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Prajñaparamita deity

Prajñaparamita (Skt. prajñāpāramitā; Tib. ཤེར་ཕྱིན་, ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ་, sherchin; Wyl. sher phyin, shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa) means 'Perfection of Wisdom', or more literally, ‘transcendent wisdom’.

It refers to:

  1. the sixth of the paramitas: perfect non-conceptual wisdom.
  2. the class of Buddhist literature that was mainly discovered by Nagarjuna in the second century. Its central topic is emptiness.
  3. the female deity who is the embodiment of transcendent wisdom.


"Prajnaparamita is the wisdom of directly realizing the non-conceptual simplicity of all phenomena, which has arrived at, or will lead one to, non-abiding nirvana."[1]


According to the teachings of the Abhisamayalankara, there are four subdivisions:

  1. natural prajnaparamita
  2. scriptural prajnaparamita
  3. path prajnaparamita
  4. resultant prajnaparamita



  1. From The Words of Jikme Chökyi Wangpo by Khenpo Tsöndrü.

External Links




Prajñāpāramitā (Sanskrit: प्रज्ञापारमिता) in Buddhism, means "the Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom."

The word Prajñāpāramitā combines the Sanskrit words prajñā ("Wisdom") with pāramitā ("perfection").

Prajñāpāramitā is a central concept in Mahāyāna Buddhism and its practice and understanding are taken to be indispensable elements of the Bodhisattva Path.

The practice of Prajñāpāramitā is elucidated and described in the genre of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, which vary widely in length and exhaustiveness.

The Prajñāpāramitā Sutras suggest that all things are illusory.

The earliest Mahayana Sutras were of the Prajñāpāramitā type.



Earliest texts

Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā

Western scholars have traditionally considered the earliest Sūtra in the Prajñāpāramitā class to be the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra or "Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines", which was probably put in Writing in the 1st century BCE.

This chronology is based on the views of Edward Conze, who largely considered dates of translation into other languages.

The first translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā into Chinese occurred in the 2nd century CE.

This text also has a corresponding version in verse format, called the Ratnaguṇasaṃcaya Gāthā, which some believe to be slightly older because it is not written in standard literary Sanskrit.

However, these findings rely on late-dating Indian texts, in which verses and mantras are often kept in more archaic forms.

Additionally, a number of scholars have proposed that the Mahāyāna Prajñāpāramitā teachings were first developed by the Caitika subsect of the Mahāsāṃghikas.

They believe that the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra originated amongst the southern Mahāsaṃghika schools of the Āndhra region, along the Kṛṣṇa River.

These Mahāsaṃghikas had two famous Monasteries near the Amarāvati and the Dhānyakataka, which gave their names to the schools of the Pūrvaśailas and the Aparaśailas.

Each of these schools had a copy of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in prakrit.

Guang Xing also assesses the view of The Buddha given in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra as being that of the Mahāsaṃghikas.

Edward Conze estimates that this Sūtra originated around 100 BCE.

Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā

In contrast to western scholarship, Japanese scholars have traditionally considered the Diamond Sūtra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) to be from a very early date in the development of Prajñāpāramitā literature.

The usual reason for this relative chronology which places the Vajracchedikā earlier is not its date of translation, but rather a comparison of the contents and themes.

Some western scholars also believe that the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra was adapted from the earlier Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra.

Examining the language and phrases used in both the Aṣṭasāhasrikā and the Vajracchedikā, Gregory Schopen also sees the Vajracchedikā as being earlier than the Aṣṭasāhasrikā.

This view is taken in part by examining parallels between the two works, in which the Aṣṭasāhasrikā seems to represent the later or more developed position.

According to Schopen, these works also show a shift in emphasis from an oral tradition (Vajracchedikā) to a written tradition (Aṣṭasāhasrikā).

Overview of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras


An Indian commentary on the Mahāyānasaṃgraha, entitled Vivṛtaguhyārthapiṇḍavyākhyā, gives a classification of teachings according to the capabilities of the audience:

[A]ccording to disciples' grades, the Dharma is [classified as] inferior and superior.

For example, the inferior was taught to the merchants Trapuṣa and Ballika because they were ordinary men; the middle was taught to the group of five because they were at the stage of saints; the eightfold Prajñāpāramitās were taught to Bodhisattvas, and [the Prajñāpāramitās] are superior in eliminating conceptually imagined forms.

