Prajna-paramita Sutra: English version with commentary11 min read

Of all the noble utterances attributed to the World- Honoured One, Shakyamuni, Prajna-paramita Sutra is held to be the greatest.

Other Sutras like Vajrachhedika or Diamond-cutter, Saddharma-Pundarika or Lotus, and The Questions of King Milinda, contain deep metaphysical teachings ; but for a practical realization of Supreme Consciousness, Prajna-paramita Sutra is unrivalled. In the whole of the Mahayana world it is held in the greatest sanctity.

It is recited daily and on every ceremonial occasion by the monks of China and Japan.

No Buddhist rite is ever performed in Japan without a reading of the Hannya-haramitsu, as the Sutra is called.

The Chinese translation by the illustrious Indian monk Kumarajiva is considered a classic.

The modern Indian yogi who imparted it to the translator had acquired a very high degree of consciousness and saintliness by japa (silent repetition) of this great Sutra. This teacher, Shri Khunnilalji Shastri, lived in Bareilly and had renounced the world in his youth in order to attain the state of a Buddha. He was a remarkable classical scholar, and claimed that recitation of this Sutra unfailingly pacified the surging tides of the mind. After writing a commentary, he had thousands of copies printed and distributed. Before that time there existed “ A Hundred Thousand Verses on the Prajna-paramita ” and “ Eight Thousand Verses on the Prajna-paramita ”. Both of these were dissertations on the spiritual gains to be won by those who repeated the Sutra, who distributed copies of it, who taught it to others, or kept it with feelings of reverence in their homes. Shri Khunnilalji lent me a copy of the “ Eight Thousand Verses ” for a few weeks.

The celestial beings known as Devas are said to visit the spot where a recitation of the Prajna-paramita Sutra is given in the traditional way. When the holy Muni Siddhartha Gautama sat for seven consecutive days and nights under the Bo-tree, he recited this Sutra. As a result of the long fast and faithful recitation, he obtained Enlightenment and became a Buddha. The devout Khunnilalji followed his master, the World-Honoured One, in reciting the Sutra but the result was a frustration. It is too long a story to be repeated here.

Adoration to God is a loving recitation of His great attributes. To meditate on God is not to meditate on a void but on His attributes, for the absolute aspect is beyond the reach of the mind. The first attribute of the Lord is omniscience, the second is omnipotence.

The evidence of design and power observed in every phase of nature indicates the omniscience and omnipotence of the Supreme Lord. Prajna-paramita literally means “ the spiritual wisdom in its transcendental aspect ”. The Sutra is an adoration of that aspect, which at times is addressed as the “ Blessed Goddess ”.

It is said in the commentary that the World-Honoured One blessed this Sutra and, in a way, appointed it as his successor, meaning thereby that the blessings and benefits which his followers gaineci from association with the Buddha would continue to flow towards those who recited the verses in the prescribed way. While living in the holy city of Shambal at the beginning of this century, the translator undertook a few hundred thousand repetitions of the Sutra. The great inner peace and joy which were experienced from the recitation sprang from the depth of the soul. Some of the sweetest experiences of this life were the keeping of the vigils on full-moon nights reciting the holy Sutra in a Shiva temple in a wood.

Although the Sutra is Buddhist in character, it is universal in import and application. We give a translation with short comments to elucidate any obscurity.

Prajna-paramita Sutra

1 . Om. O Prajna-paramita, Thou art not subject to thought. Thou art boundless wisdom (Jree from all artificiality and creativeness). Salutations unto Thee, O omnipresent One, who art free from all limitations. The yogi who has risen above defects and sins perceives Thee (in samadhi).

2. Like ether (akasha) Thou art free from all taints. Indestructible art Thou, without the least associationship with the unreal world. Those who realize Thee through contemplative love, see the holy Tathagata {Buddha)

3. The wise make no distinction between Thee, the source of all excellent attributes, and the Lord Buddha, the Blessed Teacher of the world. As there is no distinction between the moon and its light {so there is no difference between Thee, O Blessed Goddess, and the Supreme Being).

