“Empty does not mean completely empty, but primordial awareness empty of dualistic appearances.”
“[The Heart Sūtra] teaches that the ultimate perfectly established [nature] is empty of apparent saṁsara and nirvana. The primordial awareness of the perfectly established ultimate nature pervades all of saṁsara and nirvana but is not contaminated by either saṁsara or nirvana. Since it is not contaminated by them and there is no transition or change, it is taught to be ‘permanent’.
“The dharmakāya is without deception, so it is not false, and since its nature is unchanging and permanent, it is established as reality. Since the mantra is the same nature as that dharmakāya, it is undeceiving and not false, so it should be known as [ultimate] reality.”
–excerpts from Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sūtra (Adele Tomlin, 2023).
For the new year 2023, I am happy to announce a new second edition of my book, Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sūtra. The book also features an exclusive and original artwork of the Great Wisdom Mother (Yum Chenmo) by the master of Tibetan calligraphy, Jamyang Dorjee. For more on that, see below.
The book, which is essentially my postgraduate thesis (which was awarded a first-class honours from distinguished Tibetology professor, Dorji Wangchug) was first published as a book by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in 2017. Here is the Introduction from the book:
“This work is a translation and study of a seventeenth-century Tibetan Buddhist commentary on the Heart Sūtra entitled A Word-for-Word Commentary on the Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Insight Sūtra (Sherchin nyingpo do tshigdre: Sher phyin snying po’i mdo’i tshig ’grel). It was written by Tāranātha (1575–1634), one of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist scholars, translators and practitioners.
Tāranātha succinctly distils his vast and profound studies of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist thought on the Perfection of Transcendent Insight (prajñāpāramitā) and Buddha-Nature (tathāgatagarbha) with the Jonang philosophical view of ‘Empty-of-Other’ (zhentong : gzhan stong). The leitmotif of the text is Tāranātha’s five-fold asser- tion in various places that the Sūtra ‘clearly teaches the Empty-of- Other Great Mādhyamaka’. This, for Tāranātha, confirms that ‘the intention of all three Turnings [of the Dharma Wheel] is the Empty-of- Other Great Mādhyamaka’.
According to Tāranātha (and his Jonang predecessor and master, Dolpopa), many Indian and Tibetan followers of what is called ‘General Mādhyamaka’ (in contrast with the ‘Great Mādhyamaka’) are mistaken in claiming that only the teachings of emptiness found in the Middle Turning of Wheel of Dharma teachings, traditionally asso- ciated with the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, are definitive (nges don) and that the Sūtras of the Final Turning, are provisional (drang don). For Tāranātha, this is due to their mistakenly confusing Empty-of-Other with the Cittamātra (Mind-Only) view and he asserts (like Dolpopa) that ‘the Great Mādhyamaka bases its view on the Sūtras of all three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma’.
Just as Dolpopa’s work on the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras can be viewed as a critique of Empty-of-Self (rang tong : rang stong) assertions about prajñāpāramitā and the ultimate nature, the Word-for- Word Commentary can also be viewed as such. Tāranātha declares his conclusions in a direct and pithy manner and asserts the importance of viewing the Heart Sūtra as an Empty-of-Other teaching. At the very least, Tāranātha exhorts us to see an alternative or hidden meaning of the Heart Sūtra, which points to the ultimate nature primordial aware- ness as that which ‘enables’ such emptiness of phenomena and self to be ‘seen’ and ‘transformed’.
The Word-for-Word Commentary is an important and valuable addition to the (Indian and Tibetan) commentaries on the Heart Sūtra. As a succinct distillation of the Jonang view of Empty-of-Other and its connection to prajñāpāramitā, it provides the reader with no doubt that, for Tāranātha, the ‘attainment’ of prajñāpāramitā involves not only ‘seeing’ that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence, but also directly realizing and abiding in the nature of primordial awareness (ye shes), which ‘sees’ that the ultimate nature exists in an ‘unchanging’ and ‘permanent’ way that is not Empty-of-(It)-Self, since it is beyond conditioning, duality and mental elaborations.
This study consists of five chapters and an Appendix:
- Chapter One is a biographical introduction to the Jonang lineage, Tāranātha and the origin and nature of the Empty-of-Other This includes a brief overview of some of Tāranātha’s published works on Empty-of-Other.
- Chapter Two is a narrative of the origin of the Prajñāpāramitā teachings in India and Tibet and how the Jonang (specifically Dolpopa and Tāranātha) viewed prajñāpāramitā and its connection to their Empty-of-Other view.
