The History of the Heart Sutra as a Palimpsest

In this article, I consult commentarial and bibliographical texts from the early Tang dynasty to better understand the history of the Heart Sutra. As in a palimpsest, there appears to be another, earlier his- tory partially preserved beneath the text of the received history. This early layer says that the Heart Sutra was composed in China, prob- ably by Xuanzang. He combined a selection of popular extracts from the Large Prajñāpāramitā sūtra with a dhāraṇī to produce a “condensed sutra.” Even before the death of Xuanzang, this earlier history was being effaced and replaced by elements of the received history. It appears that both the Sanskrit text and the translation attributed to Kumārajīva were knowing forgeries produced to make the new history plausible.

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