The Power of Prajna

The power of Prajna

‘Know then that the Prajna Paramita is the great spiritual mantra, the great radiant mantra, the supreme mantra, the peerless mantra, which removes all suffering, the true, the unfailing. The mantra of the Prajna Paramita is taught and it is taught thus: Gone, gone, gone beyond, altogether beyond; Awakeningfulfilled!!’ (Gate, gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi, svaha!)

This section we shall take in one. What is the wonderful power of the Prajna wisdom? It is the great spiritual mantra, the radiant, uttermost, the peerless mantra. Mantra is a Sanskrit word, which is usually translated ‘spell’. In a spell there is the feeling of something over and above the words, and so it is that the term was used for the words of the Buddha which have inexhaustible depths of meaning in them. In each word of Buddha there is a depth of meaning, and hence they felt them to be untranslatable. It was thus natural that the mantras, or dharani as they are sometimes called, were never translated in transmission, but handed on in their original form.

The power of the Prajna wisdom is the great divine mantra; a profound and wonderful utterance of the Buddha. Then it is the great bright mantra, like a bright mirror without a trace of mist. It is the peerless mantra: sublime are the words of the Buddha. It is the mantra without an equal, peerless and transcendent.

Now we return to the first phrase, the great spiritual mantra. Spiritual powers are spoken of as miracle-working; to perform some extraordinary feat is commonly regarded as a manifestation of spiritual power. But surely it is not. To act from the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness, namely to act with the heart empty—this is all spiritual power and it is not what is called miracle.

In the Shobogenzo classic the teacher says: ‘The one of right wisdom is a Buddha, a patriarch; he is always manifesting it. Working with cloth or pail, presenting tea or taking tea, it is a spiritual manifestation, a divine manifestation. . . . What is called the great mantra is human affairs. Human affairs being the great mantra, the mantra is no other than manifestation in human affairs . . . Human actions of ordinary life are burning incense and reverent worship. The spiritual power of the mantra means to meet a man of right wisdom and serve him faithfully; it is offering tea and taking tea. These are the form of spiritual manifestation and there is no special miracle beyond that.

One thinks of the power of a mantra as something remote, but it is not so. The true spiritual power is in offering a cup of tea to the teacher. To serve with one’s whole heart in the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness is the real miracle-working. The mantra is human affairs, and that human action is burning incense and reverent worship. Morning and evening to serve a teacher in reverence is a form of the mantra.

During the lifetime of Master Dogen, his successor Ko-un served him constantly; and every night and morning he used to make a salutation and inquire after his health. In the morning he would ask him: Master, how are you? and in the evening when the teacher retired he would prostrate himself and ask: Master, is all well? After the death of the teacher, he used to bow before the wooden image of his teacher and ask the same questions every day.

In this way in the ordinary things of our life we must use the spiritual power of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness. So it is that the Prajna Paramita is the great mantra; it has the power of the great mantra. When we can pay reverence from the bottom of the heart, in that there be a great spiritual power.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect

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