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The Heart Sutra is Buddhism in a nutshell. It covers more of the Buddha's teachings in a shorter span than any other scripture, and it does so without being superficial or commonplace. Although the author is unknown, he was clearly someone with a deep knowledge of the Dharma and an ability to summarize lifetimes of meditation in a few well-crafted lines.  I would describe the Heart Sutra as a work of art as much as religion. And perhaps it is one more proof, if any were needed, that distinguishing these two callings is both artificial and unfortunate.

“The Heart Sutra is a great torch that lights the darkest road, a swift boat that ferries us across the sea of suffering."

— Fa-tsang

The Heart Sutra has been beloved by Buddhists of many traditions for over 1500 years. With its radical economy of expression, the Heart Sutra's concise rendition of the meaning of emptiness has captivated and challenged the minds and hearts of Buddhist thinkers in India, Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Central Asia, and now the West.

It has also been been debated and analyzed in commentaries throughout its history. To best shine a torch on this profound and moving wisdom teaching, Ashoka will be offering several courses that will allow you to study and experience this teaching from many angles and perspectives.

In this getting started module we introduce the Heart Sutra, its history, and background information on the setting and story it tells. Although the Heart Sutra can be read and chanted without understanding the historical bases for what it, the Heart Sutra is, it is agreed my most scholars and teachers, to be a ___ of Mahayana Buddhism and a challenge to the Buddhist teachings prevalent at the time.

This getting started module is not a line-by-line commentary but rather a prelude to the many voices we are offering.

This getting started module is drawn primarily from Red Pine’s illuminating The Heart Sutra (presented in red). Copyright © 2005 by Red Pine; reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.

Other sources are identified by placing the cursor over this icon: