Heart Sutra: Canon of Form and Emptiness (色空訣 Se Kong Jue)
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28. Canon of Form and Emptiness
- Yu mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
色空訣 1
Se Kong Jue    
  A Chinese copy from the time of Xuanzang 3              
"Canon of Form and Emptiness", like this handbook's Daoist song/hymn Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics, is a title found only here in Taiyin Xisheng (1625 CE). Its lyrics, the complete text of the famous Mahayana Buddhist text known in English as the Heart Sutra,4 were also paired with qin tablature in one other qin handbook, the Yi Liu Zheng Wu zhi Zhai Qinxue Mishu published in 1875. There the title is the full title of the sutra itself and the musical setting specifically resembles a chant.5 The musical setting of the sutra here in Taiyin Xisheng is completely different, more in the form of a qin melody than of a chant. Taiyin Xisheng is said to consist of qin music as played by Chen Dabin, and Chen wrote that he himself created the music for Se Kong Jue, not necessarily intending it to be sung. By 1625 Chen had been active for over 50 years, so it is difficult to say exactly when he created the melody; quite possibly it was prior to 1600.6 In addition, it should be pointed out that one of Chen's teachers was Li Shuinan, who in turn is connected to the earliest known surviving Buddhist melody set for qin, Shitang Zhang. There, other than the opening and closing, the paired lyrics are set in the form of a chant that consists of vocalizations of untranslatable Sanskrit syllables.

The Heart Sutra itself, the earliest known versions of which date from around the 7th century CE, has long been the most popular (as well as the shortest) of all the sutras. The earliest known versions, whether in Sanskrit or Chinese, were not divided into sections.7 The original Chinese version by Xuanzang (c. 602–664) had 260 characters but, as in the example above, was apparently written with neither sectioning nor punctuation.

Although the sutra clearly has an opening, a central section and a closing, the lack of physical divisions in the earliest versions, as well as the difficulty in making translations that are both literal and meaningful, have led to versions in all languages (including the modern Chinese and Sanskrit versions) being divided in a variety of ways.8 This, of course, also includes the English translations.9

One typical Chinese division is into 16 sections, with the title as both the first and the last section; this way of dividing is indicated below by the numbers in brackets. In contrast, the version here divides the sutra into seven plus one sections, following (in English as well as Chinese) the divisions in the qin tablature. Although this particular way of dividing the sutra does not seem to found elsewhere, it has its own logic.10

The music for Se Kong Jue, which is quite appealing, seems more like a qin melody either applied to or created for a religious text than like a religious chant adapted for qin. This may help explain why the sectioning of the qin version differs from the sectioning of any of the other versions of the original Chinese (or Sanskrit) texts. When it is sung the nature of the melody also makes it seem more like a hymn than a chant: the melodic line is more angular than melismatic, the qin leaping around over 3+ octaves; with the vocal line one can adjust to a certain extent for the octaves: it still seems more active that what might be expected of a chant, but as a hymn it is (with practice) quite singable.

Both the tablature and its matching sutra text have several problematic areas. Some are issues or errors that seem easy to resolve; others seem to be copy errors that can ony be finessed, not resolved.11

A comment on performing Se Kong Jue

My current understanding is that in his preface (below) the writer says he used to chant the sutra, but when he applied the text to a qin melody he did not intend that it necessarily had to be sung: one might simply play it (or hum or simply imagine the melody) while thinking of the (words of the) sutra, or think of the music while reading or simply contemplating the words. In this context it is interesting to think of Liu Yuxi's poem Inscription on a Crude Dwelling, which includes the line,

One can play unadorned qin music, examine the Diamond Sutra.

Perhaps this Heart Sutra melody was intended simply to help an educated gentleman play qin while engaged in meditation/contemplation.12

On the other hand, if someone were to be successful in faithfully transcribing the piece and then, when it was sung accordingly, if people found that beautiful, how might that affect our opinion of the aims of its creator? (See also the Notes on the recording.)

Original preface13
The text of the original preface was not punctuated or divided: here it is divided so as to put extra focus on the second paragraph, which though somewhat obscure is crucial to interpreting the musical style. Note that "Taixi" is Chen Dabin, the compiler of the handbook (which also had melodies on Daoist and Confucian themes).

Taixi says, The Heart Sutra speaks simply but its core is profound. Indeed, it can clear the heart and thus allow one to recover one's basic nature. Observing this basic nature makes it possible to enter the Way, sincerity then enables one to travel along with it, hence one's basic nature becomes fixed and one's destiny assured.

Often have I chanted (this sutra) endlessly. Now I have transcribed it for the qin, using its words but transmitting them wordlessly, using their lacking sound as an aid to the actual sounds, if suitable. The purpose is to share it with people of a like mind, wishing to do so ungrudgingly and selflessly.

Music and Lyrics: Seven sections plus Coda 14
This 1625 setting is largely syllabic, following the traditional pairing method for Chinese melodies with lyrics. The translation (based largely on consulting these four translations) is still in process, the aim being to make one that can be sung with this melody but that is also accurate and natural (the current English translation can now be sung, but it still needs improvement in accuracy and style). Because the nature of English requires that a singable translation sacrifice something of the meaning (further comment), the translation here should be used together with other translations, as well as the Sanksrit version and the glossary.15 Unfortunately, the number of syllables in the Sanskrit makes it impossible to sing that version with this melody. On the other hand, the some East Asian versions fit quite well.16 Thus the standard Korean version fits perfectly, while the Japanese version and Vietamese version fit with minor adjustment.

    To listen while following the Heart Sutra text,
     open one of these files in a separate window:
            qin solo (05.06)         voice solo (05.37)         video of qin solo (04.20)
    Then either follow the text immediately below or as in this transcription (pdf)

    (Se Kong Jue opens [and closes] by setting to tablature the full sutra title.
    It then says, "repeat, add glissando", not specifying whether to sing the title both times.
    My practice is to begin singing the lyrics only during the repeat. Timings here are for the qin solo track

  1. 00.18 (after first playing of opening phrase)
    Mohe bore-boluomiduo Xin Jing
    Hail the Prajna-Paramita Hrdya!       ("perfect-wisdom heartfelt")

    Guanzizai pusa, xing shen bore-boluomiduo shi,
    Guanyin Boddhisattva, in the prajna-paramita,

    zhao jian wuyun jie kong, du yi qie ku e.
    sees the
    five skandhas all void, thus free from distress.       ("5 aspects")

  2. (00.57)
    Shelizi, se bu yi kong, kong bu yi se,
    Sariputra: form is not not void, void is not not form;

    se ji shi kong, kong ji shi se.
    form is just void; void is just form.

    Shou xiang xing shi, yi fu ru shi.
    Sense, view, choice,
    ware are just the same.       ("awareness")

    Shelizi, shi zhu fa kong xiang.
    Sariputra, all dharmas seem void.       ("cosmic laws")

  3. (01.31)
    Bu sheng bu mie, bu gou bu jing, bu zeng bu jian.
    Gloss) Neither rising nor falling, nor defiled nor pure, nor filling nor draining.

    是故空中18 無色,
    Shi gu kong zhong wu se,
    And so void has no form,

    wu shou xiang xing shi; wu yan er bi she shen yi,
    nor sense, view, choice, ware; nor eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;

    wu se sheng xiang wei chu fa, wu yan jie, nai zhi wu yi shi jie,
    no shape, sound, scent, taste, touch, thoughts; no eye realm, and up to no mind realm;

    wu wu ming, yi wu wu ming jin; nai zhi wu lao si, yi wu lao si jin.
    No not knowing, no not knowing at all, up to no aging and death, no aging or death at all.

  4. (02.27)
    (8 泛起) 無苦、集、滅、道,無智亦無得。
    Wu ku ji mie dao, wu zhi yi wu de.
    Begin harmonics) No pain, source, end, path, none knows and none grasps. 

    Yi wu suo de gu,
    putisaduo yi bore-boluomiduo gu.
    So with nought to grasp, bodhisattvas keep prajna para-mita. (Thus,)   (End harmonics)

  5. (02.53)
    Xin wu guaai, wu guaai gu,
    hearts have no
    blocks; and with no blocks,

    wu you kong bu, yuanli diandao mengxiang, jiu jing Niepan.
    there is no fear, instead far from false dreams, one reaches nirvāṇa.

    San shi zhu Fo, yi bore-boluomiduo gu,
    Always all buddhas, through prajna-paramita, thus,

    de anouduoluo sanmiao sanputi.
    are awake to complete enlightenment.

    Gu zhi bore-boluomiduo.
    Thus know prajna-paramita:

  6. (03.41)
    __Shi da shen zhou, shi da ming zhou,
    (as) the great holy spell, the great ware spell,

    shi wu shang zhou, shi wu deng deng zhou.
    the greatest spell, the unequalled spell.

    Neng chu yi qie ku, zhen shi bu xu,
    It can cure all pain, it's true, not at all false,

    gu shuo bore-boluomiduo zhou.
    so says the prajna-paramita spell!

  7. (04.12)
    Ji shuo zhou yue:
    Just say the spell:

    Jiedi, jiedi, boluo jiedi, boluo sengjiedi.
    Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate
    (Go, go, go beyond, go altogether beyond.)

    Puti, sapohe.
    Bodhi svāhā
    Great knowledge,

(End: 05.06)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Canon of Form and Emptiness (色空訣 Se Kong Jue) (1625 CE; QQJC IX/210)
This translation of the title is from Professor Robert Gimello (RG) of the University of Notre Dame (personal communication). He explained:

The phrase "色空 se kong" in the title probably refers just to material form and emptiness as they are employed in the Heart Sūtra, where they are said to coinhere. "訣" I would take as meaning "formula" in the particular sense of "rule," "canon," or "maxim."

31294xxx; 9/14 色空 sekong: Buddhist term, earliest quote being from Wang Wei; Soothill mentions sekong only in the phrase "色空外道 Heretics who denied material existence (and consequently sought self-control, or nirvana)". Regarding this, Professor Gimello wrote:

The Soothill entry for 色空外道 is not helpful here. Soothill drew this entry from the two earlier dictionaries on which he most relied -- Ding Fubao's Chinese dictionary and Oda Tokuno's Japanese dictionary (which was itself indebted to Ding's). In those dictionaries it is made clear that the "色空外道" is simply the name of the tenth of the ten kinds of heresy listed by the 7th century vinaya (monastic code) master, 道宣 (596-677), in his compendium of vinaya regulations of the Dharmaguptaka school (四分律刪繁補闕行事鈔 — Taishō 1804, vol. 40, p. 151, a13). This heresy, to which some are led in their effort to overcome attachment to the material world (欲界), is a kind of nihilism or wrongheaded otherworldliness in which emptiness is misinterpreted as simply the annihilation of material form.

Since a title meaning Canon of Form and Emptiness would thus not have had hints of heresy, and since form and emptiness are a subject of the Heart Sutra, Se Kong Jue is indeed an appropriate title for this piece.

There is more on the Heart Sutra itself in a separate footnote below.

2. Yu mode (羽調 Yu diao)
In this mode the qin tuning is considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, with the main tonal center being 6 (la), secondarily 3 (mi), making it a sort of pentatonic equivalent of a minor Western scale. For more on yu mode see Shenpin Yu Yi. For more general comments see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. The melody here actually has quite a few non-pentatonic notes (further comment).

3. A Chinese copy from the time of Xuanzang
This image was copied from Sutra Hati, the Indonesian Wiki page on the Heart Sutra. Ouyang Xun (歐陽詢 557-641; Wiki) was best known as a Confucian scholar as well as "one of the three great calligraphers of the early Tang dynasty". However, he was almost 50 years younger than Xuanzang (Wiki; c. 602–664), whose trip to India is dated to 629 to 645.

4. Heart Sutra (Wiki; see also the comment with the above image)
According to Edward Conze the original Sanskrit sutra (known as the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sūtra) itself dates from about 350 CE; more recent scholars argue that it cannot be traced earlier than the 7th c. CE - specifically one preserved at the Horyuji Temple in Nara and dated 609 CE. The copy attributed to Ouyang Xun uses the version attributed to Xuanzang, proving that he had it before he traveled to India: he is said to have chanted it during the trip. Such early documents point to the fact that the Heart Sutra became popular in East Asia before gaining such currency in India itself.

Such early documents also help support the argument that the Heart Sutra as it generally exists today (historically there have been a few variant versions) actually originated in China, or at least Central Asia. As presented by Prof. Jan Nattier (reference; also available here as a .pdf document), this argument says that the direct source of the Heart Sutra is a Chinese translation by the Kuchean monk Kumārajīva (334–413 CE; Wiki) of the 25,000 line sutra called the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-Sūtra, also known as the Large Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom (摩訶般若波羅蜜經 Mohe bore-boluomi Jing). The central section of the Heart Sutra (what are marked above in brackets as Chinese sections 3 through 8) seems to be a pithier version of a passage from the Large Sutra. The opening and closing were then added in China. Once this became popular China (and Japan), beginning around the 7th century CE, this pithier version was translated back into Sanskrit and returned to India, perhaps by Xuanzang himself, after which it, too, became exremely popular.

Whether the Heart Sutra as it exists today originated in India, or whether it resulted from a Chinese redaction of Indian texts, its words and ideas all originate in the Indian Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. It is thus essential to consult Sanskrit texts when trying to understand the contents of the sutra.

5. 1875 Qin setting of the Heart Sutra: Moheboreboluomiduo Xinjing
"摩訶般若波羅密多": Not "Mohebanruoboluomiduo". Besides the present one the only other traditional qin setting of the Heart Sutra is the one in Yi Liu Zheng Wu zhi Zhai Qinxue Mishu (1875; QQJC XXVI/232; .pdf 1.2MB). This version has been reconstructed and recorded by Chen Changlin (mp3 from CD4/13; his number notation from the transcription volume, p.284).

The attached pdf copy shows that the original, which uses Moheboreboluomiduo Xinjing itself as the title, was not divided into sections; on the pdf copy the divisions from 1640 have been written in for comparison. The 1875 version begins the song/chant "觀自在善薩....", and ends with "摩訶般若波羅密多" (no "心經"). Although the text of both is thus almost the same, the music is completely unrelated. In particular, whereas Se Kong Jue seems more like a hymn, Moheboreboluomiduo Xinjing has the nature of an actual chant. Its opening and closing are in harmonics, while the rest is completely written in double stops except the passage at the beginning of what in Se Kong Jue is Section 6, describing the types of spell or mantra ("是大神咒,是大明咒,是無上咒,是無等等咒"). In the qin tablature for the entire 1875 version there are no slides or other ornaments. The melody seems to progress in steps, without the vocal leaps required if one is to sing Se Kong Jue.

When was the Se Kong Jue melody created?
In this context note that Taiyin Xisheng says another of its melodies, the Daoist
Jingye Tan Xuan, was created by Chen Dabin's teacher Li Shuinan in 1556.

7. Sanskrit version aligned with Se Kong Jue Part of an early copy, from Wikipedia        
One can read that the earliest Sanskrit text of the Heart Sutra was divided into 14 shlokas of 32 syllables. However, it is not clear to me where one can find such a version: apart from arguments over the actual source (see above), generally, as with Chinese, early Sanskrit texts do not clearly divide texts into separate verses, as can be seen in the image at right. Here below is a typed and punctuated version copied from gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/ but realigned from their five sections plus the opening and closing lines into the seven plus one section of the qin version.

  1. Oṃ Namo Bhagavatyai Ārya-prajāpāramitāyai!

    Ārya Āvalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo gambhīraṃ
    prajñāpāramitā-cāryāṃ caramāṇo
    vyavalokayati sma, pañca-skandhās tāṃś ca
    svabhāva-śūnyān paśyati sma.