- Chapter Three gives an overview of Indian and Tibetan commen- taries on the Heart Sūtra followed by an analysis and outline of Tāranātha’s
- Chapter Four is an annotated English translation of the text, entitled The Word-for-Word Commentary on the Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Insight Sūtra.
- Chapter Five is a critical edition of the Tibetan text.
- The Appendix contains an English translation (together with the Tibetan text) of HH the 14th Dalai Lama’s Aspiration for the Prospering of the Jonang Teachings.”
In his one-page foreword to the book, the esteemed Prof. Matthew Kapstein (University of Chicago, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris) writes it is:
“…a valuable service to Tibetan Buddhist Studies. Her work, originally written as her M.A thesis, is clear and precise throughout, well-exemplifying the distinguished tradition of research on Buddhism at the University of Hamburg…..Ms Tomlin’s study may be recommended as a particularly attractive and accessible introduction to the Jonangpa’s distinctive doctrinal perspective.”
Originally published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive, who kindly released all publishing rights to me (on request, generally due to lack of availability/distribution of the book in other countries outside India). The book is now available for sale in Amazon UK, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Australia. As I work on a non-profit and donation only basis, all proceeds from sales (after publication costs) will be ploughed back into the work and website. Please only buy the Amazon 2nd edition, publisher imprint Dakini Publications, and not from unauthorised online booksellers. The book should have a cover like this:
New ‘Yum Chenmo’ artwork for book cover by master Tibetan calligrapher
The content of the book remains the same, apart from a few very minor edits here and there. However, the book cover is brand new and features an absolutely stunning artwork by the master Tibetan calligraphy artist, Jamyang Dorjee, whose exquisite work I wrote about before here. His website tibetancalligraphy.com has more details about his life and works.
I requested Jamyang Dorjee to create such an artwork personally when I was looking for a new image for the book cover,and was very happy that he amazingly agreed to do it not only for zero charge, but also in a very short space of time!
As you can see from the image above. It is the Great Mother Prājṇāparamita (Yum Chenmo), and if you look closely, you will see she is exquisitely constructed entirely out of the famous Heart Sūtra mantra:
OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARAMSAMGATE BODHI SVAHA
I designed the cover and chose the colours red, white and black to show the mastery of this great artwork in as stunning a backdrop as possible for a book.
If anyone would like a copy of the artwork so they can make a print of it for their home and for meditation, please contact me and make a donation, which I will then give to Jamyang Dorje.
The Heart Sutra itself was written in Sanskrit and Chinese calligraphy, as well as many other languages:
Jetsun Tāranātha (1575-1634)
Jetsun Tāranātha (1575-1634) was not only considered to be the incarnation of a great Sakya master, Kunga Drolchog, but also a great Jonang and Shangpa Kagyu master, translator, scholar and practitioner, who is considered one of the most important writers and practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism, in particular for the Dro Kālacakra tradition.
For more research and translations I have done connected to Jetsun Tāranātha, see the section of the Dakini Translations website dedicated to him, here. I have also just created and launched a brand-new website (see here at https://taranathascollectedworks.com) as a dedicated online resource on Tāranātha’s life and works. It is a work/project in progress, and will be writing more about the website (and in particular, Tāranātha’s Collected Works) in the next month or two, so watch this space!
The Heart Sūtra was taught by Shakyamuni Buddha on Vulture’s Peak, Rajgir, India. For an article I wrote on that place and my recent pilgrimage there, see here.
May this new edition with wider global distribution be of benefit in helping us all understand the great ultimate view of emptiness and Buddha-Nature!
Written by Adele Tomlin, 12th January 2023.
Selected Bibliography (for fuller bibliography, see book)
Jayarava Attwood 2021. Losing Ourselves in the Heart Sutra: A new reading of the ancient scripture surfaces a forgotten Buddhist practice. Tricycle Magazine (2021).
Karl Brunnhölzl, Gone Beyond: The Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, The Ornament Of Clear Realization And Its Commentaries In The Tibetan Kagyu Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2010.
Brunnhölzl 2011 Id., Prajñāpāramitā, Indian “gzhan stongpas”, and the Beginning of Tibetan gZhan stong. Wien: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien, 2011.
Brunnhölzl 2014 Id., When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra. Boston and London: Snow Lion, 2014.
Conze 1958 Id., The Diamond Sūtra and the Heart Sūtra. London: G Allen & Unwin, 1958.
Conze 1973 Id., Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts. London: Luzac & Co. Ltd, 1973.
Conze 1974 Id., “Praśāstrasena’s Ārya-Prajñāpāramitā-Hṛdaya-ṭīkā.” In Buddhist Studies in Honour of I.B. Horner. Netherlands: Springer, 1974.
Conze 1975 Id., The Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Conze 1978 Id., The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. Tokyo: The Reiyukai, 1978.
Hookham 1988 S. Hookham, (tr.), Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness. Oxford: Longchen Foundation, 1988.
Hookham 1991 S. K. Hookham, The Buddha Within. Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine According to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga. Albany: State Univer-sity of New York Press, 1991.
Hopkins 1996 Jeffrey Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1996.
Hopkins 2002 Id., Reflections on Reality. The Three Natures and Non-Natures in the Mind-Only School. Dynamic Response to Dzong-ka-ba’s The Essence of Eloquence: Volume 2. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of Cali- fornia Press, 2002.
Hopkins 2006 Id., (tr.) Mountain Doctrine. Tibet’s Funda-
mental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix. By Dol-po-pa Shes-rab- rgyal-tsan. Ithaca NY: Snow Lion, 2006.
Hopkins 2007 Id., (tr.) The Essence of Other-Emptiness. By Tāranātha. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.
Lopez 1988 Donald S. Lopez Jr, The Heart Sūtra Explained: Indian and Tibetan Commentaries. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.
Lopez 1996 Id., Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sūtra. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Mathes 2000 Klaus-Dieter Mathes, “Tāranātha’s Presentation of trisvabhāva in the gZhan stong snying po.” Journal of the International Asso- ciation of Buddhist Studies, 23.2 (2000) 195–223.
Mathes 2004 Id., “Tāranātha’s ‘Twenty-One Differences with regard to the Profound Meaning’ – Comparing the Views of the Two gZhan stong Masters Dol po pa and Shakya mchog ldan.” Journal of the International Asso- ciation of Buddhist Studies, 27.2 (2004) 285–328.
Mathes 2008 Id., A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa’s Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga. Boston: Wisdom Publi- cations, 2008.
Mathes 2012 Id., “The gZhan stong Model of Reality Some More Material on its Origin, Trans- mission and Interpretation.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 34.1–2 (2012) 187–223.
Mathes 2015 Id., “The Pith Instructions on the Mahāyāna Uttaratantra (Thegs chen rgyud bla ma’i gdam pa) – A Missing Link in the Meditation Tradition of the Maitreya Works” in The Illu- minating Mirror: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Per K. Sørenson, ed. by Olaf Czaja and Guntram Hazod, 2015.
Nattier 1992 Jan Nattier, “The Heart Sūtra: a Chinese apocryphal text?” Journal of the Interna- tional Association of Buddhist Studies, 15.2 (1992) 153–223.
Shih 1988 H.C. Shih, “The Significance of Tathāgatagarbha: A Positive Expression of Śunyatā.” Philosophical Review 11 (1988) 227–46.
Templeman 1981a David Templeman, (tr.) The Origin of the Tārā Tantra. By Tāranātha. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1981.
Templeman 1981b Id., “Tāranātha the Historian”. Tibet Journal 6.2 (1981).
Templeman 1983 Id., (tr.) The Seven Instruction Lineages. By Tāranātha. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1983.
Templeman 1989 Id., (tr.) Tāranātha’s Life of Kṛṣṇācārya/Kāṇha. By Tāranātha. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1989.
Templeman 2008 Id., Becoming Indian: A Study of the Life of Tāranātha. PhD dissertation, 2008 (Monash University).
Templeman 2012 Id., “Tāranātha’s Self-Vision Based on his Autobiography and Secret Autobiography” in This World and the Next: Contributions on Tibetan Religion, Science and Society, ed. by Charles Ramble and Jill Sudbury. In the Eleventh Seminar of the International Asso- ciation for Tibetan Studies (2012) 107–148.
Templeman 2015 Id., “Revisiting Tucci’s Sixteenth to Seventeenth Century: New Data on Tibet’s Civil War (1603–1621)” in Asian Horizons: Giuseppe Tucci’s Buddhist, Indian, Himalayan and Central Asian Studies. Ed. by Angelo Andrea di Castro and David Templeman. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2015.