Su DongPo wrote:
I have a question (I hope I haven't overlooked an obvious note) which I am sure someone (perhaps even Huifeng himself) can field. If the text was originally composed in Chinese, why is it also in Sanskrit? Is this an unusual situation? Wasn't the dissemination of early Buddhist texts generally an adoption by early scholar-monk's such as Zhi Qian or Xuanzang? Was this translation from an early Chinese Buddhist canon into Sanskrit? I am sure I have gotten something backwards, but I am not sure what it might be.
The argument that it was originally composed in Chinese, and argument it is - not proven fact, would say that it was first in Chinese and was then back translated into Sanskrit. That is neither difficult to understand, nor entirely unlikely, either.
The key question is the role of Kumarajiva's translation. If you look at the document I linked above, you can easily see that what we now consider to be the earliest extant version of the Heart Sutra, ie. Kumarajiva's 大明咒經, has a lot of exact matches with his translation of the so-called medium length Prajnaparamita (maybe the Pancavimsati-sahasrika, but more likely a kind of Dvavimsatika-sahasrika). Later versions of the Heart sutra, in all languages, do not have some specific parts that connect Kumarajiva's two texts.
But, and here's the catch, the supposed Sanskrit of the Heart Sutra and the Pancavimsata, do NOT match up. In fact, the Sanskrit of the Heart Sutra is really quite strange, it has some expressions which though understandable on a semantic level, are quite different from the Sanskrit we see in all the other Prajnaparamita texts. eg. 以無所得故 is a common phrase in the Chinese, but the Sanskrit: "nAprAptitvAt" is unattested in any other text, which always has something like "na upalabhyate" for this expression.
And, due to the fact that the early and middle period translations into Chinese would often use the same Chinese term for multiple different Sanskrit terms, eg. 得 for >labh, >prapta, & >abhisambudh, it means that it is quite conceivable that someone back translating into Sanskrit from the Chinese would come up with what we now have as the Sanskrit. (Provided they knew Sanskrit, but were not exactly 100% fluent in Sanskrit Prajnaparamita literature.)
So this is kind of how Nattier argues the case. Then the head and tail of the Heart Sutra are appended on for various reasons to this chunk taken from the 3rd chp (?) of the Pancavimsati. Though for Nattier, she doubts that the earliest Chinese Heart Sutra is from Kumarajiva, but comes later. But I suspect she has made a mistake on her sources through the Taisho.
Dan Lusthaus has made a few counter arguments to the idea that Kumarajiva's version is not the earliest, providing a few interesting Chinese sources from early to mid period masters in China, the sort of stuff that I think Nattier would probably never read. But, his arguments still do little if anything to counter her main thesis of the text being originally Chinese, from the Pancavimsati and then back translated into (dodgey) Sanskrit.
I don't know whether this answers your question or not, though!