It is therefore right to say that the man who sees Thee with love, sees God. Omniscience is merely another name for the power of knowledge of the Supreme Lord.

4.  O Protector of Thy devotees, the yogi who takes refuge in Thee, O Essence of grace, on the path of achievement, becomes a Mahatma.

The Divine Wisdom is the guide on the path of yoga and the yogi who consciously knows It becomes omniscient (becomes Brahman).

5. The sight of Thee is never fruitless. The yogi {who has undergone the prescribed yogic discipline with a firm resolve to achieve Nirvana, and) who has seen Thee with a mind free from desire and aversion, obtains spiritual perfection.

“ Amogha ” translated as “ never fruitless ” means “ never missing the target.” The yogi who sits in one firm posture repeating this holy text while meditating on its meaning, and abstaining from food, sleep and movement, obtains spiritual perfection on the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth day. Shri Khunnilalji Shastri used to undertake this practice twice a year, but the disturbances caused by the supernatural agencies called Mara did not permit him to continue it for more than four days.

6. Like a mother, Thou lovest real heroes who fully employ their minds in benevolence to others.

The meaning is that those who serve the spiritual ends of others or remove their sufferings by legitimate means are the real sons of the Blessed Mother Prajna-paramita, and She confers omniscience on them.

7. Yogis who, having attained to enlightenment, devote the remaining part of their lives to doing good {particularly spiritual good) to others, are called compassionate Teachers. They are true sons of Divine Wisdom. O auspicious Mothery Thou art the real Teacher of all.

8. O Thou taintless One, all other virtues (and spiritual powers like shanti) follow Thee as the stars follow the moon.

A yogi may have great qualities and spiritual powers but they do not shine forth until Divine Wisdom is acquired. The five great virtues (paramitas) are charity, good conduct, unconditional forgiveness, endurance, and meditation.

9. (Omniscient yogis called) Tathagatas instruct each pupil according to his mental and spiritual advancement. They adore Thee by different means. Although Thou art One, O Mother, still Thou hast many forms.

10. As the particles of mist are dispelled by the rays of the sun, so are the yogis doubts, theories and counter-theories ended when he has seen Thee.

The intellect is unable to resolve the doubts about the reality of the universe, its genesis and progress, its meaning and purpose. The greater the intellect, the greater the web of entanglement it produces in the realm of metaphysics. The wise postpone consideration of the deeper metaphysical problems until they have tranquillised the mind and aroused in it the light which perceives Truth. The yoga is practical: the yogi is a realist.

11. To the stupid, who are like children, Thou appearest terrible. To the wise, Thy pleasing appearance gives boundless confidence.

The wise love to sacrifice life at the altar of yogic truth. The stupid hesitate to start a wholehearted practice of yoga because, while scepticism dominates their minds, they quote examples of the seeming misfortunes which came to yogis like Socrates, Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Father Francis Xavier, and Shri Swami Rama Tirtha.

12. O Mother, the yogi who has seen Thee and is not attached (i.e., who has achieved omniscience and is not attached to it), how can he be attracted or repelled by any object in the world ?

To be free from the attraction to pleasure and aversion from pain is the highest state of the mind.

13. Neither comest Thou from anywhere, nor dost Thou go anywhere. It is not possible to see Thee at any particular spot or at any particular time.

There is no particularly sacred spot except one’s purified mind where the great experience of samadhi is realized. It is natural to the mind and neither comes nor goes. As waves and bubbles rise and abide in water, so does the experience of one’s divinity ever abide in the substratum of the mind.

14. Although Thou canst not be seen by other means, yet, by taking refuge in Thee with his whole hearty a yogi comes to ‘ Thee and is freed. How wonderful!

Taking loving refuge in God is the key to spiritual reformation. God is not realized by thought or feelings ; they are great barriers on the path. This verse is a reiteration of the doctrine given by Shri Krishna at the end of the Bhagawad Gita.

