This Perfection of Wisdom sūtra, commonly called the Heart Sūtra, expounds the fundamental emptiness of all things. It is considered one of the best-known and most popular Mahāyāna scriptures.
How was it translated into Chinese?
There are several versions of this sutra in Chinese. The one copied here is the most widespread. Still recited and studied by many nowadays, it was edited and completed in 649 CE by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (c. 602-664). Xuanzang portrayed himself as a scholar and traveller. He is famous for the sixteen-year overland journey he made to India in order to bring back Buddhist texts. According to his biography, he returned to China with over 600 titles and provided translations for many Indian sūtras, including the Heart Sūtra.
What is this shape?
The Heart Sūtra is one of the shortest sutras. Brief enough to fit on a single sheet of paper, the scripture was handwritten on this vertical scroll so as to evoke the architectural profile of a five-storey stūpa. The title, located above the pagoda-like structure, is spread across three columns that form a canopy. The characters are all linked with finely dotted red lines that indicate the order of the text. Thus laid out, they constitute a sacred image that could be revered in its own right and was perhaps hung up as part of particular ritual practices.