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The Heart Sutra

About The Heart Sutra and How to Meditate on It

The Heart Sutra is a short but profound text that summarizes the Prajnaparamita teachings which are the definitive teachings on the Mahayana view of the interdependent nature of reality.  Widely studied and recited, the Heart Sutra holds great significance in Mahayana Buddhism.

1. Understanding the Heart Sutra:

The Heart Sutra encapsulates the Mahayana view of interdependent reality and the lack of inherent existence of all phenomena. 

It describes the nature of emptiness, or sunyata.It also presents the path of wisdom that leads to the liberation from samsara, and to the attainment of enlightenment.

2. The Heart Sutra’s Teaching:

Avalokiteshvara explains to Shariputra that in training in the perfection of wisdom one comes to realise the emptiness of all phenomena. 

Avalokiteshvara declares the famous formula: “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form”.

He goes on to extend this insight to the other four aggregates, as well as to the twelve links of dependent origination, the eighteen elements, the six sense faculties, the four noble truths, and various other aspects of Buddhist doctrine. 

He concludes by stating that all phenomena are empty, without characteristics, without arising and ceasing, without defilement and purification. 

The sutra negates conventional concepts and asserts that ultimate reality transcends all distinctions.  

3. The Core Teaching of Prajnaparamita:

The sutra then presents the core teaching of the Prajnaparamita: “Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no mental formations, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of eye … up to no realm of mind-consciousness; no ignorance and also no extinction of ignorance … up to no old age and death and also no extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path; no wisdom and also no attainment and no lack of attainment

“With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajnaparamita and thus has a mind that is without hindrance. Without hindrance there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views he attains final nirvana.” This passage negates all conventional concepts and categories that are used to describe reality and asserts that ultimate reality transcends all dualities and distinctions.

A bodhisattva relies on prajnaparamita, attaining a mind without hindrance and fear, ultimately reaching final nirvana.

4. The Heart Sutra Mantra:

The sutra introduces the mantra: “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha” (Gone gone beyond gone utterly beyond awakening, so be it).

The mantra expresses the aspiration to transcend limitations and achieve supreme awakening.

5. The Sutra Concludes

The Buddha arises from the meditation he is in at the start of the sutra and says: “Well said, well said. That is just how it is, my son, just how it is. The profound perfection of wisdom should be practised exactly as you have explained it. Then the Tathagatas will be truly delighted.”

Meditating on the Heart Sutra:

1. Preparation:

Recite or listen to the Heart Sutra with a calm and open mind, using a preferred translation or version.

Chant or listen to the sutra in Sanskrit or any language, or explore musical renditions.

2. Contemplation:

Focus on phrases describing the emptiness of all phenomena, seeking to understand their meaning in your own experience.

Sit quietly after recitation, focusing on your breath, observing bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and objects of awareness.

Notice their arising, passing away, interdependence, and lack of inherent existence.

3. Letting Go:

Release attachment, aversion, and ignorance towards phenomena. Avoid grasping at their solidity or permanence.

Do not reject or ignore them as false or meaningless. Instead, view them as manifestations of emptiness and interdependence.

Embrace them as opportunities for wisdom.

4. Cultivating Compassion:

Develop compassion for yourself and all beings, recognizing the shared suffering caused by ignorance.

Dedicate your practice to benefiting all beings, aspiring for their enlightenment.

5. Concluding the Meditation:

End the meditation by reciting or listening to the Heart Sutra mantra: “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.”

Understand the mantra as an aspiration to transcend conceptual limitations and achieve supreme awakening.

6. Deepening Practice:

Explore commentaries and teachings on the Heart Sutra to deepen understanding and appreciation.


The Heart Sutra serves as a guide for meditation, focusing on emptiness and wisdom.

By contemplating its teachings, practitioners can cultivate insight and compassion.

The mantra expresses the aspiration to transcend limitations and attain supreme awakening.

Commentaries and teachings can further enrich one’s understanding and practice of the Heart Sutra.

This has been a simple introduction to The Heart Sutra but if you are interested in listening to HH the Dalai Lama teachings on the Heart Sutra online, you can find some recordings and links from the following sources: