The Prajnaparamita ("perfection of wisdom") sutras are one of the great legacies of Mahayana Buddhism, giving eloquent expression to some of that school's central concerns: the perception of shunyata, the essential emptiness of all phenomena; and the ideal of the bodhisattva, one who postpones his or her own enlightenment in order to work for the salvation of all beings.
The Prajnaparamita literature consists of a number of texts composed in Buddhist India between 100 BCE and 100 CE. Originally written in Sanskrit, but surviving today mostly in their Chinese versions, the texts are concerned with the experience of profound insight that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms. The material remains important today in Mahayana Buddhism and Zen.
Key selections from the Prajnaparamita literature are presented here, along with Thomas Cleary's illuminating commentary, as a means of demonstrating the intrinsic limitations of discursive thought, and of pointing to the profound wisdom that lies beyond it.
Included selections from:
• The Scripture on Perfect Insight Awakening to Essence
• The Essentials of the Great Scripture on Perfect Insight
• Treatise on the Great Scripture on Perfect Insight
• The Scripture on Perfect Insight for Benevolent Rulers
• Key Teachings on the Great Scripture of Perfect Insight
• The Questions of Suvikrantavikramin
Prolific translator Cleary (The Essential Confucius, not reviewed, etc.) has gathered together excerpts from the Prajnaparamita sutras, which come to us from Mahayana Buddhism. These selections are not for the fainthearted. Drawn from The Scripture on Perfect Insight Awakening to Essence, The Essentials of the Great Scripture on Perfect Insight, Key Teachings on the Great Scripture of Perfect Insight, The Questions of Suvikrantavikramin, and other works, they address the question of "perfect insight." The often arcane selections are made intelligible to the uninitiated by Cleary's useful introduction and commentaries, but, refreshingly, Clearly does not water down the writings or package the teachings so that any dilettante can painlessly digest them. On the contrary, he writes that those stuck in a stage of spiritual development where they still need dogma and rules will find the "gnostic insight of Buddhism... imperceptible and effectively unavailable." The original sources concur: Perfect insight, we learn, is "like a bonfire,/Ungraspable from the four directions." So just what is this perfect insight? Another passage puts it succinctly: It is "the practice of rising above all worlds." Proceed with caution: Like the rabbis who cautioned anyone under 40 not to study Kabbalah, some Buddhist teachers have warned that people may be harmed by hearing about perfect insight before they're ready. (Kirkus Reviews)