The eightfold [Prajñāpāramitās] are the teachings of the Prajñāpāramitā as follows: the Triśatikā, Pañcaśatikā, Saptaśatikā, Sārdhadvisāhasrikā, Aṣṭasāhasrikā, Aṣṭadaśasāhasrikā, Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, and Śatasāhasrikā.

The titles of these eight Prajñāpāramitā texts are given according to their length.

The texts may have other Sanskrit titles as well, or different variations which may be more descriptive.

The lengths specified by the titles are given below.

  1. Triśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 300 lines, the Diamond Sūtra, or Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
  2. Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 500 lines
  3. Saptaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 700 lines, the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī's exposition of Prajñāpāramitā
  4. Sārdhadvisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 2500 lines, from the questions of Suvikrāntavikrāmin Bodhisattva
  5. Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 8000 lines
  6. Aṣṭadaśasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 18,000 lines
  7. Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 25,000 lines
  8. Śatasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 100,000 lines, also called the Mahaprajñapāramitā Sūtra

According to Joseph Walser, there is evidence that the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (25,000 lines) and the Śatasāhasrikā Prajñā pāramitā Sūtra (100,000 lines) have a connection with the Dharmaguptaka sect, while the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (8000 lines) does not.

In addition to these, there are also other Prajñāpāramitā sūtras such as the Heart Sūtra (Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya), which exists in both 14-line and 25-line versions.

Regarding the shorter texts, Edward Conze writes, "Two of these, the Diamond Sūtra and the Heart Sūtra are in a class by themselves and deservedly renowned throughout the World of Northern Buddhism.

Both have been translated into many languages and have often been commented upon."

Tāntric versions of the Prajñāpāramitā literature were produced from the year 500 CE on.

Additionally, Prajñāpāramitā Terma teachings are held by some Tibetan Buddhists to have been conferred upon Nāgārjuna by Nāgarāja, King of Nāgas, who had been guarding them at the bottom of the sea.

Xuanzang and the Mahaprajñapāramitā

Xuanzang returned to China from India with three copies of the Mahaprajñapāramitā Sūtra which he had secured from his extensive travels.[18]

Xuanzang, with a team of Disciple translators, commenced translating the voluminous work in 660 CE using the three versions to ensure the integrity of the source documentation.[18]

Xuanzang was being encouraged by a number of the Disciple translators to render an abridged version.

After a suite of Dreams quickened his decision, Xuanzang determined to render an unabridged, complete volume, faithful to the original of 600 fascicles.

Prajnaparamita in visual art

The Prajnaparamita is often personified as a bodhisattva devi (female Bodhisattva).

Artifacts from Nalanda depict the Prajnaparamita personified as a goddess.

The depiction of Prajnaparamita statue as a goddess is also can be found in ancient Java and Cambodian Art.

Prajnaparamita in Ancient Indonesia

Mahayana Buddhism took root in ancient Java Sailendra court in the 8th century CE.

The Mahayana reverence of female buddhist deity started with the cult of Tara enshrined in the 8th century Kalasan temple in Central Java.

Some of Prajnaparamita's important functions and attributes can be traced to those of the goddess Tara.

Tara and Prajnaparamita are both referred to as mothers of all Buddhas, since Buddhas are born from Wisdom.

The Sailendra dynasty was also the ruling family of Srivijaya buddhist empire in Sumatra.

During the reign of the third Pala king Devapala (815-854) in India, Srivijaya Maharaja Balaputra of Sailendras also constructed one of Nalanda’s main Monasteries in India itself.

Thereafter manuscript editions of the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra circulating in Sumatra and Java instigated the cult of the 'Goddess of Transcendent Wisdom'.[20]

In 13th century, the Tantric Buddhism gained royal patronage of king Kertanegara of Singhasari, and thereafter some of Prajnaparamita statues were produced in the region, such as the Prajnaparamita of Singhasari in East Java and Prajnaparamita of Jambi, Sumatra.

Both of East Java and Jambi Prajnaparamitas bear resemblance in style as they were produced in same period, however unfortunately Prajnaparamita of Jambi is headless and was discovered in poor condition.

The statue of Prajnaparamita of East Java is probably the most famous depiction of the goddes of transcendental Wisdom.

It was discovered in almost perfect condition in the Cungkup Putri ruins near Singhasari temple, Malang, East Java.

Local tradition links the statue to Queen Ken Dedes the first queen of Singhasari, probably as a deified portrayal of the queen.

