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The Heart Sutra: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classic of Mahayana Buddhism Paperback – Illustrated, March 1, 2016
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"For all who love the Dharma, Kaz’s study of the Heart Sutra is a true boon—it serves us as introduction, history, toolbox, and treasure chest of teachings. It reads as a love story, a detective story, and yet it is a stunning scholarly resource. As inspiration, as reference, as deep study, this work is unsurpassable!”—Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, author of Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges
About the Author
- Item Weight : 14.5 ounces
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1611803128
- Product Dimensions : 5.96 x 0.75 x 8.99 inches
- Publisher : Shambhala; Illustrated Edition (March 1, 2016)
- ISBN-13 : 978-1611803129
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #383,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Certain instances come to mind:
- In the chapter entitled "Scientific Thinking", there is a wonderful summary of the author's private conversation with astrophysicist Piet Hut in 2013 that outlines what science, modern and otherwise, knows today about the objective nature of Reality and how a new science taking into account "subjects" and "interactions between subjects and objects" is needed in order to start approaching the the levels discovered by spiritual seekers.
- All of the etymological gems throughout the "Terms and Concepts" chapter, allowing for multiple and layered interpretations of the text.
- Bernie Glassman's explanation of "doing" and "being" prajnaparamita.
- The conversation regarding back-translation to Sanskit, which potentially grounds the foundation of the Chinese Xuanzang translation now spread all over most of the world as the preeminent translation.
- Correspondences with Nepalese monks, one of a kind.
For me, there is a lot of Zen in Red Pine's translation and it might be all one would ever need on the proverbial desert island. But without Tanahashi's effort, placing this miracle of a text into a human context, there might be some lingering doubts about whether or not The Heart Sutra is the desert island pick for everyone. I am much more inspired in my practice having read it.
This edition also contains extensive commentary, including the discussion of Buddhologist Jan Nattier's theory that the original was in Chinese rather than Sanskrit. An appendix includes many other translations, as well as versions in Chinese and other languages.
This is not the definitive work on the Heart Sutra, because its truth is boundless and no work can fully expound its essence.
For those unfamiliar with the Heart Sutra, i would suggest reading one of the standard translations first, conveniently available in the appendix, then the new one for additional perspectives.
It seems I have heard this sutra chanted by so many different lineages, in many differing forms for the years I have been around Buddhists.
In recent years many excellent teachers have brought out commentaries on this sutra.
Here Kaz, as he is known, adds his thorough research to this mix, as well as his own translation.
What I missed was the imagination and fervour I've found in many of these other commentaries. This is certainly a work of love for them all, but some, to me, rise above scholarship and historical precision to wrap the chanting heart in the flames of this powerful acclamation of perfect understanding. Just before his recent stroke Thich Nhat Hanh composed a beautiful new version, full of heart. I missed that in this book. But the scholarship is part of a more holistic view of where this incantation of joy and love rise in the history of developing buddhism in China and India as the mahayana rolled like a great wave through the region in the early centuries of the common era. This is a living tradition, we ride the wave still.
So cheers to Master Tanahashi, superb calligrapher and linguist. Not as heart touching, but adding historical clarity and precision. Well spent is the time given to reading the fruits of his own loving work.
Top reviews from other countries
I would have liked a clearer layout of the word by word analysis of the Sanskrit, the different translations and transliterations contained at the end like an appendix. It is really the heart of the importance of the Sutra for practical use rather than the story of its geographical journey.
On first impression this book looks pretty good. It seems to be well written and thoughtful. There's a bit more history than you get with most books, though it still lacks enough about the sect that the Prajnaparamita was reacting to (esp. the Sarvastivada) to really make sense of the approach taken in negating categories. I don't particularly like the new "translation" by the author and his collaborator - it's more of an interpretation than a translation and an interpretation based on a Zen ideology. Unfortunately the author, like his predecessors, has failed to fully grasp the implications of Jan Nattier's watershed 1992 article on the authorship and chronology of the text. This may be because establishment figures in Japan, such as the influential Fukui Fumimasa, reacted negatively to the Nattier article. Tanahashi mistakenly refers to T250 as "the alpha version", it is not. Also it's a bad misrepresentation to refer to Conze's edition as "the Nepalese version" - Conze used Nepalese, Japanese, Chinese and Tibetan sources for his edition. The Nepalese manuscripts were only *copied* in Nepal and they were copying Indian texts.
The word by word commentary is OK, though confused by discussing so many variants at once. There is a major error wrt sections 7 and 8. Tanahashi has mistaken which of the Sanskrit phrases is left out of the canonical version, which leads to some erroneous comments in the part of the book which discuss these (e.g. p.161-2). The commentary on the Sanskrit text is frequently inaccurate, as on pg 193 when it describes mantra as "related to the verb mant'". The word 'mant'' is an agent noun meaning 'one who thinks'. The verb is 'manyate'. And this is just after he has written that the verb is 'man' - the verbal root is ''man', the verb is 'manyate'. Clearly the author doesn't know Sanskrit at all well and is relying on 3rd party explanations which let him down. Another example is the elaborate explanation of the verb 'pasyati' when it simply means 'to see' (p.156). The explanations of grammar are especially weak: a sentence cannot start with "ca" for example (p.155); and though 'sma' does indicate a past tense, it's often used for the historical present which is more appropriate here. It's a puzzle that the publishers did not get a Sanskrit scholar to check and remove basic errors, because this would have improved the book considerably.
The attempt to include many language versions and translations in a book for English speakers is misguided. The Vietnamese for example is of no real interest (the elaborate diacritics of Romanised Vietnamese are not explained leaving the reader puzzling over them), let alone the Mongolian. Likewise for the multiple English translations. This part of the book lacks focus. All that's really needed is one translation of the Chinese, one of Sanskrit, and perhaps one of Tibetan. Most of the other texts are simply variations on the Chinese and could be left out without losing any overall coherence. It seems that not enough critical thought was given to presenting a barrage of information in a way that could be digested. The author just crams everything in. It's a wasted effort.
This book is certainly better than the other Zen inspired commentaries that are available, but it is still a Zen inspired commentary. It only tells us about how the Japanese Zen world interpret the text in the present, it doesn't tell us much about how the authors of the text saw it. The pretence to Sanskrit scholarship is perplexing - Tanahashi is clearly at sea with simple Sanskrit, but seems to be presenting himself as qualified to comment on and translate the Sanskrit. That he did not see the simple grammatical error in the first sentence of Conze's text is a good test - anyone who overlooks it is not qualified to translate the text (which sadly to date includes more or less everyone).
Ultimately this book is a disappointment. I more I look at it the more errors of language and logic I find in it. My initial enthusiasm has more or less evaporated in light of the many problems that have emerged. It promises too much and delivers too little, and much of that confused and erroneous.