The Buddhas in the world-systems in the ten directions
bring to mind this perfection of wisdom as their mother.
The Saviors of this world who were in the past, and also are
now in the ten directions,
have issued from her, and so will the the future ones be.
She is the one who shows this world [for what it is],
she is the genetrix, the mother of the Buddhas.

~ Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines

Joanna Macy, Buddhist scholar-practitioner, eco-philosopher, and spiritual activist, describes The Mother of All Buddhas, prajñaparamita, the feminine embodiment of non-dual wisdom, as “the love of my life – at least the numinous, nonphysical part of it.” For Macy, she is “an intellectual delight, emotional ground, and inner authority.” In her book World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy explores how Buddhist understandings of wisdom and interdependence can support work to heal our world. Here are a few excerpts from her exploration of prajñaparamita, based on The Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines

Clothed in Light and Space

“She presents the archetypal structure very different from the feminine attributes we have inherited from patriarchal thought. Freed from the dichotomies that oppose earth to sky, flesh to spirit, the feminine appears clothed in light and space. She is that pregnant zero point where the illusion of ego is lost and the world, no longer feared, is re-entered with compassion.”

A Way of Seeing

“Because she pointed to the reality which eludes classifications, this wisdom, prajña, was called paramita, which means ‘gone beyond’ or to the ‘other side,’ as well as ‘perfection.’ To those who were dryly and doggedly analyzing the dharmas, she offered not theories, but paradoxes. ‘Countless beings do I lead to Nirvana and yet there are none who are led to Nirvana.’ ‘The bodhisattva will go forth – but he will not go forth to anywhere.’ ‘In the Buddha’s teachings he trains, (but) no training is this training and no one is trained.’ ‘In his jubilation he transforms all dharmas, but none are transformed, for dharmas are illusory.’

No formula captured her insight, but through the paradoxes shone a light offering release from the self-adhesive nature of human logic. The self is non-substantial, and so also are its concepts, the very dharmas into which the self was analyzed. They are as empty as the self, existing only in relation to it. Thus does Perfection of Wisdom return to the Buddha’s quintessential doctrine, the radical interdependence of all things…

…This wisdom then, then is not the kind one can think oneself into. It is a way of seeing. Without it, the very practice of virtue and meditation can be an ego prop, to which we cling in pride or desperation. With it, the world (samsara) is altered – not suppressed or rejected, but transfigured.” 

Light and Insight

“The mother, like the wisdom she offers, is elusive. She is barely personalized in the sutra; no stories attach to her, no direct speech is accorded her, no physical descriptions are offered. None of the gestures, colors, or adornments that will figure in the images made of her centuries later are presented. The dozen or so epithets for her in our sutra appear mostly in passing, as if self-explanatory – “Prajnaparamita, the mother,” “Mother of the Tathagatas,” “Mother of the Sugatas,” “Mother of the bodhisattvas,” “instructress of the Tathagathas in this world,” “genetrix and nurse of the six perfections”…

Falling into Emptiness

“The Perfection of Wisdom is not a mother to be placated and cajoled. Faith in her is not a seeking of favors, but a letting go, a falling into emptiness. It is the release of one’s clutching onto dharmas and concepts, a venturing outward, a leaning into space. Seeing through the fiction of a separate self, one passes through a zero point. Because such a zero experience is a kind of birth, generative of new worlds, it is fitting that she who leads us through it is seen as a “genetrix” and mother.”

For the Sake of All Beings

“The liberation offered by the Perfection of Wisdom is not attained by turning away from samsara. ‘Those who are certain that they have got safely out of this world are unfit for full enlightenment,’ says her sutra. The light she bestows does not dazzle, eclipse, or blind one to mundane phenomena and the traffic of beings; but clear and cool, it illumines the world “as it is.” The capacity to see reality as it is (yathabutham) fully accepting the multiplicities and particularities of things is repeatedly stressed as a gift of the Mother of all Buddhas. While the world is often presented in the text as dream, illusion, and magic show, one does not shun it – for there is no dharma that is more real or in whose pursuit the bodhisattva would lift his gaze from things-as-they-are.

The Mother of Buddhas, therefore, does not call the bodhisattva beyond this world, to final nirvana. She retains him on this side of reality, from the sake of all beings…”

Image: Lyudmila Klasanova

Source: Joanna Macy, ‘World as Lover, World as Self’