Prajnaparamita -The Great Mother
(Devanagari: प्रज्ञापारमिता, Tibetan: ་ཤེས་རབ་ཕ་རོལ་ , Traditional Chinese: 般若波羅蜜多;Simplified Chinese: 般若波罗蜜 多; pinyin: bōrě bōluómìduō; Japanese: 般若波羅蜜多; Korean: 반야파라밀 다; Vietnamese: Bát-nhã-ba-la-mật-đa; Thai: มหาปรัชญาปารมิตาหฤทัยสูตร; Mongolian: Төгөлдөр билгүүн) (2)
The Mother of all the Buddhas, the Great Mother, the figure of Prajnaparamita is referred to by many names and she is seen to be the embodiment of transcendent wisdom. She was not necessarily always seen in anthropomorphic form when the teachings of the Prajnaparamita were originally formulated around 100 BCE.
In Tibet Prajnaparamita is known as Yum Chenmo or the “Great Mother” and features prominently in the Chod dharma system created by one of the most well known yoginis Machik Labdron (approx. 1055-1150ce) who is considered to be an emanation of Yum Chenmo (16).
Jerome Edou quotes Machik's biography in his book Machig Labdron and the foundations of Chod with this description of Yum Chenmo given to Machik Labdron by the Bodhisattva Tara Herself to explain why she manifests in an anthropomorphic manner:
There are various versions of these Prajnaparamita Sutras which are classified by length: a 100,000 lines, 25,000 lines and 8,000 lines as well as a very popular short version commonly known as the Heart Sutra and is used throughout most Mahayana schools of Buddhism.
With the hope that one day there would come a time when people would be ready for this information, the manuscripts of these wisdom discourses, including the teachings found in the heart sutra, were given to the serpent king Nagaraja.
The importance of the story lies in why the story was created. This story is used to prove the validity of the heart sutra.
These second turning teachings on the Prajnaparamita not only reiterate the first turning teachings, such as no-self (anatman), but also introduce the concept of emptiness (shunyata) of phenomenon as well.
Since this experience of emptiness is the birthplace of the realization of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas thus Prajnaparamita, the perfect wisdom that sees emptiness, is seen to be the “mother” to all the Buddhas. (16)
“Thus we can postulate that the abstract absolute made this leap into the relative world of form sometime between the first appearance of the wisdom literature and the fourth century, using the intermediary springboard of Word (“mother”) as metaphor.” The Unequaled Mantra
Machick Labdron (approx. 1055-1150ce)
She was reportedly exceptionally fast at this and could read the long 100,000 verse Prajnaparamita Sutra in one day and was therefore in high demand (20) as a reader.
She took up a monastic life to avoid the social requirement of marriage which allowed her to devote her life to the dharma. Eventually she concluded her time as a nun when she married her husband Topa Draya.
With her husband Machik she raised several children.
Many of these children are said to have been prominent figures in the Buddhist tradition bases on their devotion and achievements(20). For this reason many praise Machik for the valuable lineage she was able to give to the Buddhist tradition.
Even with the added responsibility of raising a family she was still able to pursue a life devoted to the dharma. This devotion to the dharma eventually blossomed into a new Buddhist practice referred to as Chöd.
The Dharma system created by Machik Labdron called Chöd is a Vajrayana sadhana practice that features Yum Chenmo at different points throughout the practice, utilizes the Prajnaparamita Mantra, and were the practicioner visualizes,
Chod practicioners were historically charnel ground dwelling yogis and yogini's who were known for there outragoues styles of dress, and also like the Prajnaparamita literature, the practice is commonly associated with exorcisms and funerary rituals. (15)
This usage of visualization drives home the concept of non-attachment and inherent non-existence to self that is referenced in the Prajnaparamita literature, and further emphasizes the link between the Prajnaparamita philosophy and the practice of Chod.
In the forms of Yum Chenmo and Prajnaparamita she is exclusively represented as a female bodied individual which is given away by her breasts rather than any other feature such as face shape or hair length which are ambiguous gender markers in Southern Asian art.
Prajnaparamita represented as a female satisfies the internal primal need for reverence toward the divine feminine which has existed in human art since paleolithic times in the form of, for example, the Venus of Wilendorf and also in modern art such as the depiction of the virgin Marry, the Goddess Amarterasu, the Goddess Lakshmi, etc. and other female religious figures.
In previous Buddhist thought as well as the thinking of some contemporary sects birth as a female is considered a lesser birth than that of a male but in some Mahayana sects a female birth may not be considered any less noble a birth than that of a male.
Her first two hands are in the meditation mudra, or hand gesture, in which the thumbs touch and the fingers interlace. Her other two arms she holds symbolic ritual objects which represent meaning in the context of the Bodhisattva's attributes.
She is seated atop a lotus blossom, typical of representations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas however unusually the lotus rides atop a wisp of clouds (somewhat similar to representations of beings in the God realm in Buddhism and Hinduism) perhaps representative of her ethereal nature as a solely personified concept rather than as an historical figure.
The smaller Buddha above her represents Buddha Shakyamuni; his position above her may be to emphasize his supremacy in Buddhist veneration as well as his status as a fully enlightened being rather than a bodhisattva.
This is interesting in that it may be linked to the perceptions of many ancient societies that there was some connection between a woman's menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle of full moon to new moon (12) both of which take about a month to cycle through.
There are however alternative representations of prajnaparamita, such as being depicted with only two arms, or standing rather than sitting. The Mudra, or hand gesture she displays can also vary from the Meditation mudra to prayer mudra or even turning the wheel of Dharma mudra as well as possibly others.
The accouterments she is depicted with can also vary like when she is not holding the Sutra directly in her second left hand there is often a lotus flower that extends from her left hand and holds the text on top of it as seen to the left.
16: Machik's Complete Explanation
Articles containing word "Prajñāpāramitā" in title
- Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā
- Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
- Aṣṭādaśasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā
- Great Masters of Prajñāpāramitā-yāna
- Mahā PrajñāpāramitāŚāstra
- Mahāprajñāpāramitā Mañjuśrīparivarta Sūtra
- Mahāprajñāpāramitā Upadeśa
- Pañcaviṃśati-sāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā
- Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya
- Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sutra
- Prajñāpāramitā Mantra
- Prajñāpāramitā Sutra
- Prajñāpāramitā Sutras
- Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
- Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras
- Prajñāpāramitā Vajracchedikā Sutra
- Prajñāpāramitā hṛdaya
- Prajñāpāramitā sutra
- Prajñāpāramitā sutras
- Prajñāpāramitā sūtras
- Rishushakukyo Prajñāpāramitā Nayasūtra: Daily Tokudo Recitation
- Saptaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
- Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā
- Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
- Was there really a Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in Prakrit?
- Ārya Vajracchedikā Nāma Prajñāpāramitā Mahāyāna Sūtra
- Śata-sāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā