bất tịnh, bất tăng bất giảm. Thị cố không trung, vô sắc, vô thọ, tưởng, hành, thức; vô nhãn, nhĩ, tỷ, thiệt, thân, ý; vô sắc, thinh, hương, vị, xúc, pháp; vô nhãn giới, nãi chí vô ý-thức-giới, vô vô-minh, diệc vô vô-minh tận, nãi chí vô lão tử, diệc vô lão tử tận; vô khổ, tập, diệt, đạo; vô trí diệc vô đắc.

Dĩ vô sở đắc cố, Bồ-đề tát-đỏa y Bát-nhã-ba-la mật-đa cố tâm vô quái-ngại; vô quái-ngại cố vô hữu khủng-bố; viễn ly điên-đảo mộng tưởng; cứu cánh Niết-bàn, Tam-thế chư Phật, y Bát-nhã-ba-la mật-đa cố đắc A-nậu-đa-la tam-miệu tam-bồ-đề.

Cố tri Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa, thị đại-thần chú, thị đại minh chú, thị vô-thượng chú, thị vô đẳng đẳng chú, năng trừ nhứt thiết khổ, chơn thiệt bất hư.

Cố thuyết Bát-nhã-ba-la-mật-đa chú, tức thuyết chú viết: Yết-đế Yết-đế, Ba-la yết-đế, Ba-la-tăng yết-đế, Bồ-đề. Tát bà ha.

Dịch Nghĩa (TDH's version, worked from other existing translations)

Khi Bồ tát Quán Tự Tại thực hành Bát nhã ba la mật đa sâu xa, soi thấy năm uẩn đều không, liền vượt qua mọi khổ ách.

Xá Lợi Tử! Sắc chẳng khác không, không chẳng khác sắc; sắc tức là không, không tức là sắc; thọ, tưởng, hành, thức cũng lại như vậy.

Xá Lợi Tử! Mọi sự đều là không, chẳng sanh chẳng diệt, chẳng dơ chẳng sạch, chẳng thêm chẳng bớt. Cho nên, trong không chẳng có sắc, chẳng có thọ, tưởng, hành, thức; chằng có mắt, tai, mũi, lưỡi, thân, ý; chẳng có màu sắc, âm thanh, hương thơm, vị nếm, xúc cảm, và các pháp; chẳng có nơi để nhìn, cho đến chẳng có có nơi để ý thức; chẳng có vô minh, cũng chẳng có chấm dứt vô minh; cho đến chẳng có già chết, cũng chẳng có chấm dứt già chết; chẳng có khổ, nguyên nhân khổ, sự diệt khổ, và con đường diệt khổ; chẳng có trí tuệ, cũng chẳng có đạt.

Bởi chẳng có gì để đạt, Bồ tát nương tựa Bát nhã ba la mật đa, nên tâm không vướng mắc; vì không vướng mắc nên không sợ hãi, xa lìa mộng tưởng điên đảo, rốt ráo niết bàn. Chư Phật ba đời nương tựa Bát nhã ba la mật đa nên đạt được vô thượng chánh đẳng chánh giác.

Nên biết Bát nhã ba la mật đa là thần chú lớn, là minh chú lớn, là chú tối cao, là chú không gì sánh bằng, trừ hết mọi khổ ách, chắc thật, không dối.

Nên nói chú Bát nhã ba la mật đa, tức là nói chú rằng: Yết đế, Yết đế, Ba la Yết đế, Ba la tăng Yết đế, Bồ đề, Tát bà ha.

English translation

The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra

(Translated by Tang Dharma Master of the Tripitaka Hsüan-Tsang

on imperial command).

When Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva was practicing the profound prajna paramita, he illuminated the five skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. 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 diminish. 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; and no ignorance or ending of ignorance, up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death. There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, no way, and no understanding and no attaining.

Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately Nirvana!

All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttarasamyaksambodhi through reliance on prajna paramita. 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. That is why the mantra of prajna paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!


1. The Title Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh

The full name of Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh is Bát-Nhã Ba-La-Mật-Da Tâm-Kinh.

Bát Nhã is the transliteration of the Sankrist term prajna. It means wisdom. In hán việt it is called Tuệ or Huệ. However, this wisdom is more than the regular wisdom we encounter every day. Our daily wisdom usually has "duality" in it—right wrong, black white, good bad, có không, yêu ghét, existence nothingness, etc. In deep analysis, this duality wisdom is the source of all troubles, because my right is your wrong and, therefore, conflict arises between us. The duality wisdom makes our heart discriminate between this and that (tâm phân biệt), makes our heart jumpy (tâm vọng động), leads us into conflicts and, therefore, makes us ignorant (si mê, vô minh). In short, our everyday wisdom is not true wisdom yet.

The true wisdom surpasses such duality, surpassing right and wrong, surpassing existence and nothingness, etc. It is the wisdom of a mother of 2 fighting children, each claiming that he is right and the other is wrong. The mother sees neither right nor wrong, but only that both children are ignorant in their fight.

To indicate this ultimate wisdom, the Buddhists see fit to keep the word "prajna" or its transliteration "bát nhã," instead of translating it into the word "wisdom", "trí tuệ" or "trí huệ".

Ba-La-Mật-Đa is the transliteration of the Sankrist term "paramita" and means "crossing to the other shore." In hán việt, it is "độ" as in "phổ độ chúng sinh." Crossing to the other shore also means "giải thoát" (liberate) or "giác ngộ" (enlightened).

But, what shore and what river are we talking about? In Buddhism, we are on the shore of suffering (khổ). By crossing the river of ignorance (vô minh), we will get to the other shore, which is the shore of enlightenment (giác ngộ).

Thus, bát nhã is the ultimate wisdom that carries us (độ) across the river of ignorance (vô minh) to the shore of enlightenment (giác ngộ)

Tâm means the heart, the core, the essential.
Kinh means sutra, holy writing.

Thus Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh is a holy essential writing about the ultimate wisdom that carries us (độ) across the river of ignorance (vô minh) to the shore of enlightenment (giác ngộ).

(However, please note, when we talk about crossing from the shore of suffering to the shore of enlightenment, we are talking about duality—two opposite shores—which we have said is not really wisdom. Bát Nhã accepts no duality. As we will see later, in Bát Nhã, when we reach the other shore, we see that the true nature of all things is không, and in không there was/is/will be no river to cross. All the crossing is just a fleeting phenomenon of the mind).


Tran Dinh Hoanh, Esq., LLB, JD
Washington DC