In June 2002, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region received the donation of an original calligraphy featuring the "Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra" (Heart Sutra) from Professor Jao Tsung-I, an internationally renowned master with outstanding achievements in both academic research and art, who wished to have the calligraphy transformed into an outdoor large-scale carving. The masterpiece is reproduced in the form of a large-scale outdoor wood inscription on a natural slope at the foot of Lantau Peak near Ngong Ping of Lantau Island. The tranquillity of the natural environment of the site would enable visitors to appreciate the masterpiece which combines art and philosophy.
The project was completed in May 2005.
While on a visit to China in 1980, Professor Jao Tsung-I saw the Buddhist stone carvings of the Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra on Mount Taishan in Shandong. This inspired Professor Jao to create a monumental calligraphic work of the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is a treasured text revered by Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists alike. It is written in a simple and concise manner, yet its message is truly profound.
Professor Jao completed this calligraphy of Heart Sutra in 2002, and dedicated it to the people of Hong Kong in June the same year. The work is now presented in the form of a large-scale wood inscription display in an outdoor environment. The calligraphy has been carved on to wooden columns reminiscent of bamboo tiles (zhujian) used for writing in ancient times.
In order to reflect the profound wisdom of the Heart Sutra and to impose the two-dimensional calligraphy into a three-dimensional architecture naturally, the thirty-eight timber columns with inscription of the Heart Sutra have been arranged to correspond to the topography of the landscape, and in a figure-of-eight configuration (i.e. the symbol of infinty "∞") symbolising infinity. The column located at the highest point of the hill is left blank to suggest the concept of "emptiness" (Sunyata), a key theme in the Heart Sutra.
The full title of this sutra is Prajna-paramita Heart Sutra of which Prajna-paramita is a Sanskrit term. Prajna means wisdom, paramita means perfection; accordingly, Prajna-paramita means "the perfection of Wisdom". This sutra is more briefly named the Heart Sutra. It is called the "Heart" in as much as it subsumes the essence of the Perfection of Wisdom of the Buddha. It is the best known Mahayana sutra, and, at 260 words, it is also the shortest.
The Heart Sutra articulates the doctrine of "emptiness". But this "emptiness" must not be understood as the denial of phenomenal existence - it is not nihilism. What it teaches is that everything is dependently arisen from conditions: an event (a "thing") occurs if and only if the adequacy of conditions obtains. Since everything is dependently arisen, there is no such thing as an eternally abiding entity. The doctrine of emptiness also spells out the relativity of all views. When one acquires this Wisdom of "emptiness", one will realise that all physical and mental events are in a constant process of change, and accordingly everything can be changed by modifying the conditions. Understanding the relativity of all standpoints will also prevent one from becoming irrationally attached to things. In this way, one will come to be free from all mental obstructions, and attain to perfect harmony and bliss. At the same time, with the understanding that all are dependently arisen, one will treasure and make good use of the conditions that are available, realising the ideal of benefiting oneself and others.
Professor Jao Tsung-I (1917-2018) was a scholar, poet, qin (zither) player, painter and calligrapher. He was highly regarded for his talents which seamlessly embody the essence of Chinese culture. His attainments in art and scholastic cultivation were equally admirable. He absorbed the spirit of the ancient masters and enriched traditional Chinese calligraphy by developing a uniquely personal style of writing. To find out more about Professor Jao, his paintings, calligraphy and academic achievements, visitors can visit the Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole, The University of Hong Kong and the Jao Tsung-I Academy.
The profoundest teaching of the Heart Sutra is "non attachment or unhindered-ness of the mind", truly exemplified in the qualities of modesty and open-mindedness we find in Professor Jao. The original size of each character measures two feet by two feet. Professor Jao used a huge goat's hair brush to create unrestricted and vigorous brushstrokes that reveal an open and free heart in harmony with the whole cosmo.