PRAJNAPARAMITA & POEM

by contemplativeinquiry

Prajnaparamita_Java_Side_DetailPRAJNAPARAMITA AND POEM

Prajnaparamita is the Sophia of the East, her name meaning ‘perfection of wisdom’. My image* is a 13th century stone statue from Singhasari, East Java. The lotus at the right of the image holds a book of sutras. Prajnaparamita’s hands are held in the gesture of ‘wheel-turning’, from a Buddhist perspective the turning wheel of the Dharma, representing the Buddha’s teachings.

The Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, the best known work associated with her, is a foundational document of Mahayana Buddhism. It suggests that ideas of ‘personal’ enlightenment make no sense, either conceptually or ethically. The emphasis, rather, is on compassion and work towards the awakening of all beings. Vietnamese Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (1) offers a translation and interpretation geared to modern westerners, presenting a view of radical interdependence that he calls ‘interbeing’. He has also written a poem about it that movingly illustrates this view. (A friend sent me this poem from a Buddhist magazine many years ago. The specific political references are from the 1980’s, but they apply at least as much today.)

 

PLEASE CALL ME BY MY TRUE NAMES

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow

Because even today I still arrive.

 

Look deeply: I arrive in every second

To be a bud on a spring branch,

To be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,

Learning to sing in my new nest,

To be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

To be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

 

I still arrive, in order to laugh and cry,

In order to fear and to hope,

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and

Death of all that are alive.

 

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the

surface of the river,

And I am the bird which, when spring comes,

Arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the

Clear water of a pond,

And I am also the grass-snake who,

Approaching in silence

Feeds itself on the frog.

 

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

My legs as thin as bamboo sticks,

And I am the arms merchant, selling

Deadly weapons to Uganda.

 

I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee

On a small boat,

Who throws herself into the ocean after

being raped by a sea pirate,

and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable

Of seeing and loving.

 

I am a member of the politburo, with

Plenty of power in my hands,

And I am the man who has to pay his

‘debt of blood’ to my people,

Dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

 

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes

Flowers bloom in all walks of life.

My pain is like a river of tears, so full it

fills up the four oceans.

 

Please call me by my true names,

So I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,

So I can see that my joy and pain are one.

 

Please call me by my true names,

So I can wake up,

And so the door of my heart can be left open,

The door of compassion.

 

 

*Photographed by Gunawan Kartapranata and reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

 

  • Thich Nhat Hanh (1988) The heart of understanding: commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra Berkeley, CA, USA: Parallax Press