Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “prajna as the mother of the buddhas” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Appendix 9 - Prajñā as the Mother of the Buddhas

Note: this appendix is extracted from Chapter VIII part 4.6.

... anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi sends wisdom (prajñā) to the Bodhisattva to say to him: “If you want to attain me, first cultivate the marvelous marks and adorn your body with them. Only after that will I reside in you. If they do not adorn your body, I will not reside in you.”

This prosopopeia of the Buddha and anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi is characteristic of the Prajñāpāramitā literature which tends to make out of prajñā the Mother of the Buddhas; cf. T 220, k. 306, p. 558b: All the Tathāgatas depend on the profound Prajñāpāramitā to realize (sākṣātkāra) the true nature (tathatā), the summit (niṣṭhā) of all dharmas and attain anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi. That is why it is said that the profound Prajñāpāramitā gives birth to the Buddhas, is ‘the Mother of the Buddhas’.

– In the chapter dedicated to the Mother of the Buddhas, the Pañcaviṃśati (T 223, k. 14, p. 323b) says that the actual Buddhas of the ten directions contemplate the profound Prajñāpāramitā with their buddha-eye because it gives birth to all the Buddhas who have attained it, that all the Buddhas who have attained it, attain it and who will attain anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi, attain it thanks to Prajñāpāramitā.

– Many sūtras are dedicated to the glorification of the ‘Mother of the Buddhas’: cf. T 228, 229 and 258.

– Many times, the Mppś shows in what sense this metaphor should be taken: k. 34, p. 314a: The Prajñāpāramitā is the Mother of the Buddhas. Among parents, the mother is the most meritorious; this is because the Buddhas consider the prajñā as their mother. The pratyutpannasamādhi (described in T 416–419) is their father: this samādhi can only prevent distractions (vikṣiptacitta) so that prajñā may be realized, but it cannot perceive the true nature of dharmas. Prajñāpāramitā itself sees all the dharmas and discerns their true nature. As a result of this great merit, it is called Mother;

– k. 70, p.550a: Prajñāpāramitā is the Mother of the Buddhas, this is why the Buddha is supported by being based on it. In other sūtras it is said that the Buddha relies on the Dharma and that the Dharma is his teacher, but here the Buddha declares to Subhūti that this Dharma is the Prajñāpāramitā.

All these metaphors prepare the way for the ‘Sakti-ism’ of the Vajrayāna which pairs the Buddhas and bodhisattvas with female deities, with Mahiṣīs such as Locanā, Pāndaravāsinī, Māmaki, Tārā, etc. Cf. H. von Glasenapp, Buddhistische Mysterien, p. 154 sq.