The Heart-Essence of the Prajñā-pāramitā in One Syllable Sūtra
(shes rab kyi phra rol tu phyin pa’i snying po yi ge gcig ma)
A Treasure Teaching (gTerma) of Guru Chöwang, Chökyi Wangchuk (gu ru chos kyi dbang phyug, 1212-1270/73)
Extracted from Dhāraṇīs Which Condense the Essence of the Kangyur
[Mantras for Scriptures from the Tibetan Buddhist Canon]
(bka’ ‘gyur snying po bsdus pa’i gzungs bzhugs so)
Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos
In the Indian Language [Sanskrit]: Bhagavatī Prajñā-pāramitā Hṝdaya (bhagavatī-prajñā-pāramitā-hṝdaya)
In the Tibetan Language: Sheyrap kyi P’aroltuch’inpa’y Nyingpo (shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i snying po)
[In the English Language: The Essence of the Transcendental Practice of Discerning Insight in One Syllable (The Essence of the Prajñā-pāramitā in a Single Syllable)]
HOMAGE TO THE BHAGAVATĪ, THE TRANSCENDENTAL PRACTICE OF DISCERNING INSIGHT (PRAJÑĀ-PĀRAMITĀ)!
“[The Buddha said:] “It is as follows:
“This is known as the ‘Transcendental Practice of Discerning Insight (Prajñā-pāramitā) in One Syllable‘.”
They [the assembled audience] deeply praised what had been spoken by the Bhagavān.
THE SINGLE SYLLABLE [PRAJÑĀ-PĀRAMITĀ] IS COMPLETE.
(Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos, first in mid-December 2009 (originally published on December 11th, 2009) and then again on May 31st, 2018. Further revised on September 2nd, 2018.)
Notes: This text is nearly identical in its fundamental theme and basic content to one sūtra contained in the Kangyur and translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan, known as Prajñā-pāramitā, the Mother of All Tathāgatas, in One Syllable (Skt. ekākṣaram-prajñā-pāramitā-sarva-tathāgata-ma-nāma, Tib. de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi yum shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa yi ge gcig ma zhes bya ba). Its Tibetan text has also been translated and published online at Buddha-Nature.com, under the title ‘The One Syllable Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra: The Transcendental Practice of Discerning Insight, the Mother of All Suchness Faring Ones, in a Single Syllable’ (translated by Erick Tsiknopoulos, 2009/2016/2018).
The most notable difference between these two texts is that the present gTerma of Guru Chöwang’s is significantly shorter; omitting the introduction and conclusion in the original Kangyur text, which itself follows a drastically shortened yet standard sūtra narrative format. Being thus quite condensed, it perhaps serves as a sort of condensation of the Ekākṣaram-prajñā-pāramitā-sarva-tathāgata-ma. This is interesting because the original text of the latter is contained in the Kangyur; and hence originating from India more directly, was itself an incredibly concise condensation of the meaning of the vast corpus of Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra-s into nothing but one, single syllable (the broader significance and esoteric meaning of this particular syllable is, however, best left to other contexts). That the present gTerma text is a condensation or short summary of the original Single Syllable Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra is also in line with the general idea of this series of Treasure Teachings revealed by Guru Chöwang (gu ru chos dbang), featuring Mantras and Dhāraṇīs which serve as essentialized condensations that ‘extract the essence’ of the magical power, spiritual potential and positive karmic potential of various important sūtra–s and tantra–s (though mainly the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra-s); and which also, to some extent, symbolically summarize their respective meanings.
The other (more minor) difference is that the single syllable in question is technically written as ཨཱཿ (ĀḤ) here and as ཨཱ། (Ā) in the original sūtra; that is, technically without the aspirant ‘Ḥ’, at least in the edition used here. In terms of the symbolic meaning of the syllable, the difference between the two spellings is probably nominal at most (and certainly unintentional, i.e. owing to a scribal error).
One may wonder why it was felt necessary for such a short sūtra as the Ekākṣaram-prajñā-pāramitā-sarva-tathāgata-ma, which is already an extremely concise distillation of the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtra-s, to have an even shorter and more condensed ‘gTerma version’; but so it is!
Erick Tsiknopoulos (b. 1981) is an American translator of Tibetan, a scholar, researcher and postgraduate student in Buddhist Studies, a teacher and tutor of Tibetan language, a writer and editor, a voracious reader in various subjects, and an experienced world traveler. He is the founder and primary Tibetan translator of the Sugatagarbha Translation Group, and the creator of their main website, Tibetan-Translations.com, which currently features English translations of over 400 Tibetan texts. Many of his translations have been published in various forms, including as books.
He has been a student of Buddhism since 1999, a student of Tibetan Buddhism since 2003, and a student of Tibetan language since 2005. He has been translating Tibetan texts into English since 2007, has been based in India and Nepal studying Tibetan language and Buddhism intensively and translating Tibetan texts since 2008, and has been working professionally as a Tibetan-English translator and interpreter since 2009.
He is available for contact via email at: EmptyElephant@yahoo.com and SugatagarbhaTranslations@gmail.com