Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom

1. Maka Hannya Haramitsu

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1.Maka Hannya Haramitsu

Practicing Deepest Wisdom3



The time of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva practicing profound prajñāpāramitā is the whole body clearly seeing the emptiness of all five aggregates.4 The five aggregates are forms, sensations, perceptions, predilections, and consciousness; this is the fivefold prajñā. Clear seeing is itself prajñā. To unfold and manifest this essential truth, the Heart Sūtra states that “form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” Form is nothing but form; emptiness is nothing but emptiness. Hence, there are the hundred blades of grass, the ten thousand things.

The twelve sense-fields are twelve instances of prajñāpāramitā.5 Also, there are eighteen instances of prajñā: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;4 form, sound, smell, taste, touch, objects of mind; as well as the consciousnesses of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

Further, there are four examples of prajñā: suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path [to cessation].6 Moreover, there are six instances of prajñā: generosity, pure precepts, calm patience, diligence, quiet meditation, and wisdom.7 There is also a single instance of prajñāpāramitā manifesting itself right now—unsurpassable complete, perfect awakening.8

Also there are three instances of prajñāpāramitā: past, present, and future. And there are six instances of prajñā: earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness.9 Also four instances of prajñā are going on daily: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.

There was a monk in the assembly of Śākyamuni Tathāgata. He thought to himself, “I should venerate and make prostrations to this most profound prajñāpāramitā. Although prajñāpāramitā teaches that within all things there is neither arising nor extinguishing, there are practical approaches such as the skandhas of maintaining the precepts of body, mouth, and mind, of quietly meditating, of enacting wisdom and emancipation, and of the insight resulting from emancipation.10 Also there are the practical approaches consisting of the ranks of those entering the stream, the once-returners, those who will no longer return, and5 the arhats.11 Self-awakening is also a practical approach.12 Unsurpassable perfect awakening is yet another practical approach. The [Triple] Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are also a practical approach. Turning the wondrous Dharma wheel, saving various sentient beings, is also a practical approach.”

The Buddha, knowing the monk’s thoughts, said, “So it is! So it is! The most profound prajñāpāramitā is indeed subtle and difficult to fathom.”

The monk realizes now that by venerating and making prostrations to all things, he is venerating and making prostrations to prajñā, which teaches that even though there is neither arising nor extinguishing, there is arising and extinguishing. In this very moment of veneration and prostration, prajñā manifests itself in practical approaches such as keeping the precepts, quietly meditating, manifesting wisdom, and so forth, and saving various sentient beings. This [moment of veneration] is called nothingness. The approaches to nothingness thus become practical. This [veneration] is the most profound prajñāpāramitā, subtle and difficult to fathom.

Indra asked the Elder Subhūti, “Venerable one, when bodhisattva-mahāsattvas want to study the most profound prajñāpāramitā, how should they do it?” Subhūti replied; “Kausika,13 when bodhisattva-mahāsattvas want to study the most profound prajñāpāramitā, they should study it as empty space.”14

Therefore, to study6 prajñā is itself empty space. Empty space is studying prajñā.15

Indra spoke again to the Buddha, “World-honored one, when good men and women accept and keep, read and recite, ponder in accord with reality, and expound to others this profound prajñāpāramitā [which you have just] presented, how can I protect them? World-honored one, I simply wish that you bestow your compassion and teach me.”

At that time, the Elder Subhūti said to Indra, “Kausika, do you see a Dharma that can be protected, or not?”

Indra replied, “No! Venerable one, I don’t see any Dharma that I can protect.”

Subhūti said, “Kausika, when good men and women speak as you have, the most profound prajñāpāramitā is itself protection. If good men and women act as you said they do, they are never separate from the most profound prajñāpāramitā. You should know that, even if all human and nonhuman beings wanted to harm them, it would not be possible to do so. Kausika, if you want to protect them, you should do as you said. Wanting to protect the most profound prajñāpāramitā and all bodhisattvas is not different from wanting to protect empty space.”

You should know that accepting and keeping, reading and reciting, pondering in accord with reality, is nothing other than protecting prajñā. The desire to protect is accepting and keeping, reading and reciting, and so on.

My late master, the ancient buddha, said:

The whole body [of the wind bell] is like a mouth hanging in empty space—

Without distinguishing the winds from east, west, south, or north

Together expressing prajñā equally to all beings—

Di ding dong liao di ding dong.16

This is how prajñā has been expressed authentically7 through the buddhas and ancestors. The whole body is prajñā. All others [which include the self] are prajñā. The whole self [which includes others] is prajñā. The entire universe—east, west, south, and north—is prajñā.

Śākyamuni Buddha said, “Shariputra, all these sentient beings should make offerings and prostrations to prajñāpāramitā as they do to a living buddha. They should contemplate prajñāpāramitā just as they make offerings and prostrations to a buddha-bhagavat.17 What is the reason? Prajñāpāramitā is not different from a buddha-bhagavat. A buddha-bhagavat is not different from prajñāpāramitā. Prajñāpāramitā is itself a buddha-bhagavat. A buddha-bhagavat is itself prajñāpāramitā. What is the reason? Shariputra! This is because8 all supreme awakened tathāgatas issue from prajñāpāramitā. Shariputra! This is because all bodhisattva-mahāsattvas, pratyekabuddhas, arhats, nonreturners, once-returners, stream-enterers, and so on issue from prajñāpāramitā. Shariputra! This is because the way of the ten good deeds in the world, the four quiet meditations, the four formless samadhis, and the five divine powers all issue from prajñāpāramitā.”18

Therefore, a buddha-bhagavat is itself prajñāpāramitā. Prajñāpāramitā is nothing other than all beings. All these beings are empty in form, without arising or extinguishing, neither defiled nor pure, without increasing or decreasing. Actualizing this prajñāpāramitā is to actualize buddha-bhagavat. Inquire into it! Practice it! Making offerings and prostrations [to prajñāpāramitā] is attending and serving buddha-bhagavat. Attending and serving [all beings] is itself buddha-bhagavat.