  2. Iha Śāriputra rūpaṃ śūnyatā, śūnyat'aiva rūpaṃ,
    rūpān na pṛthak śūnyatā,
    śūnyatāyā na pṛthag rūpaṃ,
    yad rūpaṃ sā śūnyatā,
    yā śūnyatā tad rūpaṃ.
    Evam eva vedanā-saṃjñā-saṃskārā-vijñānam.
    Iha Śāriputra sarva-dharmāḥ śūnyatā-lakṣaṇā

  3. anutpannā aniruddhā amalā avimalā anūnā aparipūrṇāḥ.
    Tasmāc Chāriputra śūnyatāyāṃ na rūpaṃ
    na vedanā na saṃjñā na saṃskārāḥ na vijñānaṃ,
    na cakṣuḥ-śrotra-ghrāṇa-jihvā-kāya-manāṃsi,
    na rūpa-śabda-gandha-rasa-spraṣṭavya-dharmāḥ,
    na cakṣur-dhātur yāvan na mano-vijñāna-dhātuḥ,
    n'āvidyā n'āvidyā-kṣayo yāvan na jarā-maraṇaṃ
    na jarā-maraṇa-kṣayo

  4. na duḥkha-samudaya-nirodha-mārgā
         na jñānaṃ na prāptir n'āprāptiḥ.
    Tasmāc Chāriputra aprāptitvād bodhisattvo
    prajñā-pāramitām āśritya

  5. viharaty acitt'āvaraṇaḥ.
    Citt'āvaraṇa-nāstitvād atrasto
    viparyās'ātikrānto niṣṭhā-nirvāṇaḥ.
    Tradhva-vyavasthitāḥ sarva-buddhāḥ
    prajñāpāramitām āśritya anuttarāṃ
    samyak-sambodhim abhisambuddhāḥ.
    Tasmāj jñātavyaṃ prajñāpāramitā

  6. mahā-mantro, mahā-vidyā-mantro,
    nuttara-mantrom, samasama-mantraḥ
    sarva-duḥkha-praśamanaḥ satyam amithyatvāt.
    Prajñāpāramitāyām ukto mantraḥ,

  7. tadyathā -
    Oṃ gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā.

Quite likely this division only occurs in the present melody.

8. Dividing the sutra
It is common to divide the sutra according to individual phrases. Thus the Chinese version here has 16 sections, indicated in brackets. As for the best known English translation, by Edward Conze, it can be found online divided variously, usually without his accompanying commentary. This is also true of other online translations, which often do not credit the translator and may include unattributed revisions.

9. English translations of the Heart Sutra
The focus of this page is on understanding the Heart Sutra as a qin song. For a deeper understanding of the sutra itself one should consult a variety of translations, many of which come with extensive commentary. The translation given here with the Music and lyrics is based almost completely on other translations, most importantly:

For a translation aligned to the Sanskrit text see www12.canvas.ne.jp. These and other translations are easily available online.

While doing my reconstruction of the melody I devised a translation based almost completely on the above translations, the main requirement being to make a translation aligned as closely as possible with the Chinese text, so that I (or even a singer who does not understand Chinese) could follow the meaning of the words while learning to sing them. I assumed that making an English translation that could actually be sung to this music would be impossible: too much condensation of text is required. However, once I had reconstructed and learned to sing and play the melody (tentative recordings) I found that singing the text in Chinese brought out for me meanings not easily communicated otherwise. In fact, the tradition says that the true meaning of the sutra cannot be conveyed simply in words; for this reason the words are studied in detail (filling the mind) as well as chanted (emptying the mind). With the help of Romanization (and/or by imitating the sounds in the recording), someone who does not understand Chinese can still make chanting the sutra in Chinese into a meaningful experience, if this is done in connection with studying the translations and commentary. Hopefully a version that can be sung in English would be used in a similar manner.

10. Sectioning the qin melody Se Kong Jue
For example, Section 2 concerns the attributes of the skandhas then saying these are connected to dharmas. Section 3 then consists of describing most of the aspects (in terms of 不 and 無) of "all dharmas being empty in appearance". Section 4 then gives consequences of this. I have tried to convey this in the translation, but it might be stretching the meaning. My understanding of the sectioning is covered in more detail in the glossary.

11. Relationship between music and lyrics
There does not seem to be a suggestion here that Chen Dabin transcribed the sutra melody as he used to chant it. More likely he took the words he had been chanting and made a new melody the relationship of which to the original melody was probably quite tangential; even if it did fit the lyrics (which my transcription suggests is quite possible) it was more in line with qin idiom than song idiom. The question, then, is whether Chen, having often chanted the text, now wished to be able to sing the paired words together with his instrumental version (and if so, whether out loud or silently), or whether no consideration was given to making a version that could actually be sung: from the angular nature of the melody he must have been aware that the singing method would either not be obvious or, even if clear, not easy to accomplish without practice.

Speaking more generally, the relationship between the music and the lyrics of any qin "song" is problematic from the start because nothing was directly written about how they should be paired. It is only from observation that we can know the parameters of the traditional pairing method, which often seems to have been designed not so much to make melodies that can be sung as to make melodies that arguably could fill an ancient requirement that qin music have (or at least have a relationship to) words.

This is a crucial issue, not just for this piece but for many qin pieces with both words and music, especially ones with music that at first glance does not seem obviously song-like. What is the source and/or inspiration for such melodies?

Some people argued that because Confucius sang while he played all qin music should have lyrics. The traditional pairing method, though not always leading to singable melodies, always meant there was a relationship between the words and the music.

12. Problems in the text and tablature
There is a discussion below of two possible errors in copying the sutra text into the qin tablature. In general, though, the main issue regarding this text is to what extent it implies a rhythm for the music. There is only the one other existing traditional qin setting, and the variety of other musical interpretations suggests considerable liberty here. This in turn puts the burden on how the fingerings of the tablature itself imply certain note values. Methods for doing this are discussed at some length in such pages as Dapu: Bringing Old Music to Life.

As for problems in the tablature, there are several issues worth mentioning.

  1. At the end of the first phrase of line 1 are the instructions to repeat and "加厂"; in the context the most likely explanation is that it means that before the repeat one should add a glissando from the open 7th to open 1st strings.
  2. At the beginning of Section 6, accompanying the phrase "是大神咒", are the instructions "散撫一至七絃 run a right finger across open strings one to seven"; the next cluster is a pluck on the seventh string stopped in the ninth position. The characer "是" seems to be assigned to the run, but this leaves four strokes fot the other three characters of the phrase. My solution is to have no character assigned to the run: it is a kind of announcement for the following phrases about the power of the "咒 spell". Although this is not at all common in qin tablature, there seem to be similar instructions with the opening line of the piece.
  3. Near end of Section 2 and in the middle of Section 3 are the instructions 女三玄一声 (按三絃一聲) and 女六玄一声 (按六絃一聲). The most likely explanation for this is that it means to hold the previous note while the following character is sung, thus forming an exception to the traditional pairing method. Could this be a clever musical expression of the insubstantial vs the substantial? The first example, with the characters "是空 is empty", the unplayed note is on "empty"; in the latter, "身意 body and mind", the unplayed note is on "mind". I have never previously seen such an instruction.
  4. In six places the character "山" is written at the end of a slide. "山" usually refers to "徽" (finger position), and probably does so here as well. If so, though, it is redundant, and it is puzzling why it is used here in these particular places.
  5. In at least four places there are smudges that obscure a particular tablature cluster. In a few other places the method of writing the finger position makes the actual position disputable. I have generally been able to fix this from the context, but cannot always be certain of my solution. There could also have been errors in the tablature.

Further regarding errors in the tablature, in some places the finger positions indicated provide rather strange notes. They are strange not simply because they are non-pentatonic (in this case the pentatonic notes being the standard 1 2 3 5 6 or, this being in yu mode, which has 6 as the main tonal center, 6 1 2 3 5), since the tablature seems clearly to intend a number of non-pentatonic notes (29 by my current count - there are several more I am quite sure were wrong, and so have already adjusted): many qin melodies published in the Ming dynasty have a number of non-pentatonic notes, often the same ones as found here. And because most of the strange notes are in fact playable (e.g., they don't say slide up to a position but then name a position that would require a slide down), it may be difficult to say for certain whether any of the stranger notes are in fact errors. Further regarding the 29 non-pentatonic notes, the most common are 7 [16 times] and 1# [6 times]. It is significant here to consider this together with the fact that, with 6 as the main tonal center, 7 then functions as a whole tone above it, and 1# being a major third above it gives the feeling of switching from (in Western music terms) a minor mode to a major mode, something also found in earlier yu mode melodies.

Although in most places the solutions to these problems do not require significant changes in the apparent overall intentions of the music, the melody resulting from a literal playing of the tablature for parts of Section 5 suggest that either this is one of the most adventurous traditional qinmusic passages I have yet seen (including what seems to be a sort of chromatic slide with double stops), or the mistakes are too numerous to be solved without basically creating a new passage.

One can only hope that some of the problems might be solved by comparing the present manuscript with the one or two others apparently also surviving.

13. Original Preface
The original preface (QQJC IX/210) had no divisions; here it is punctuated and divided:



Thanks to 陳美琪 Tan Bee Kee for help on the translation above.

14. Music and lyrics (Seven Sections + Coda; recording details below)
To my knowledge no other written versions or musical settings use this particular method of division (i.e., dividing the Heart Sutra into 7 or 8 parts).

15. Selective glossary for Se Kong Jue and the Heart Sutra
This glossary often refers to the Soothill dictionary, now online, as well as the translation by Conze, which is the first one I consulted. The glossary puts the Sanskrit Romanization first, largely following the version copied above, in order to help me align the Chinese text with the Sanskrit. The glossary is by no means complete, but while I was working on reconstruction of the original melody it grew considerably, as I worked under the assumption that a literal understanding would help me find musical phrasing that might actually enhance the text.

Conze and others do not include this repetition of the title here. Conze in particular does not always follow the original Chinese or Sanskrit versions literally, but he elaborates on them considerably in his commentary. And, as shown in this glossary, a number of the original Chinese or Sanskrit words or phrases are also discussed further in Soothill.

16. Romanized versions of the Heart Sutra in Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese
There are of course translations of this sutra into these three languages, but for chanting there is also the custom of following the Chinese version, using local pronunciation that can be written in Japanese using kana, in Korean using hangul, and in Vietnamese using its local romanization called quốc ngữ (國語). (To my knowledge, the Japanese and Korean chants mostly just transliterate the Chinese, while the Vietnamese chants more often follow a translation.) Attempts have been made to standardize these Romanization systems; this has required sifting through sometimes competing Romanizations, an area in which I am not an expert. Thus the following Romanized versions undoubtedly differ in some ways from other versions that can be found.

