‘Epithets of the Mantra’ in the Heart Sutra

Jayarava Attwood


 In this article, I continue a detailed critical re-assessment of the text of the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya or Heart Sutra begun by Jan Nattier (1992, see also Huifeng 2014, Attwood 2015). Nattier and Yamabe pointed out that where the Sanskrit Heart Sutra has the word mantra, some parallel passages in the Sanskrit 8,000 and 25,000 line Prajñāpāramitā sutras have the word vidyā (Nattier 1992: 211, n.54a). I show that in every other occurrence of this passage in Sanskrit and Chinese versions of these texts, Prajñāpāramitā is referred to as a superlative kind of practical knowledge or incantation (vidyā) and there is no mention of a mantra. Nor would we expect one, since these texts predate the assimilation of mantra into Buddhism. This suggests that mantra in the Sanskrit Heart Sutra is a mistranslation of a Chinese rendering of vidyā. I explain why this might have happened in semantic and historical terms. Given that the so-called mantra itself is better described as a dhāraṇī, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there is no mantra in the Heart Sutra and no mention of a mantra. This raises some interesting questions. 

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