Context

You may have noticed that some of the translations we presented in the previous lesson begin with a prologue or overture that sets the scene and end with an epilogue in which the Buddha confirms Avalokiteshvara's understanding. When and why were these added? Were they, in fact, added to an earlier version of the text?

You will also have noticed that the heart of the Heart Sutra is a series of negations: "...not birth or destruction, purity or defilement... no form, no sensation, no perception, no memory and no consciousness... no shape, no sound, no smell, no taste, no feeling and no thought..." Why does so much of this important sutra read like a polemic against something?

These and other questions about the Heart Sutra encourage us to explore its past, to understand the context in which it was created. Understanding the sutras's context will only enrich our experience of it.

While our understanding of the Heart Sutra’s history is far from complete, in this section we look at some of what we do know about its history and context. (A future Ashoka course based on Red Pine’s research will explore this in much greater detail.)