Friday, September 25, 2009

Worshipping the Source: The Buddhist Goddess Prajnaparamita

The image to the left is a statue of the Buddhist Goddess Prajnaparamita. This particular version of Her is from the ancient Singosari Temple in Java dating from the 14th (or late 13th) century AD. There is a story that the model for the statue was a woman named Ken Dedes, the first queen of the Singasari Dynasty of Java (she was also the daughter of a Buddhist Priest).

The following is a description of the statue from the Virtual Collection of Masterpieces website:
The Prajnaparamita was first seen in 1818 or 1819 by the Dutch colonial official D. Monnereau. In 1820 Monnereau gave the statue to C.G.C. Reinwardt, who took it to Holland where it eventually came to be deposited in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden. Prajnaparamita is a goddess of high standing in Mahayana tantric Buddhism; she is considered the sakti, or consort, of the highest Buddha (in the Buddhist pantheon known as vajradhara), she symbolizes perfect knowledge. As with many statues from East Java, this one is thought to be the “portrait statue” of Rajapatni Gayatri queen, the wife of King Kertarajasa (the first King of Majapahit Kingdom), grandmother of Hayam Wuruk.
And the following is taken from the book Worshiping Shiva and Buddha: The Temple Art of East Java:
The finest sculpture found in the Singosari temple complex represents Prajnaparamita, the Buddhist Goddess of Transcendental Wisdom .... The pristine condition of the statue indicates that it was buried for some time.... When the Dutch [who colonized Java] found the sculpture in the early nineteenth century local people referred to it as Putri Dedes or Princess Dedes....

The Prajnaparamita sits in a lotus position on a double lotus cushion on top of a square base. Her hands are held in front forming the gesture of turning the wheel of the law of teaching the law [Dharma] of Buddhism. A lotus flower winding around her arm and rising above her head left shoulder holds her attribute, the book of transcendental wisdom [The Prajna Paramita Sutra]. The head with its perfectly chiseled features, downcast eyes, and forhead urna supports a high conical headdress and is surrounded by an oval halo. The figure is richly adorned with a patterned sarong and crisply detailed necklace, armbands, earrings, belts, bracelents, and a three-strand sacred thread.... The sculpture was taken to Holland in 1820 and returned to the republic of Indonesia in 1978 when Queen Juliana of the Netherlands visited the former Dutch colony; it has become perhaps the best known icon of Indonesian art. It is one of the rare images that successfully combines aesthetic perfection with spiritual power.
[p. 146]
Miranda Shaw devotes a chapter to Prajnaparamita in her Buddhist Goddesses of India, in which she writes
In the foundational body of Mahayana literature known as the Prajnaparamita or Perfection of Wisdom texts, the highest metaphysical principle, the energy, glory, and radiance of enlightened wisdom -- is envisioned as a cosmic female, the mother of knowledge, the source of all Buddhas. This goddess, known as Prajnaparamita (pronounced prahj nyah PAH RAH mee TAH), is regarded as the "mother" of all beings who attain enlightenment, for it is her wisdom that engenders liberation. She is the supreme teacher and eternal font of revelation. All who seek illumination must sit at her feet and drink from the stream of teachings that flow from her presence. Thus, Prajnaparamita is the ultimate source of refuge and object of reverence, for only those who prize wisdom above all else may attain it. Even Buddhas and bodhisattvas pay homage to her, because to her they owe their omniscience. To worship a Buddha, the relics of a Buddha, or a stupa is to honor what she has brought into being; to revere her directly is to worship the source.

Just as philosophy is the queen of the sciences, Prajnaparamita is the
philosophiae regina, the Buddhist Sophia, a dazzling figure who represents the transcendent wisdom that crowns the intellectual and spiritual quest. In the wake of the contending schools of Abhidharma philosophy, mother Prajnaparamita arose to cast her serene, clear sighted gaze of nondual wisdom over all disputants. Her luminous, golden persona draws her devotees away from worldly attachments and into the encompassing splendor of her mystical mother light.

Prajnaparamita shares her name with the literature in which she appears, the philosophy with which she is associated, and the knowledge she personifies. The text that introduces both the philosophy and the goddess, [is] the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra, or 8000-Line Perfect Wisdom Scripture .... Although the work advances a systematic philosophical viewpoint, its language is redolent with poesy, devotion, and emotional fervor as it celebrates the goddess and her namesake wisdom.
[pp. 166-167]
If you are into old school idolatry like I am, you'll probably want to have your very own graven image of the Buddhist Goddess of Wisdom for your altar, meditation room, foyer, etc. They are available from goddessgift.net, and sacredsource.com and probably from many other vendors as well. And here is my own favorite English version of the Heart Sutra (from the Kwan Um School of Zen website):

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra,
form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness;
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra,
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.


Lastly, here is a link to an extremely rockin' version of the Heart Sutra, chanted by some Japanese nuns: http://www.zenmind.org/Hannya-Shingyo.mp3

2 comments:

Marcus said...

Hi,

Thank you. And, if it's okay, I've just added your post to my list of Heart Sutra Resources:

http://marcusjournal.blogspot.com/2009/03/know-and-proclaim-its-truth.html

All the best and with palms together,

Marcus

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Your welcome - and please feel free to add this post to your list of Heart Sutra Resources!