OK – now things get a little complicated. Here are the first three lines of the Heart Sutra, with some characters highlighted in two different colors. The color coding is explained below:
摩 訶 般 若 波 羅 蜜 多 心 經
ma ha ban ya ba ra mil ta shim gyong
great prajna para mita heart sutra
觀 自 在 菩 薩 行 深 般 若
kwan ja jae bo sal haeng shim ban ya
avalokiteshvavra bodhisattva pratice deep prajna
波 羅 蜜 多 時 照 見 五 蘊 皆 空
ba ra mil ta shi jo gyon o on gae gong
para mita when illuminate see five skhanda all emptiness
The characters in green are the six Chinese characters for Prajna Paramita (般 若 波 羅 蜜 多). Notice that this group of six characters occurs twice. The first occurrence is on the first line (the title) and the second occurrence starts at the end of the second line and spills over to the third line.
The characters colored red are the three characters to be covered in this post: 時 照 見 (korean: shi-jo-gyon; pinyin: shí-zhào-jiàn).
First let’s look at 時 (shí), which means, among other things “time” or “when” or “while”. In most English translations of the Heart Sutra you’ll see something like “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita, perceived that all five skandhas are empty.” In the original Chinese, however, the “when” comes after “Prajna Paramita” rather than before it. So you have 觀 自 在 菩 薩 行 深 般 若 波 羅 蜜 多 時 照 見 五 蘊 皆 空 (lit: Guān-zì-zài Bodhisattva practice deeply Prajna Paramita when illuminate perceive all five skandhas empty).
So, as already mentioned above, the character 時 (shí) means “when”. In fact, if you do a google search of that character, the first hit will be the current time of day. This character can be broken down into two characters: 日 (rì) + 寺 (sì). These are the characters for “sun” and “temple”.
The character 照 (zhào) means “to illuminate”. It’s formed by a placing the character 昭 (zhào), which means “shine”, on top of 灬 , which is the radical form of 火 (huǒ), which means “fire”. In modern Chinese, 照 can also mean “photo” or “picture” or “to take a picture”.
Then there is the character 見 (jiàn), which means “to see” or “to meet”. One interesting use for this character is in the Chinese phrases 見上 (jiàn-shàng) “see above” and 見下 (jiàn-xià, lit. “see below”). These phrases are used in Chinese writing just like the equivalent phrases in English, such as “look below for a video of Moloko performing ‘The Time is Now’ at the PinkPop festival in 2004”.
The two character combination 照 見 has the rather obvious meaning of “to illuminate and see”. The inference being that not only was something not seen previously, but that it could not be seen due to it’s not being illuminated. Now that the thing (in this case, the emptiness of the five skandhas) has been illuminated by Guān-zì-zài Bodhisattva, not only can she see it, but so can anyone else who now looks.