The Heart Sutra

If you live in Japan, and have family here, or other deep connections, you must have heard the Heart Sutra. It is chanted at all Buddhist temples from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. The chanting is done in a flat voice, very rythmical, often with a drum or a bell marking the beat.

There are a lot of good versions on Youtube. Some also add karaoke-style videos!

Pop-versions from Singapore, by Imee Ooi 黃慧音, who is a Malaysian singer and music producer, according to Wikipedia:

Prajna-paramita Hrdaya Sutram (The Heart Sutra) 般若心経

Here is a good Alphabet version too. Try to read it along with the video.

I don't mind, but the real chanting is not about adding things, it is about keeping it real simple. Here is a version that stays very true to the way you will hear it at some local temple, anywhere in Japan.

(はんにゃしんぎょう) Hannya Shingyou is a profound prayer not well known in the Western world, why is that?

般若心経 The Heart Sutra

In fact, this is a spiritual practice that strongly connects ancient India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet... and of course today's modern Japan.

Let us remember that these peoples have a history of amazing unity. For those of us from other parts of the world (such as Sweden) we can only bow deeply to the traditions.

The Heart Sutra in particular is a reminder of how ordinary people today are exposed to a spiritual philosophy that is ageless, or at least thousands of years old. Who knows where this started? Is there even such a thing as a "beginning" for the Heart Sutra?

Writing the sutra with ink and brush is called 写経 shakyou. It is considered a spiritual practice at many temples. I was in Kyoto earlier this month, at Saiho-ji, the famous Kokedera (moss temple). You can only visit it if you apply in advance and participate in the sutra-writing ceremony.

Usually, there is a short lecture before you start, if the priest or monks are inspired. You get a paper that is showing the outline of the kanji, and you "copy" the heart sutra as well as you can. After an hour or so, you "offer" your paper, with your writing, to the altar.

More about shakyo here at the art of calligraphy:
Sutra copying is a Buddhist practice and a
special way of doing Japanese calligraphy.
It is the art of copying a Buddhist sutra
with awareness and it brings together the
ideals of genuine shodo. Shakyo harmonizes
body and mind and through their integration
creativity flows freely.

Sutra copying is a very inspiring brush
meditation, which you can make yourself
easily familiar with. In silence and with
awareness you write down the characters
with the brush, one after the other. Slowly
the words of the Blessed One flow through
you and artistic formed kanji appear on the
blank sheet. Shakyo gives you a feeling of
bliss, your mind and body are calm and you
become one with the Buddha. The whole
event inspires respect for the Dharma and
you feel a growing gratitude for the
precious teachings.


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