The Heart Sutra is the most widely read, chanted, and copied text in East Asian Buddhism. Here Frederik L. Schodt explores his lifelong fascination with the sutra: its mesmerizing mantra, its ancient history, the “emptiness theory, and the way it is used around the world as a metaphysical tool to overcome chaos and confusion and reach a new understanding of reality--a perfection of wisdom. Schodt's journey takes him to caves in China, American beats declaiming poetry, speculations into the sutra's true origins, and even a robot Avalokiteśvara at a Kyoto temple.
In this curious yet insightful volume, translator Schodt (Dreamland Japan) explores the historical, religious, and cultural aspects of one of the shortest texts in the Buddhist canon. The Heart Sutra has, despite its brevity, generated intense debate and fervent veneration for centuries due to its ambiguous declaration that "form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form." Schodt's fascination with the Heart Sutra frames this study, interweaving personal anecdotes and ruminations on the sutra itself. After exploring the beatniks' relationship to the Heart Sutra, Schodt launches into the early history of Buddhism, the history of the sutra's translation into English, academic disputes over the authenticity of the text, and the cultural fascination with the text in East Asia. Despite being neither a scholar nor a practitioner of Buddhism, Schodt's obsession with the sutra and expertise as a translator shows in his ability to decode academic conversations and practical religious concerns into accessible language. Schodt's enjoyable exploration of his personal relationship with the Heart Sutra yields a short, reliable introduction to this highly influential text in East Asian Buddhism for general audiences.