Hiromi Ito's transcreation of 'The Heart Sutra'
Translated from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles
While looking freely and without effort at the world
While walking with people, searching for the path
In his spiritual quest to discern based on deep wisdom
Avalokiteshvara arrived at a certain thought.
The self is. All sorts of things are.
I sense that
I recognize that
I think about that
And it is the case that
In all things we discern
We are ourselves.
However, that means
Those things do not exist
I have understood that clearly
And I have escaped
All suffering and trouble.
Listen to this, Shariputra.
Being is not any different than non-being.
Non-being is not any different than being.
Things we think are really are not.
If we think of something as non-being that leads to being.
Those things too are just as they are.
Listen to this, Shariputra.
All things that are, are not.
There is also no living or dying.
There is also no dirty or clean.
There is also no increasing or decreasing.
To put it another away
There is no being.
There is also no sensing, no recognizing
Also no thinking, no discerning.
There are also no eyes, no ears, no noses, no tongues
Also no bodies, no hearts.
There are also no colors, no shapes, no voices, no scents, no flavors,
Also no tangible things, no thought-provoking things.
There is also no world that can be seen with the eyes.
There is also no world that can be sensed by the heart.
There are various things that arise from the workings of the human heart
Ranging from the world that can be seen with the eyes
To the world that can be sensed by the heart
But none of those exist,
Yet neither do those workings go away.
There is also no suffering of not knowing.
Nor does the suffering of not knowing go away.
There is also no aging, dying, and suffering
Nor does aging, dying, and suffering go away
Because people do not know
There are kinds of various kinds of suffering as grow old and die
But none of those exist
Yet neither do those sufferings go away.
There is also no suffering in living.
There is also no confusion that creates suffering.
There is also no hope our suffering and our confusion
Will one day go away
Yet neither is there any effort to rid ourselves
Of suffering and confusion.
There is no knowing.
There is no gaining.
In other words, we cannot gain.
Those who search for the way
Follow this wisdom.
The things our hearts dwell upon go away.
All things we dwell upon go away.
Fear will go away.
All confusion will grow distant,
And the heart free of suffering will grow clear.
Present, past, future
All awakened ones always follow this wisdom
They have lived by it and will live by it.
It is clearly possible to awaken.
Know this wisdom that will carry you to the far shore.
This is a powerful incantation.
This is a powerful incantation that you will hear clearly.
This is the ultimate incantation.
This is an incantation that knows no equal.
All suffering will leave you immediately.
This is the truth. This is not a false claim.
I will tell you this wise incantation.
Here, I will tell you. This is how it goes.
This has been the Heart Sutra.
[Translator’s note: In the 1980s, Hiromi Ito emerged as one of Japan’s foremost poets, thanks to her powerful and dramatic writing about motherhood, childrearing, and sexual desire. In recent years, she has been writing more about aging, suffering, and the impermanency of life—a theme brought home first by the death of her parents, then her dog, and then her partner the British-American artist Harold Cohen. Although Buddhism has been an important element in her work since at least the mid-1980s, recent years have seen her returning to the Buddhist classics more frequently as she reflects on what they say about life, death, and the nature of being.
In 2010, she published The Heart Sutra Explained (Yomitoki han’nya shingyō), in which she provides essays, personal reflections, and modern contemporary poetic translations of well-known Buddhist texts. The poem included here comes from that book and is Ito’s modern Japanese translation of The Heart Sutra (Hannya shingyō), one of the best-known Buddhist texts. The original consists of a monologue delivered by the enlightened bodhisattva Avalokitesvara to Shariputra, a disciple who is seeking wisdom. In this terse and poetic monologue, Avalokitesvara explains the fundamental Buddhist insight that all things are empty and illusory, including form, feeling, volition, perception, and consciousness (what the Buddhist philosophers call the five skandha or “aggregates”). In translating Ito’s text, instead of returning back to the original Chinese, I have relied on her contemporary Japanese translation in order to showcase her individual interpretation. The text concludes with the mantra, which if read in Sanskrit goes “Gyate gyate pāragate pārasamgyate bodhi svāhā,” and means something like “Gone, gone, to the other shore, gone, reach, accomplish enlightenment.”]
Reprinted from Poems of Hiromi Ito, Tashiko Hirata & Takako Arai, with translations by Jeffrey Angles,Vagabond Press / Asia Pacific Series, 2016
Poems and poetics