Note that, while the Korean and Vietnamese versions given here follow the Chinese characters syllable for syllable, in Japanese several of the Chinese characters are pronounced with two syllables, so appropriate adjustments must be made in order to sing it with the qin melody (which uses a word-intensive traditional pairing method). For all three transliterations here the phrasing follows that of this 1625 guqin version; section timings follow my qin recording:

Japanese version
This version of the Heart Sutra (Shin-gyo) in Japanese hiragana script and Romanization comes from
this online source but is re-arranged into eight sections.

  1. (00.18, after prelude)
    まかはんにゃはらみ たしんぎょう!
    Ma-ka Han-nya Ha-ra-mi-ta Shin-gyo!
    Kan-ji-zai bo-sa, gyō jin han-nya ha-ra-mi-ta ji,
    Shō ken go on kai kū, do issai ku yaku.

  2. (00.57)
    Sha-ri-shi, shiki fu i kū, kū fu i shiki,
    Shiki soku ze kū, kū soku ze shiki,
    Ju sō gyō shiki, yaku bu nyo ze.
    Sha-ri-shi, ze sho hō kū sō.

  3. (01.31)
    Fu shō fu metsu, fu ku fu jō, fu zō fu gen.
    Ze ko kū chū mu shiki,
    Mu ju sō gyō shiki, mu gen ni bi ze shin i,
    Mu shiki shō kō mi soku hō, mu gen kai, nai shi mu i shiki kai,
    Mu mu myō, yaku mu mu myō jin;
    Nai shi mu rō shi, yaku mu rō shi jin.

  4. (02.27)
    Mu ku shū metsu dō, mu chi yaku mu toku.
    I mu sho toku ko, bo-dai sat-ta, e han-nya Ha-ra-mi-ta ko.

  5. (02.53)
    Shin mu ke-ge, mu ke-ge ko,
    むうくふ, おんりいっさいてんどうむそう,くぎょうねはん。
    Mu u ku fu, on ri issai ten dō mu sō, ku gyō ne han.
    San ze sho Butsu, e Han-nya Ha-ra-mi-ta ko,
    Toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bo dai,
    Ko chi Han-nya Ha-ra-mi-ta.

  6. (03.41)
    Ze dai jin shu, ze dai myō shu,
    Ze mu jō shu, ze mu tō dō shu.
    Nō jo issai ku, shin jitsu fu.
    Ko setsu Han-nya Ha-ra-mi-ta shu.

  7. (04.12)
    Soku setsu shu watsu:
    Gya-tei gya-tei, ha-ra gya-tei, ha-ra so gya-tei.
    Bo-ji, sō-wa-ka.

  8. (尾聲 04.44)
    まかはんにゃはらみ たしんぎょう!
    Ma-ka Han-nya Ha-ra-mi-ta Shin-gyô!
    End: 05.06

My inclination is that Japanese words that use two syllables instead of one are simply sung quickly. These words include "shiki" for "色 se" and "識 shi", plus "yaku" for "厄 e" and "亦 yi".

Korean version
This version of the Heart Sutra (Sim Gyeong) in Korean Han-geul script plus Romanization was arranged for this site by Brent Bianchi.

  1. (00.18, after prelude)
    Maha banya-baramilda sim gyeong
    관자재보살 행심반야바라밀다시
    Gwanjajae bosal, haeng sim banya-baramilda si
    조견오온개공 도일체고액
    jo gyeon o-on gae gong, do il che go aek

  2. (00.57)
    사리자 색불이공 공불이색
    Sarija, saek bul i gong, gong bul i saek
    색즉시공 공즉시색
    saek jeuk si gong, gong jeuk si saek
    수상행식 역부여시
    su sang haeng sik, nyeok bu yeo si.
    사리자 시제법공상
    Sarija, si je beop kong sang.

  3. (01.31)
    불생불멸 불구부정 부증불감
    Bul saeng bul myeol, bul gu bu jeong, bu jeung bul gam.
    시고 공중무색
    Si go gong jung mu saek
    무수상행식 무안이비설신의
    mu su sang haeng sik; mu an i bi seol sin ui
    무색성향미촉법무안계 내지 무의식계
    mu saek seong hyang mi chok beop; mu an gye, nae ji mu ui sik gye
    무무명 역무무명진 내지 무노사 역무노사진
    mu mu myeong, yeong mu mu myeong jin; nae ji mu no sa, yeong mu no sa jin.

  4. (02.27)
    무고집멸도 무지역무득
    Mu go jim myeol do, mu ji yeong mu deuk;
    이무소득고 보리살타 의반야바라밀다고
    i mu so deuk go, borisalta ui banya-baramilda go.

  5. (02.53)
    심무가애 무가애고
    Sim mu ga-ae, mu ga-ae go,
    무유공포 원리전도몽상 구경열반
    mu yu gong po, wolli jeondo mongsang, gu gyeong yeolban.
    삼세제불 의반야바라밀다고
    Sam se je Bul, ui banya-baramilda go
    득 아뇩다라 삼먁 삼보리
    deuk anyokdara sammyak sambori.
    고지 반야바라밀다
    Go ji banya-baramilda

  6. (03.41)
    시대신주 시대명주
    Si dae sin ju, si dae myeong ju,
    시무상주 시무등등주
    si mu sang ju, si mu deung deung ju,
    능제 일체고 진실불허
    neung je il che go, jin sil bul heo.
    고설 반야바라밀다주
    Go seol banya-baramilda ju

  7. (04.12)
    Jeuk seol ju wal
    아제아제 바라아제 바라승아제
    Aje aje bara-aje baraseungaje.
    Moji sabaha.

