How to Read the Heart Sutra to Children.

Via John Pappas
on Mar 18, 2011
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While reading the “Cat in the Hat” to my daughter a few nights ago, I decided to take an old favorite “The Heart Sutra” and adapt it to a slightly younger (read: toddler) audience. In wanting to create something that was true (ish) to the original intent made while at the same time expressing more of the joy one feels when unfettered by the weight of a conceptual universe, I had to change much of the wording and create images and rhyme that are not in the original.

The following is meant to be sung, or at very least, recited with some lyrical prowess, as Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattava of Compassion begins a dance of pure Perfection of Wisdom. It is meant to be fun and catchy rather than sober and droning.

The Heart Seusstra

Avalokitesvara, you say! Doing deep meditation all day.
Stared deep into life flowing like a sea, clearly saw that it was emp-i-ty.

Dancing around, the wind in hair,completely free from pain and care.
Things are thoughts and thoughts are things!
My care, my hair, the thoughts on the air all amount to Noth-i-ing.

My dreams at night, my dance all day, scrapes on knees and flowers in May
Oh, they arise and fall! It has always been this way!
No God in sky, no Devil below. No pure light, no unholy glow.

In emp-i-tiness no moss to gather on a rock that does not roll.
No gateman at the end to pay a toll.
No puzzle pieces to a-gather, no riddles in my brain to rattle.
No boogieman hidden at night. No robber lost in flight!

No weeping eye, no spying ear, no nose to twitch,
No lying tongue, body to bathe or mind to bewitch!

No auburn hair, no joke to tell, no cuboards bare, no rose to smell.
No touch of angels’ wings. None of these things!
You think this sad. A real mess. Also no realm of sight, no realm of consciousness.

No kings. No fools. Nothing in-between.
No grave in sight but also no immortal might.

No tears in the eye, no pie in the sky.
No story, no song (sorry this non-sense took so long),
but in this non-song a Bodhisattva just bounces along
With no path in front. No path behind. No hindrance, no fear. We don’t mind!

With each breath a miracle, a present, a gift; I hope this rhyme provided some lift.
To make you feel not so small but really quite tall
Like a tree with branches that connect to all.

For when your branches spread and penetate the gloom and the doom
To touch the forgotten, the remembered, the yet-to-be,
You have obtained anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

But it is a lender, best to be shared for benefit.
Which is why the following mantra is such a perfect fit.
This silly mantra comes off sounding so glib,
It completely clears all pain; This is no fib!

Oh Dear! What would your mother say?
This very day! What would she say?
Gate! Gate! Paragate! Parasamgate!
Bodhi Svaha! Is what she would say!

But what would you say? This very day?

Tu whit! Tu whoo! What to do?
Grab a boat. Sink or float.
Either way we cross the bay. Hooray!


About John Pappas

John Pappas is a struggling Zen practitioner with a slight Vajrayana palate (but he won't admit it) stumbling between the relative and absolute through the Buddhist Purgatory otherwise known as the Great Plains of South Dakota. Emerging writer, librarian and aspiring hungry ghost, John spews his skewed perception of the dharma all over his personal blog, Subtle Dharma Mouth Punch as well as on the ephemeral Elephant Journal and occasionally (while having no artistic ability to speak of) on Dharma/Arte. John also loves tacos, homebrew, yoginis and obscure Cthulhu references. You can follow him on twitter under the handle @zendustzendirt


10 Responses to “How to Read the Heart Sutra to Children.”

  1. yogiclarebear says:

    Incredibly creative and clever. Being that I had a tougher time understanding some…I think the innocence of a child would grasp it right away!

  2. Brilliant, John. I love this, especially since I'm a Suess lover myself, kids or no kids.

  3. this is great…I will put it to good use! Thankyou! I will be passing it on for sure!

  4. Claudia says:

    I am a Suess lover, this is some imaginative post you have here, hmm… wonder if it could be put to the test tonight … 😉 thank you

  5. JRobertMorrison says:

    This is great! Going to borrow it to read to the daughter

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  7. […] time with my daughter was a challenge at first. I had been a constant source of auditory stimulation for this child for the last six weeks, but this next moment forever changed me as a parent. A pristine clarity in […]

  8. […] — not counting several intermingled pages entirely covered with what appear to be samples from the Heart Sutra, though it is difficult to determine with any certainty due to the liberally interlaced profanity) […]

  9. […] a breath and lifted through my rib cage. Up and back just like Maria had taught us. I visualized my heart saluting the sky. Like an old horse who knows a familiar path, my right hand gently grasped my right heel. […]

  10. @tishushu says:

    Awesome! Sharing!