Another opinion links the statue with Queen Gayatri, the consort of Kertarajasa the first king of Majapahit.

The statue was discovered in 1818 or 1819 by D. Monnereau, a Dutch East Indies official.

In 1820 Monnereau gave the statue to C.G.C. Reinwardt, who later brought the statue to the Netherlands, where it became a prized possession of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden.

In January 1978, the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde returned the statue to Indonesia, where it was placed in National Museum of Indonesia.

Today the beautiful and serene statue is displayed on 2nd floor Gedung Arca, Indonesian National Museum, Jakarta.

The statue of the goddess Prajnaparamita of East Java is considered the masterpiece of classical ancient Java Hindu-Buddhist art in Indonesia.

The serene expression and meditative pose and gesture suggest peace and wisdom, in contrast with rich and intricate jewelry and decorations.

The goddess wears her hair high arranged in Jatamakuta crown.

The goddess is in a perfect lotus meditative position sitting on a padmasana (lotus throne) on a square pedestal.

The goddess performs dharmachakra-mudra (the mudra symbolizing turning the wheel of dharma).

Her left arm is placed around an utpala (blue lotus), on top of which sits the lontar palm leaf book Prajnaparamita-sutra.

The statue stands before a carved stela, and behind her head radiates a halo or aura of light to suggest a divinity that has reached the highest wisdom.

Selected English translations

Author Title Publisher Notes Year
Edward Conze Selected Sayings from the Perfection of Wisdom ISBN 978-0877737094 Buddhist Society, London Portions of various Perfection of Wisdom sutras 1978
Rabten, Geshe Echoes of Voidness ISBN 0-86171-010-X Wisdom Includes the Heart Sutra with Tibetan commentary 1983
Edward Conze The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom ISBN 0-520-05321-4 University of California Mostly the version in 25,000 lines, with some parts from the versions in 100,000 and 18,000 lines 1985
Lopez, Donald S. The Heart Sutra Explained ISBN 0-88706-590-2 SUNY The Heart Sutra with a summary of Indian commentaries 1987
Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of Understanding ISBN 0-938077-11-2 Parallax Press The Heart Sutra with a Vietnamese Thiền commentary 1988
Edward Conze Buddhist Wisdom Books ISBN 0-04-440259-7 Unwin The Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra with commentaries 1988
Thich Nhat Hanh The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion ISBN 0-938077-51-1 Parallax Press The Diamond Sutra with a Vietnamese Thiền commentary 1992
Lex Hixon Mother of the Buddhas: Meditation on the Prajnaparamita Sutra ISBN 0-8356-0689-9 Quest Selected verses from the Prajnaparamita in 8000 lines 1993
Edward Conze The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and its Verse Summary ISBN 81-7030-405-9 Four Seasons Foundation The earliest text in a combination of strict translation and summary 1994
Lopez, Donald S. Elaborations on Emptiness ISBN 0-691-00188-X Princeton The Heart Sutra with eight complete Indian and Tibetan commentaries 1998
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Heart of Wisdom ISBN 0-948006-77-3 Tharpa The Heart Sutra with a Tibetan commentary 2001
Red Pine The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom; Text and Commentaries Translated from Sanskrit and Chinese ISBN 1-58243-256-2 Counterpoint The Diamond Sutra with Chán/Zen commentary 2001
Edward Conze Perfect Wisdom; The Short Prajnaparamita Texts ISBN 0-946672-28-8 Buddhist Publishing Group, Totnes. (Luzac reprint) Most of the short sutras: Perfection of Wisdom in 500 Lines, 700 lines, The Heart Sutra and The Diamond Sutra, one word, plus some Tantric sutras, all without commentaries. 2003
Red Pine The Heart Sutra: the Womb of Buddhas ISBN 978-1593760090 Counterpoint Heart Sutra with commentary 2004
14th Dalai Lama Essence of the Heart Sutra, ISBN 978-0-86171-284-7 Wisdom Publications Heart Sutra with commentary by the 14th Dalai Lama 2005
R.C. Jamieson The perfection of wisdom, ISBN 978-0-67088-934-1 Penguin Viking Foreward by H.H. the Dalai Lama; illustrated with Cambridge University Library Manuscript Add.1464 & Manuscript Add.1643 2000
Geshe Tashi Tsering Emptiness: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, ISBN 978-0-86171-511-4 Wisdom Publications A guide to the topic of emptiness from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, with English translation of the Heart Sutra 2009
Richard H. Jones The Heart of Buddhist Wisdom, ISBN 978-1478389576 Jackson Square Books Clear English translations of the Heart Sutra, the Diamond-Cutter Sutra, the Collection of Highest Qualities, and other texts with notes and essays 2012
Doosun Yoo Thunderous Silence: A Formula For Ending Suffering: A Practical Guide to the Heart Sutra, ISBN 978-1614290537 Wisdom Publications English translation of the Heart Sutra with Korean Seon commentary. 2013



