The Heart Sutra stands among the classic Buddhist scriptures. Akin in importance to the “Shema Yisrael” for Jews or the “Lord’s Prayer” for Christians, the Heart Sutra is considered by Mahayanists, and especially Zen Buddhists, to contain the pith instructions for the practice of their religion—namely the radical negation of conventional concepts and extreme views in favor of an experience of reality permeated by wisdom and compassion.
"Heart Sutra" is a translation of the Sanskrit term Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, which more fully translates to “The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.” Along with the Diamond Sutra, it is the most famous representative of the Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) section of the Mahayana Buddhist canon. The sutra has been translated into English from Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese canonical sources and exists in both a long and a short form—the short version consisting, incredibly, of only fourteen lines of Sanskrit or 260 Chinese characters.
The key to its brevity is the sutra’s single-pointed focus on negation of conventional understanding. Indeed, this iconoclastic text goes so far as to negate the core teachings of the Abhidharma (the orthodox Theravadin collection of texts interpreting the sutras) and of the Buddha himself—the Four Noble Truths, the Five Skandhas (aggregates), the Eighteen Dhātus (senses, sense objects, and fields of sense perception), and the Twelve Links of Dependent Co-Arising. The Heart Sutra holds that those who allow practice to carry them through and beyond even these wisdom concepts will find “wisdom beyond wisdom,” a far shore of awakening where one is not caught by fixed ideas and therefore can escape all suffering.
Although the Heart Sutra is mentioned in more Shambhala Publications books than can be listed here, interested readers can find various translations and in-depth analyses of the sutra in the following Shambhala books.