  8. (尾聲 04.44)
    Maha banya-baramilda sim gyeong
    End: 05.06

Regarding the above, there are several online renditions of the Heart Sutra into Korean, but the Romanizations were very inconsistent and often have errors. The version above, together with the Korean syllables, should be much more accurate. To elaborate on his arranging it for this site Mr. Bianchi added the following comments:

This transliteration closely follows the above Romanized transliteration of the Chinese in regard to punctuation and decisions of when to treat syllables as part of a larger group (i.e. no space between them). In regards to orthography, it follows the South Korean government’s Revised Romanization system announced in 2000. Although not without its controversies, this system is found in a growing number of places. It was partly devised so as to eliminate a need for diacritics. Note that ‘eo’ and ‘eu’ are single vowels and never dipthongs.

Like Sanskrit, Korean has a significant amount of consonant assimilation, but unlike Sanskrit, Korean spelling does not usually change to reflect these sound changes. The transliteration system, however, does reflect the sound changes. The amount that appears in the Heart Sutra is relatively modest.

An entirely separate matter is the fact that, when it appears in the main body of the text, 菩提 is rendered as 보리 (bori), yet it appears in the mantra as 모지 (moji). The reasons for this discrepancy are not at all clear, and may be lost in the mists of time.

Vietnamese version
This version of the Tâm Kinh (Heart Sutra) in Sino-Vietnamese using
quốc ngữ script is is based on one in the same Chinese online source as the one used in the Japanese version above. Here, again, the text has been re-arranged into 8 sections in accordance with the guqin version, but there is no evidence this version was ever sung in Vietnam:

  1. (00.18, after prelude)
    Ma-Ha Bát-Nhã Ba-La-Mật-Đa Tâm Kinh.
    Quán-Tự-Tại Bồ-Tát, hành thâm Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa thời,
    Chiếu kiến ngũ-uẩn giai không, độ nhất thiết khổ ách.

  2. (00.57)
    Xá-Lợi-Tử, sắc bất dị không, không bất dị sắc,
    Sắc tức thị không, không tức thị sắc.
    Thọ, tưởng, hành, thức diệc phục như thị.
    Xá-Lợi-Tử! Thị chư pháp không tướng,

  3. (01.31)
    Bất sinh, bất diệt, bất cấu, bất tịnh, bất tăng, bất giảm.
    Thị cố không trung vô sắc,
    Vô thọ, tưởng, hành, thức; vô nhãn nhĩ tỷ thiệt thân ý.
    Vô sắc hương thanh vị xúc pháp; vô nhãn giới, nãi chí vô ý thức giới.
    Vô vô minh, diệc vô vô minh tận, nãi chí vô lão tử, diệc vô lão tử tận.

  4. (02.27)
    Vô khổ tập diệt đạo, vô trí diệc vô đắc,
    Dĩ vô sở đắc cố, Bồ-đề-tát-đỏa,
    Y Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa cố,

  5. (02.53)
    Tâm vô quái ngại, vô quái ngại cố,
    Vô hữu khủng bố, viễn ly điên đảo mộng tưởng, cứu cánh Niết-bàn.
    Tam thế chư Phật, y Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa cố,
    đắc A-nậu-đa-la Tam-miệu Tam bồ-đề
    Cố tri Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa,

  6. (03.41)
    Thị đại thần chú, thị đại minh chú,
    Thị vô thượng chú, thị vô đẳng đẳng chú,
    Năng trừ nhất thiết khổ, chân thật bất hư.
    Cố thuyết Bát-nhã Ba-la-mật-đa chú.

  7. (04.12)
    Tức thuyết chú viết:
    Yết-đế, yết-đế, Ba-la yết-đế.
    Ba-la-tăng yết-đế
    Bồ-đề tát-bà-ha

  8. (尾聲 04.44)
    Ma-Ha Bát-Nhã Ba-La-Mật-Đa Tâm Kinh.
    End: 05.06

Some differences may be found in online transliterations; perhaps these suggest differing regional pronunciations. As for translations, the online versions can vary even more. What they have in common is that they have more syllables than do the transliterations. As can be seen here, this means that the translations become difficult or impossible to sing with the present melody. Here, for example, is one sample translation (arranged according to the lines above):

  1. (00.18, after prelude)
    Ma Ha Bát Nhã Ba La Mật Đa Tâm Kinh.
    Ngài Bồ Tát Quán Tự Tại khi thực hành thâm sâu về trí tuệ Bát Nhã Ba la mật,
    thì soi thấy năm uẩn đều là không, do đó vượt qua mọi khổ đau ách nạn.

  2. (00.57)
    Nầy Xá Lợi Tử, sắc chẳng khác gì không,
    không chẳng khác gì sắc, sắc chính là không,
    không chính là sắc, thọ tưởng hành thức cũng đều như thế.
    Nầy Xá Lợi Tử, tướng không của các pháp ấy

  3. (01.31)
    chẳng sinh chẳng diệt, chẳng nhơ chẳng sạch, chẳng thêm chẳng bớt.
    Cho nên trong cái không đó, nó không có sắc,
    không thọ tưởng hành thức. Không có mắt, tai, mũi, lưỡi, thân ý.
    Không có sắc, thanh, hương vị, xúc pháp. Không có nhãn giới cho đến không có ý thức giới.
    Không có vô minh, mà cũng không có hết vô minh. Không có già chết, mà cũng không có hết già chết.

