A Direct Explanation of the Praj the Shaakyan [Han-shan] De-ching of Naaraaya.na Mountain.(1)

Translated into English by Dharmamitra.

Why does the title of this scripture refer to "prajnaa"? It is Sanskrit. This means "wisdom." Why does it say "paaramitaa"? It too is Sanskrit. This means "arrived at the other shore". This refers to the fact that the paths of suffering in the realm of birth and death are like a vast sea and thus the emotional ideations of living beings are boundless. They are ignorant and unenlightened and the waves of consciousness bound forward and soar upward. They give rise to delusions, engage in karmic activity and so flow along and turn about in the realm of birth and death. The bitter fruits of this are endless. They are unable to succeed in crossing beyond it. Therefore we speak of "this shore."

It is our Buddha alone who has employed the brilliance of great wisdom to illuminate and see through the dust of emotions. He has eternally severed the afflictions and has put an end to all forms of suffering. He has caused the two kinds of death to perish forever.(2) He has leapt directly over the sea of suffering and has realized the lofty attainment of nirvana. Therefore we speak of "the other shore."

As for the so-called "heart,"(3) it properly refers to the mind of great wisdom which has arrived at the other shore. I am afraid it is not that clump of flesh, the erroneously-thinking mind of worldly people. It is especially because worldly people are unaware of their originally-existent wise and brilliant mind that they recognize only the reflections of discursive thinking and the manipulation of conditions. And so consequently they rely upon and adhere to that clump of blood and flesh as constituting their true mind. Hence they attach to this body of blood and flesh as "mine." Therefore they rely upon it to engage in all manner of negative karmic activity. In thought-moment after thought-moment this process flows along in waves without their ever having even a single thought wherein they illuminate reflectively and awaken themselves. Days accumulate and months pile up. From birth until death, from death until birth, there is nothing they do which does not accumulate karmic activity and there is nothing they do which does not accumulate suffering. How then would one be able to succeed in crossing beyond it?

Only our Buddha, the Superior,(4) has been able to awaken himself to the original true wisdom, illuminating and breaking through the body and mind consisting of the five aggregates. Originally, it does not exist. Its very substance is entirely empty. Therefore, he suddenly leapt over to the other shore and straightaway crossed beyond the sea of suffering. Because he pitied those who are confused, he additionally employed this Dharma entryway of self realization to instruct and lead them. He desired that every person awaken themselves and understand that wisdom is fundamentally existent, discursive thinking is originally void, the body and mind are both empty, and the world is like a transformation. He desired that they would not create the manifold bad [karmic actions], but would instead separate themselves far from birth and death and would all leave behind the sea of suffering and reach the bliss of nirvana. Therefore he spoke this sutra. A sutra is the spoken teaching of the holy one. It is the so-called constant dharma of earliest antiquity.


When the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was coursing in the deep praj he illuminated and saw that the five aggregates were all empty, thus crossing beyond all suffering and adversity.

The bodhisattva is the person who is able to cultivate. The extremely deep prajnaa is simply the dharma which is cultivated. Illuminated and saw that the five aggregates were all empty then is the method for cultivating it. Crossing beyond all suffering and adversity then is the genuine result which is achieved through spiritual cultivation. Because this bodhisattva heard this extremely deep praj he then thought about and cultivated it. He contemplated with wisdom, and reflectively illuminated the five aggregates(5) as internally and externally of a single emptiness, and the body, mind, and world as clearly devoid of any thing whatsoever. He suddenly leapt over and transcended both the worldly and supra mundane, eternally separated from all suffering, and attained great sovereign independence. Looked at from this standpoint, since the bodhisattva was able by this means to be successful in crossing over to liberation, this is sufficient for us to know that any person would be able to rely upon it as a means of cultivation. Therefore the World Honored One made a special point of informing the Venerable One(6) and proceeded thereby to explain the wondrous practice of Avalokitesvara, wishing to make it clear to everyone.

If we people were only able to carry out a contemplation like this one, if we in a single thought suddenly awoke to the fundamentally-existent light of wisdom inhering in our own minds, if we experienced a vast, great, and numinous penetrating understanding like this, utterly illuminating the original emptiness of the five aggregates and the nonexistence of the four great elements,(7) what suffering would we not thereby transcend? Moreover, what further dragging along and tying up by accumulated karmic activity could there be? What forceful argumentation over others and self, right and wrong could there be? What comparative scheming over misfortune and fortune, success and failure could there be? How could there be anything in the realm of wealth and poverty, nobility and humble station which could bother our minds? The aforementioned is the genuine result of the bodhisattva's studying of prajnaa. When it speaks of "the five aggregates", it is just referring to form, feeling, perceptions, compositional factors, and consciousness. "Illuminated" refers to the wisdom which is able to perform the contemplation. The five aggregates are precisely that state which is the object of contemplation. "Were all empty" then refers to the genuine result which is achieved.