15. He who sees Thee {and remains attached to omniscience) is not ideally released. Release is impossible for him who does not see Thee. He is ideally released who sees Thee (without feeling attached). He is ideally released who does not see Thee (i.e. who,  having seen Thee, thinks compassionately of those who are yet boundy and does not wholly concentrate on the omniscience he has achieved).

Shri Khunnilalji, commenting on this verse, says that during the candidature for release, the more one is attached to omniscience the better it is. This is the key to the purification of the antahkarana. On the achievement of omniscience, however, the yogi thinks with compassion and detachment of those still in bondage.

16. Thou transcendest the range of the mind. Nobody can comprehend Thee {through the exercise of reason or other mental faculty). Thy fame fills the world. Thou canst not easily be known. Like Mayay Thou art seen and yet not seen.

At the same place, at the same time, a devoted and disciplined yogi can see Thee although a worldly man cannot.

17. Thou art the object of pursuit and devotion of BuddhaSy Pratyeka-buddhas and Shravakas. Thou alone art the way to  release; there is not the least doubt.                                      ‘

That yogi who acquires omniscience (nirvikalpa-samadhi) in order to effect the release of innumerable people is called a Buddha. A Pratyeka-buddha is a yogi who acquires enlightenment after passing through the stage of being a Shravaka, and his vow of releasing others remains unformed. A Shravaka is a yogi who cares only for his personal enlightenment.

18. Yogis cannot teach about Thy true nature {which they experience in the state of samadhi. Thereforey descending to the realm of empirical experience)y such Lords of the world speak of Thee in relative termSy prompted solely by compassion to teach others.

19. (O Divine Mother)y who can adore Thee ? Thou art causeless (and the world is Thy effect). Thou art formless and subject to no modification. (Yet Thou canst be discerned by the divine eye : otherwise) Thou art beyond description. Thou art the support of the whole world.

20. Although Thou art beyond the range of adoration, 0 Transcendental PFisdom, yet we adore Thee, knowing that adoration is a means to release.

21. By whatever merit I have acquired by this adoration of Shri Prajna-paramita, may all the peoples oj the world acquire enlightenment!

Translated by H.P.S

This English version of the Prajna-paramita Sutra is dedicated to the memory of Yogi Shri Khunnilalji Shastri, who conferred many spiritual boons and his most loving friendship on the translator.

A note by Shri Khunnilalji Shastri reads as follows in translation:

“ There are five special means whereby perfection can be acquired; samadhi (spiritual trance), tapas (austerity), worship of the Devas (celestial beings), wholehearted service of a Guru (Teacher), and jap a (silent repetition of mantra). People who during past incarnations have acquired merit, undertake the first four. Those whose merit is small, have no fixity of purpose and cannot endure lengthy tapas, can perform jap a. Only by the grace of an incarnation of God can one have a firm desire for worship. Unless one is sattwic (virtuous and spiritually-minded) the Devas do not love one. A worldly man seldom recognizes a yogi even when he meets one; if he does recognize one, he does not know how to serve him wholeheartedly. Therefore the most compassionate yogis have composed mantras and bestowed on them the power to pacify the mind of the reciter. Every mantra has a presiding deity. The mantras presided over by Kuvera and Indra can give the blessing of an abode in their regions, but not enlightenment: the cycle of births and deaths is not terminable by such mantras. Yogis who seek enlightenment and omniscience undertake repetition of a mantra which has the blessing of an enlightened yogi. Such a mantra is endowed with the power of its presiding deity. It must be given to the practicant by a Guru who himself received it from his Guru.

“ The great classic ‘ Eight Thousand Verses on the Prajna- paramita’ contains a long account of the merits of reciting this mantra. I received it from a Mahatma named Shri Lakhapatiraya Bhakta, who lived in Bareilly and acquired the highest state of shanti (inner peace). He passed his life in the practice of tapas and conferred spiritual favours on many people of Bareilly.