The Heart Sūtra is one of the most-studied scriptures in Zen Buddhism; while it’s one of the shortest, it’s packed with references to overloaded terms like emptiness. Red Pine unpacks a lot of the baggage, examining the original Sanskrit writings (and tracking down their variations) and creating his own translation from scratch, then going over it line by line in as much detail as needed to give the context of the words. His perspective seems generally Mahāyāna rather than particularly Zen.

I quite like how he’ll dig into Sanskrit etymology when he feels it’s necessary to examine the details of a verb conjugation to try and get at the original meaning intended by the unknown writer of the sūtra. He also provides the context necessary to see that the Heart Sūtra is as much an academic manifesto as it is a work of Buddhist scripture, and includes historical commentary as well as his own. (He even brings in some of the 7th century monastic infighting, which hilariously look a lot like modern academic pissing contests— I can see why Eihei Dōgen was inspired to start a back-to-basics movement!)

This is an excellent look at the scholarly underpinnings of the Heart Sūtra. It does a fairly good job of not requiring a background in academic Buddhism to understand it, though I want to grab a kyôsaku and smack a lot of these ancient scholars he quotes when they take the logical equivalent of a running broad jump with the word “thus”.


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