Expounded to the assembly at Kannon-dōri-in [Monastery], on a day of the summer practice period in the first year of Tenpuku [1233]. Copied by Ejō while serving at the attendants office [jisharyo] of the Yoshimine Monastery on the twenty-first day of the third month, spring of the second year of Kangen (1243).

  3.   “Maka Hannya Haramitsu” (): in Sanskrit, “Mahāprajñāpāramitā,” or “Practicing Deepest Wisdom.” Pāramitā (in Japanese, haramitsu or ) refers to the perfecting or practicing of prajñā (hannya) or deepest wisdom. Deepest wisdom, in this case, means the wisdom to cut through the roots of our selfish greed, ignorance, and anger.

  4.   The aggregates (Skt: skandhas; Jpn: goun, ) are the five elements of existence. In the case of human beings, form is the physical body and the four elements are mental.

  5.   The twelve sense-fields (Skt: dvādaśa-āyatana) are the six sense-organs and their objects. These are the first twelve of the eighteen dhatus (Skt: aṣṭādaśa-dhātavaḥ) mentioned in the next sentence.

  6.   These are the four noble truths, which are considered to be the Buddha’s first teaching.

  7.   These are the six pāramitās, which are the basic points of bodhisattva practice. The Prajñāpāramitā sūtras assert that prajñā (wisdom) is the most essential among the six points.

  8.   In Sanskrit, anuttarā samyak-saṃbodhi. This is the same “the one supreme living and enlightened reality” referred to in “Shoaku Makusa.”

  9.   These are the six elements of all existence. To the original four of Theravādan Buddhism, Mahāyāna added space, and Vajrayana added consciousness.

  10.   These are called five merits of the Dharma-body (Jpn: gobun-hosshin, ).

  11.   These are the four ranks of śrāvaka, which means those who listened to the Buddha’s voice: (1)Šstream-enterers (Skt: srota-āpatti-phala; Jpn: yoruka, ), (2)Šonce-returners (Skt: sakṛd-āgāmi-phala; Jpn: ichiraika, ), (3)Šnonreturners (Skt: anāgāmi-phala; Jpn: fugenka, ), and (4)Šarhats (Skt: arhat-phala; Jpn: arakanka, ).

  12.   This refers to pratyekabuddhas, who practiced by themselves, attained enlightenment without a teacher, and did not teach others. The path of pratyekabuddhas and śrāvakas were called the “two small vehicles” by Mahāyāna (greater vehicle) Buddhists.

  13.   Indra is a guardian god of Buddhadharma; Kausika was his name when he was a human being before he became a god.

  14.   This refers to Mahāyāna practitioners. Literally bodhisattva means one who has aroused a Way-seeking mind (), and mahāsattva refers to a great being.

  15.   To study prajñā is to study things just as they are, in their ungraspable nature.

  16.   Dōgen’s teacher Tendō Nyojō wrote this poem about a wind bell hanging under the temple roof. In the Hōkyō-ki (), Dōgen recorded his conversation with Nyojō about this poem.

Dōgen made one hundred prostrations and said, “In your poem about the wind bell, I read in the first line, ‘The whole body [of the wind bell] is like a mouth hanging in empty space’ and in the third line, ‘Together expressing prajñā equally to all beings.’ Is the empty space referred to one of the form [rūpa] elements? Skeptical people may think empty space is one of the form elements. Students today don’t understand Buddhadharma clearly and consider the blue sky as the empty space. I feel sorry for them.”

Nyojō replied with compassion, “This empty space is prajñā. It is not one of the form elements. The empty space neither obstructs nor unobstructs. Therefore, this is neither simple emptiness nor truth relative to falsehood. Various masters haven’t understood even what the form is, much less emptiness. This is due to the decline of Buddhadharma in this country.”

Dōgen remarked, “This poem is the utmost in excellence. Even if they practice forever, the masters in all corners of the world would not be able to match it. Every one of the monks appreciates it. Having come from a far-off land, and being inexperienced, as I unroll the sayings of other masters in various texts, I have not yet come across anything like this poem. How fortunate I am to be able to learn it!

“As I read it, I am filled with joy and tears moisten my robe and I am moved to prostration because this poem is direct and also lyrical.”

When Nyojō was about to ride on a sedan-chair, he said with a smile, “What you say is profound and has the mark of greatness. I composed this poem while I was at Chingliang monastery. Although people praised it, no one has ever penetrated it as you do. I acknowledge that you have the Eye. You must compose poems in this way.”

  17.   Bhagavat is one of the ten epithets of a buddha, which is usually translated as “World-Honored One.”

  18.   The ten good deeds are (1)Šnot killing living beings, (2)Šnot stealing what is not given, (3)Šnot committing sexual misconduct, (4)Šnot telling lies, (5)Šnot uttering harsh words, (6)Šnot uttering words that cause disharmony between two or more persons, (7)Šnot engaging in idle talk, (8)Šnot being greedy, (9)Šnot giving in to anger, and (10)Šnot having mistaken views.

The four quiet meditations refer to the four steps of meditation in the realm of form (Skt: rūpadhātu). The four formless samadhis are the four stages of meditation in the realm of no-form (arūpadhātu).

In India people thought a practitioner could attain five super-human powers by the practice of meditation: (1)Šthe ability to go anywhere at will and to transform oneself or objects at will, (2)Šthe ability to see anything at any distance, (3)Šthe ability to hear any sound at any distance, (4)Šthe ability to read another’s mind, and (5)Šthe ability to know one’s and others’ former lives.

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