  4. (02.27)
    Không có khổ, tập, diệt, đạo. Không có trí cũng không có đắc,
    Vì không có sở đắc, khi vị Bồ Tát nương tựa vào trí
    tuệ Bát Nhã nầy thì tâm không còn chướng ngại,

  5. (02.53)
    vì tâm không chướng ngại nên không còn sợ hãi,
    xa lìa được cái điên đảo mộng tưởng, đạt cứu cánh Niết Bàn.
    Các vị Phật ba đời vì nương theo trí tuệ Bát Nhã nầy mà đắc quả vô thượng,
    chánh đẳng chánh giác.
    Cho nên phải biết rằng Bát nhã Ba la mật đa

  6. (03.41)
    là đại thần chú, là đại minh chú,
    là chú vô thượng, là chú cao cấp nhất,
    luôn trừ các khổ não, chân thật không hư dối.
    Cho nên khi nói đến Bát nhã Ba la mật đa,

  7. (04.12)
    tức là phải nói câu chú:
    Yết đế yết đế, ba la yết đế,
    ba la tăng yết đế,
    bồ đề tát bà ha.

  8. (尾聲 04.44)
    Ma-Ha Bát-Nhã Ba-La-Mật-Đa Tâm Kinh.
    End: 05.06

A simple example of translation rather than transliteration is in the words used for "no": whereas transliterations use the Sino-Vietnamese "bất" and "vô" for "不 bu" and "無 wu" respectively, translations tend to use the common Vietnamese word "không" for both.

Tibetan version
Tibetan languages are connected to Chinese in that they belong to the Sino-Tibetan language group, but to my knowledge no Tibetan version/translation of the Heart Sutra has a syllabic pattern that would allow it to be chanted to the present melody without considerable adjustment.

17. Notes on the recordings of Se Kong Jue
These two recordings were made at the beginning of July 2013. The one of my singing is included mainly as a guide to encourage others to sing the sutra themselves. In places it is not easy to sing, but with practice it is not that difficult and, after all, repetition of the sutra is intended. In addition, I am confident that a trained singer could make it sound natural while bringing out the inherent beauty of the melody.

Prior to June 2013, largely because of the difficulty I have had with the other early qin setting of a Buddhist text, Shitang Zhang (mainly the length, repetitive nature and deciding how to pronounce the words), I had not looked carefully at Se Kong Jue; amongst other things I was stumped by how to translate the title. Then on June 17 I received an email from Prof. Jonathan Chaves of George Washington University with a question about a Buddhist melody from Robert Gimello of the University of Notre Dame. Prof. Gimello kindly provided me with the translation "Canon of Form and Emptiness", inspiring me to try my hand at this reconstruction. After my first draft, based more on the qin tablature than on the meaning of the lyrics, I tried singing along, but it did not work at all. I then transcribed a sung version paying more attention to the text and less to the tablature: the result was very different.

Having created the two separate versions, I then worked on them together with the result that the transcription now follows quite well my understanding of both the text and the tablature. However, when singing solo the tempo tends to be quite regular, while when playing solo the tempo seems to change quite often, following my feeling for the music.

The difference in timings of the vocal and instrumental versions is thus indicative of what for me has been the main issue in interpreting this piece: is it primarily a song/chant or primarily an instrumental melody (see original preface)? When I sing along with the qin recording I feel rushed in places, though also occasionally slowed down in others; when I play the qin setting along with my recording of the chant there are occasional places where I have to rush a bit but many more places where I have to focus on slowing down. Until I resolve this issue the recordings must be considered tentative - but then they should never be considered a finished product anyway.

Of course, as a musical experience the recordings would also benefit considerably if I could work with a real singer rather than have to do the singing myself.

Since writing this I have heard a recording by Chen Changlin of his own reconstruction of this melody (this MP3 was made from the same CD mentioned here: CD4/12.)

18. 空中
Se Kong Jue puts a punctuation mark after 空中 instead of after the following 無色; perhaps this was a copy error. On the other hand, in the tablature after 無色 there is the instruction 省, i.e., 少息 - short rest, and this could perform the same function as a punctuation mark.

"Sariputra" is added here in many translations, presumably to emphasize that these are instructions to him from the Buddha.

19. 顛倒 - 究竟
This passage, discussed also in the glossary, is normally punctuated "遠離顛倒夢想,究竟涅槃。". In particular 顛倒夢想 diandaomengxiang seems generally to be considered as a single unit. However, in the tablature for Se Kong Jue the punctuation is "遠離顛倒,夢想究竟,涅槃", with "short pauses" ("少息 shaoxi") as well as the punctuation marks after 顛倒 diandao and 究竟 jiujing; there is nothing to indicate a pause after 夢想 mengxiang and no punctuation mark after 涅槃 Niepan. This strange phrasing is most likely either a copy error or an instance where the music is not intended to follow the grammar of the original. On the other hand, the fact that there is no punctuation mark after 涅槃 Niepan is easily covered by the lengthening of "pan" required by the subsequent instructions for the left hand: "猱二退下十二搯起 slow vibrato, two slides then pluck" (no separate characters are applied to left hand ornaments in the traditional pairing method for Chinese melodies with lyrics).

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