Homage to Prajnaparamita

Prajnaparamita is the Buddhist goddess of wisdom, a personification of knowledge, revealed in the Prajnaparamita Sutras that laid the foundations of Mahayana Buddhism. The term combines the Sanskrit words prajna (wisdom) and paramita (perfection). Paramita is interpreted as having reached the opposite shore of samsara, and prajnaparamita is translated as “perfection of wisdom” or “transcendental wisdom.” This wisdom is associated with the highest stage of the path of the bodhisattva, which includes the practice of the six perfections: the perfection of generosity (dana paramita), the perfection of morality (shila paramita), the perfection of patience (khasnti paramita), the perfection of diligence (virya paramita), the perfection of the concentration (dhyana paramita), and the perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita).

In the early Mahayana texts, the goddess Prajnaparamita is portrayed as a beautiful and feminine figure, which represents the personification of the transcendental wisdom that realizes emptiness. Since nothing can exist outside of emptiness, Prajnaparamita becomes a kind of “mother” of everything. She is perceived as a cosmic woman who embodies the highest metaphysical principle and the essence of enlightened wisdom.

Prajnaparamita according to the Indian tradition, based on an illustration in the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra. Drawing by the author

Although traditional texts mention that Prajnaparamita is beyond forms and categories, she still has female characteristics. Her femininity was primarily associated with the idea of the mother giving life. The natural fact that all beings are biologically derived from female bodies is reflected in the Buddhist notion that male buddhas originate from one mother. This is one of the main roles of Prajnaparamita—to be the mother of all the buddhas (sarvabuddha mata). She is perceived as their parent because she is a source of omniscience that imbues them with the quality of Buddhahood. At the same time, while the bodies of her “creations” like buddhas and bodhisattvas appear and disappear in time and space, the wisdom of Prajnaparamita always remains. Like a mother who takes care of her children, she provides protection for the seekers of truth, and especially those who want to understand the nature of reality.

Prajnaparamita according to the Tibetan tradition. Drawing by the author

Homage to Prajnaparamita

The light of Dharma is the light of the universal truth,
The light of the wisdom that illuminates our life.
The universal wisdom beyond time and space,
Which manifests according to people’s needs.

The wisdom that opens the gate to liberation from suffering
And dispels the darkness of ignorance,
The everlasting awareness that pervades the whole space,
The perfection of wisdom, the Great Mother Prajnaparamita.

Mother Prajnaparamita embraces all appearances
And gives birth to all forms that are empty by nature.
The queen of emptiness, the emanation of impermanence,
I pay homage to the Great Mother, the Perfection of wisdom.

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