This is the name of a disciple of the Buddha. "Shaari-" is Sanskrit. This means "egret." The eyes of this bird are the most clear and sharp. His mother's eyes were like that. And so it was taken as the name. This venerable one then was the son of the "egret." Hence it says "son of Shaari". Among the disciples of the Buddha, he was first in wisdom. And so this praj then he is unable to gain a comprehension of it. Therefore, he made a special point of informing him. This is one of those classic instances of being able to speak of it only to one who is wise.

Form is no different from emptiness. Emptiness is no different from form. Form is just emptiness. Emptiness is just form. The same is true of feeling, perception, compositional factors and consciousness.

This is an explanation directed specifically to the "Son of Egret" which explains the meaning of the previous statement that the five aggregates are all empty. As for bringing up and speaking about the form aggregate first among the five aggregates, form constitutes a person's physical characteristics. Based upon the tendency of everyone to attach to this body as something possessed by the self, persistent erroneous thinking makes [this misconception even more] solidly established. It is the root of the so-called attachment to self. It is that which is the most difficult to shatter.

Now, when initially entering the contemplation, one first contemplates this body as being a false unity of the four great elements, as being originally nonexistent, as being entirely empty in its very substance, and as being seen through utterly both within and without. If one is thus not cooped up by this body, then in coming and going through birth and death, one is not the least bit hung up or obstructed. The "aggregate" of "name and form" is shattered. If the aggregate of name and form were shattered then one would be able to gradually and sequentially deepen one's contemplation of the other four aggregates and push through them in this manner.

When it says that "form is not different from emptiness", this sentence shatters the common person's view of [form's] permanence. It is especially on account of the common person's recognizing only his form body and clinging to it as genuine and actual that he develops the opinion that it is permanent, and thus makes plans for a thousand autumns and a hundred years. Indeed he is not aware that this body is void, false and not substantial, that it is moved along by the four marks of birth, old age, sickness and death. This process moves along in every instant and does not cease proceeding thereby to old age and death. It is ultimately impermanent and finally returns to emptiness. This still is a concept which belongs to the emptiness of being subject to production and extinction. This still does not get to the end of the principle [which is intended]. It means specifically that the illusory form of the four great elements is originally no different from true emptiness, period. The common person is not aware of this and therefore he instructs them, saying, "Form is not different from emptiness." This is to say that the form body is fundamentally not different from true emptiness.

As for "Emptiness is not different from form," this sentence serves to shatter the annihilationist view of the non-buddhists and of the cultivators of the Two Vehicles.(8) Because in his cultivation the externalist is not aware that the body is produced from karmic activity, and that karmic activity arises from the mind, he goes through cycles [of rebirths] throughout the three periods of time, turning about without cease. Because they do not succeed in understanding the principle of the retributional interaction of cause and effect throughout the three periods of time, they then say that after a person dies, his pure energy returns to heaven, his turbid energy returns to earth, and his singular numinous true nature returns to the great emptiness.

If it were really just as they say here, then there would certainly be no principle of retribution and thus one who does good would be laboring in vain whereas one who does bad would get his way. If one's nature returned to the great emptiness then there would be no basis for determining what is good and what is bad for one would be poised on the brink of extinction. Wouldn't that be great fortune?! Confucius said, "Wandering souls bring about change. One knows thereby the character and appearance of the ghosts and spirits." This refers directly to those who have died and yet not perished and clearly illustrates the principle of retribution which is operative in cyclic existence. And yet people of the world do not investigate [this matter]. [The theory that] one's existence is precipitously cut off and extinguished is an extreme fallacy.

Now, although the people of the Two Vehicles rely upon the teachings of the Buddha in their cultivation, because they have not yet reached the understanding that the three realms(9) are only mind and the myriad dharmas are only consciousness, they do not understand that birth and death are like an illusion or like a transformation. Hence they develop the opinion that the characteristic features of the three realms are actually existent. Thus they look upon the three realms as being like a prison. They abhor the four types of rebirth as if they were manacles or fetters. They do not generate a single thought devoted to liberating beings. The emmerse themselves in emptiness, stagnate in stillness, and sink down into still extinction. Therefore he makes it clear to them, saying, "Emptiness is not different from form."

This is to say that true emptiness is fundamentally not different from illusory form. It is not this space which is apart from form and which is subject to being cut off and extinguished. That which truly manifests prajnaa is the true emptiness of the reality mark, that's all. How so? Because the true emptiness of praj then one would know that emptiness is not different from form. This directly shatters the emptiness of the [cultivators of] the Two Vehicles which is apart from form as well as the expansive emptiness of non-Buddhists.