Prajnaparamita - the Book that Became a Goddess One October night in 1816, Charles Cowden Clarke sat up late in his rooms in London, reading and talking with a young friend. Clarke and his friend loved literature, and they had managed to lay hands on a copy of Homer, translated by Chapman. It was dawn by the time they stopped reading and discussing. After his friend had gone, Clarke took a few hours sleep. On coming down to breakfast he found a note waiting for him. It was a perfectly turned sonnet from his fellow reader:

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne: Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific - and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise - Silent, upon a peak in Darien. Clarke's friend can only have had two or three hours in which to produce his poem. It would be an achievement for any poet to fashion something so fine so quickly, and after a sleepless night. For a twenty-year-old it was extraordinary.

That breakfast-time note to Clarke was one of the first declarations of the poetic genius of his friend John Keats. The 'realms of gold' in which Keats has travelled are of course the worlds of literature, of the imagination. (Among other things, Apollo is the god of poetry.) Through his poem we can remind ourselves of the tremendous value and power not just of literature, but of the written word. Nowadays we are glutted with print. So surfeited are we that it is easy to take books for granted. We can buy the thoughts of the world's greatest minds, and read them on the bus. However, the mass production of literature is still quite a new development.

Six or seven centuries ago every book was precious, for they all had to be painstakingly hand-copied. A prince with a hundred volumes would have possessed a large library. If you were a scholar at that time you would have had to wander from place to place - from one library to the next. You might have heard of a book and had to travel hundreds of miles to consult one of the few copies in existence. If you had wanted to study it intensively you would have had to stay where the book was kept, or copied it yourself, which might have taken months - even if you did not embellish the book, as was often done in the scriptoria of the monasteries. Or you might have travelled with your library on your back - like Marpa returning home to Tibet with the teachings he had gathered in India. And, like Marpa, you might easily have lost those hard-gained volumes. How would we feel if we had copied by hand all the books in our possession? How much more would we value them? Even for Keats, much closer to our own time, a new book was a treasure.

We need somehow to regain this feeling of appreciation, even of reverence, for books, if we are to begin to enter into a proper relationship with the Perfection of Wisdom literature. If even ordinary books can be so precious, then books containing the highest insights of humanity must be extraordinary treasures indeed. Ordinary books are valuable because they crystallize and preserve knowledge, memories, ideas, and experience. The Perfection of Wisdom literature encapsulates - as far as it is possible in words - the experience of Enlightenment. I am stressing this point because in almost any city in the Western world it is quite easy to buy a book of the Perfection of Wisdom and read that on the bus. How you read the Perfection of Wisdom (Sanskrit Prajnaparamita) literature is supremely important. One of the earliest Wisdom texts admonishes us in its opening line: Call forth as much as you can of love, of respect and of faith! Gaining wisdom is at least as much a matter of becoming receptive emotionally as of intellectual acuity.

This, as we shall see later, was one of the main reasons why the Perfection of Wisdom literature transformed itself into a goddess - to teach more effectively by appearing in a form that people would love to dwell upon. For Keats, Chapman's Homer is a catalyst. While reading, his imagination starts to fly. He feels as though he has seen a new planet, or discovered a new ocean. Hernan Cortez was the 'conquistador' who subdued the Aztecs. In the sonnet, though, he is a positive figure. Cortez has landed on the Caribbean coast of modern-day Panama. He has walked inland with his men and climbed a peak, to discover an ocean vaster than the one he has just crossed, stretching away below him. Gazing at this new realm of possibility, he and his men are struck silent.

Keats feels he has found a new vantage point in himself, seen possibilities he never knew existed. This should be the case when we first encounter the Perfection of Wisdom literature. The books themselves are just catalysts for a new vision of the universe. An undreamed of realm begins to unfold itself. If you enter fully into this golden realm, then, like Cortez's men, words will fail you. You will be unable to describe what you have apprehended. Someone who has used the Prajnaparamita literature to enter the transcendental realm is said to be like a mute who has had a dream.