The Prajñaparamita mantra is representative of a set of scriptures that are referred to as the Prajñaparamita Sutras. Prajñaparamita can be translated to mean “Perfection of Wisdom.” This unique set of scriptures includes several famous teachings that include the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, and they were very often the subject of worship in several levels of teaching in Buddhism – very much in the same manner as devotional figures were worshipped.
These mantras were worshipped so much so that Prajñaparamita actually ultimately become personified as a brilliant goddess. Something that can be a bit confusing is that the Prajñaparamita mantra is not the mantra of the goddess Prajñaparamita. The Prajñaparamita is rather associated exclusively with the Perfection of Wisdom texts alone.
While some mantras don’t have a literal meaning that is easy to translate into English, the Prajñaparamita mantra does have a literal meaning that we can readily decipher in order to find the deeper meaning that we are searching for when we recite it. The mantra itself is as follows.
Gate Gate Pāragate Pārasamgate Bodhi Svāhā
The literal English translation for the mantra is “Gone, gone, gone beyond. Gone utterly beyond. Enlightenment hail!”
An interesting point about the Prajñaparamita mantra is that it is very often used to conclude the condensed version of the Heart Sutra, which further solidifies the connection between these two. With an understanding of what the literal translation is, you can better understand what the actual meaning of the mantra is, and the importance of reciting it on its own or as a part of an overall meditation plan.
The Prajñaparamita mantra refers to the ideal that no one thing, including our very human existence, has an ultimate substantiality. This, in turn, refers to the idea that nothing, no one thing, is permanent, and also that no one thing is wholly independent of everything else surrounding us. What this could also be interpreted as is that everything in the world is wholly interconnected, and is also in constant flux. When we can embrace and appreciate this idea, we can be saved from the knowledge of the suffering that our egos cause to us. We can also be saved from our attachments to material objects, and also help us with our inherent resistance to the loss and change that is a continual presence in our lives.
Give a bit of thought to your journey towards enlightenment. There are a lot of pathways, challenges, and obstacles for us to overcome if we are going to attain true enlightenment. Each of these pathways, challenges, and obstacles alone could lead us from our journey towards enlightenment if we allow them to; which is why it is essential to approach each one, until you have worked through it.
One of the ideals that we must embrace on our journey is that we need to break free from the attachments that we have formed to physical objects. We need to also embrace the knowledge that our realities are going to constantly be in a state of flux, regardless of how hard we try to control things. Certainly we all love our homes, our favorite sofa, or our favorite pair of jeans. Losing these physical and material objects can often be very upsetting, especially when it happens suddenly and without any fore-warning. The way in which we respond to this loss is what helps us to define our true selves. Some guidance for our response can be found in both the Prajñaparamita mantra, and the Heart Sutra.
An extract of the Heart Sutra is as follows.
“When pursuing the deep Prajñaparamita, recognized the five skandhas as completely empty, and passed beyond all vexations and distress.”
Skandhas are recognized as being the five essential functions, or aspects, that are constituted within the physical self of the human being. The teachings of Buddhism encompass the belief that nothing amongst the skandhas truly has ownership. This can then be associated with the Prajñaparamita mantra and the belief that in order for us to continue along our quest for enlightenment, we need to let go of the idea of anything having ownership or belonging to us. When we have worked through our relationships with our physical selves and the attachments that we have to physical objects, we will ultimately find that we are free of vexations, and we are finally free from the distress that these objects and the idea of losing them causes to us.
Another excerpt from the Prajñaparamita mantra is the following.
“Appearances are not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different to appearances. Appearances are emptiness, emptiness is an appearance.”
So how can we associate this excerpt with the Prajñaparamita mantra? Consider the way that we tend to react when we believe that our life in flux is going to result in an apparent emptiness. Whether that emptiness means the loss of material goods, or the loss of a relationship from your life, what is most important is the way in which you respond to this flux and the potential resulting loss.
Appearances are not different from emptiness means that we do not necessarily need to fill our lives with the addition of material objects and relationships that are ultimately a destructive force in our lives. In order to truly be happy, in order to truly be at peace, and in order to truly remain focused on our path to enlightenment, we need to be content to realize that the idea of something being empty or vacant is simple an appearance. We can fill our lives with the things that matter, which are very often not things at all. Rather we can find that we are filling our lives with positive energy, and the knowledge that we are wholly connected on a much more ethereal level to everything around us.
Another excerpt is, “Because there is not anything to find, the bodhisattva is free, because of relying upon Prajñaparamita: a heart without any obstruction.”
Simply put, by removing the obstructions that lay on the pathway of our journey to enlightenment, there is no fear. By abandoning the physical objects, changing our views of the world, accepting the world for what it is, we can finally reach nirvana.