Versions of the Heart Sutra

In the audio for the lecture on the Heart Sutra, Prof. Peter Della Santina remarks (at about the 20 minute mark) that the version selected for reading "omits" the introduction and conclusion that he's accustomed to in the longer Tibetan version and that he's unsure why.

I was curious about the source of this difference and came across a recent publication entitled "The Heart Sutra: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classic of Mahayana Buddhism," by Kazuaki Tanahashi. This work from 2014 includes in its appendix multiple Chinese versions (of which there were originally 8-10), Sanskrit versions, a Korean version, a Japanese version, Vietnamese versions, English versions, and a Mongolian version - spanning the short and long versions of this sutra, along with a thoroughly modern and extremely accessible translation by the author in cooperation with Pema Chodron. This alone makes the book with the purchase price (currently $17.94 US on Amazon for the hardcover) for anyone with an interest in the Heart Sutra.

But in addition to these translations and their origins, and a detailed study of the terminology and significance of each and every word in the sutra, the author presents a comprehensive recounting of the fascinating story regarding the discovery of this text and the rather controversial modern scholarship delving into its true origin.

According to Kazuaki, the shorter text, which came to be known first, dates to about 649 and is associated with the Chinese monk Xuanzang. Xuanzang discovered it and subsequently chanted it on his way to India where he sought the "authentic dharma," "to obtain scriptures not available in China at that time, and [to] find solutions to unanswered questions on the 'Consciousness Only' theory in the Yogachara." He is also largely responsible for the initial popularization of the text itself, as well as the golden age of Buddhism in China and beyond that resulted from the popularization of this text and the copious body of Sanskrit literature he brought back to China for translation and publication.

The Heart Sutra spread across Asia and India in this original format discovered by Xuanzang, without the "Thus I have heard" prologue or the epilogue familiar to those who have read the Tibetan version. According to Kazuaki's theory, these were added before or in the eighth century by an unknown person. The subsequent longer text was then encountered by and commented upon by Indian scholars before being introduced to Tibet in its modified form.

Even more controversially, Kazuaki presents the theory of an American scholar (along with some rebuttals from both American and Japanese scholars and translators), that the origin of the text was actually Chinese, a position that the author supports with his own analysis of the various texts, other popular literature of the day and the body of Prajna Paramita literature.

So the short answer is that the shorter text is in fact the original and the longer text, which was the only one I was previously familiar with as well, is a subsequent modification of the original to conform to expected standards for structure and content.

I've just barely scratched the surface here - so please check out the text if this is an area of interest for you.