Ungarbling Section VI of the Sanskrit Heart Sutra

Jayarava Attwood


A number of lexical and syntactic problems have already been identified
in Section VI of the Sanskrit Heart Sutra (Conze 1948, 1967, Nattier 1992, Huifeng 2014, Attwood 2018a). A close parallel reading of the Chinese and Sanskrit texts reveals still more problems of both kind in this passage. The unidiomatic and at times garbled Sanskrit text is consistent with predictions of Nattier’s Chinese origins thesis (1992).

The result has been persistent confusion about how to interpret the Heart Sutra. The most egregious misinterpretation has been that the negations in Section V represent a metaphysical stance, e.g. that the pañcā skandhāḥ etc. do not exist full stop. The ungarbled text reveals that the “negations” are phenomenological absences: in the meditative state of emptiness, the pañcā skandhāḥ are absent, they do not arise. I try to show that the ideas in the Chinese Heart Sutra, appropriately contextualised, can easily be expressed in idiomatic Sanskrit. Finally, I reflect on the historical significance of the Sanskrit translation.

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