Additionally fearing that the people of the World would take "form" and "emptiness", these two words, speak about them as if they were two [different] hitching posts, and would not be able to look upon them as being equivalent and of a single suchness, he again proclaimed their identity, saying, "Form is just emptiness. Emptiness is just form," that's all.

If one is merely able to contemplate like this and become aware that form is not different from emptiness, then there are no sounds, forms, material objects, or benefits which might be coveted, nor is there any laboring among the objects of the five desires upon which one might dote. If one does this, then one suddenly passes beyond the suffering of the common person. If one is merely aware that emptiness is not different from form, then without even arising from the extinction samadhi one nonetheless manifests every aspect of the awesome comportment and without moving from the point of origin one nonetheless carries on the work of bringing beings across to liberation. One resides in emptiness and yet the myriad practices(10) bubble up and spring forth. One is involved in existence and yet the way of unity remains pure. If one does this then one suddenly steps beyond the attachments of the non-buddhists and the practitioners of the Two Vehicles.

If one is merely aware that form and emptiness are equivalent and of a single suchness, then at every moment one brings beings across to liberation and yet does not maintain any view of a being which may be liberated. And with every every thought one seeks buddhahood and yet does not maintain a view of any result of buddhahood which may be sought. This is the so-called perfect realization of the singularity of mind in which there is no wisdom and no attainment. If one accomplishes this then one steps beyond the bodhisattva and suddenly ascends to the ground of buddhahood, to the other shore. If one is able to carry out a contemplation like this of just this one dharma of the form "aggregate," then in the case of the other four aggregates they are understood perfectly whenever the mind encounters them. It is precisely the same as when one traces a single one of the sense faculties back to the source, then all six faculties realize liberation. Hence it says, "The same is true of feeling, perception, compositional factors and consciousness." If one is truly able (to succeed in a contemplation) like this, then all suffering is suddenly cut off, the result of buddhahood can be reached, and the other shore is not far away. It is achieved solely in the given person's single-minded contemplative thought, that's all. How could a dharma such as this be anything but extremely profound?


***Shaariputra, these dharmas are all characterized by emptiness. They are neither produced nor destroyed, neither defiled nor pure, and are neither increased nor decreased.

In this passage, he again fears that people of the world will employ the mind which is subject to production and destruction to carry out a mistaken identification of the dharma of true emptiness, the reality mark, and prajnaa and thus will develop an understanding based on production, extinction, defilement, purity, increase and decrease. Therefore he commands the Venerable One and makes it clear to him, stating: "The so-called reality mark of true emptiness is not a dharma characterized by production or extinction, defilement or purity, increase or decrease. Furthermore, whatsoever is produced or destroyed, defiled or pure, increased or decreased is just a dharma belonging to the sentimental perceptions of living beings, whereas the substance of the reality mark of the true emptiness of this praj he employs the words "neither" and "nor" to negate them. This is to say that all of the dharmas of the five aggregates are identical with the reality mark of true emptiness. Each and every one of them transcends all of these faults.


Therefore, in emptiness there are no forms. There are no feelings, perceptions, compositional factors, or consciousnesses. There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind. There are no [visual] forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or dharmas [as objects of mind]. There is no eye realm and so forth until we come to no mind consciousness realm. There is no ignorance nor is there any end of ignorance and so forth until we come to no old age and death nor any end to old age and death. There is no suffering, accumulation, extinction, or Way. There is no wisdom nor is there any attainment.

This then is a general explanation of the meaning of how prajnaa transcends faults. When one says that the true emptiness of praj there are none of the six sense faculties either. Not only are there none of the six sense faculties, but there are none of the six sense objects either. Not only are there none of the six sense objects, but there are none of the six consciousnesses either. This being the case, then the [eighteen sense] realms consisting of the sense faculties, sense objects, and consciousnesses , being dharmas associated with the common person, are completely transcended by the true emptiness of prajnaa. Therefore it says of them all that they are "nonexistent."

Since this is the case, it transcends the dharmas of the common person. Thus, within praj~naa, not only are there no dharmas of the common person, there are also no dharmas of the Superior either. This is because the four truths, the twelve causes and conditions, the six perfections,(11) and so forth are all [simply] dharmas employed by those Superiors of the Three Vehicles(12) who go forth beyond the world. In the case of the four truths consisting of suffering, accumulation, extinction, and the Way, it is on account of disgust with suffering that one cuts off accumulation and it is on account of longing for extinction that one cultivates the Way. These constitute dharmas associated with the Hearers.