The Buddhas of the Three Times and the Chinese Origins of the Heart Sutra

Jayarava Attwood



 The phrase tryadhvavyavastithāḥ sarvabuddhāḥ “all the buddhas that appear in the three times” in the Sanskrit Heart Sutra is a hapax legomenon in Buddhist Sanskrit, but it is similar to the common Chinese idiom 三世諸佛 “buddhas of the three times”. In every case where this Chinese phrase is used in a Prajñāpāramitā text, other than the Heart Sutra, the corresponding extant Sanskrit texts have atītānāgatapratyutpannā buddhāḥ “past, future, and present buddhas” instead. Additionally, where one translator has used the phrase 三世諸佛 another frequently prefers 過去未來現在諸佛 “buddhas of the past, future, and present”, suggesting that their source texts also had this form with the three different times spelt out. The phrase tryadhvavyavastithāḥ sarvabuddhāḥ is unambiguously a Chinese idiom translated into Sanskrit in ignorance of Sanskrit Prajñāpāramitā conventions. This proves that the Heart Sutra was composed in Chinese. 

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