Shobogenzo, Zen Essays

By Dōgen; Thomas Cleary | Go to book overview

Great Transcendent Wisdom (Makahannyaharamitsu)

The subject of this essay, mahāprajñāpāramitā in Sanskrit, is the general title and essential theme of one of the major groups of Buddhist scriptures, and is one of the most important issues in Buddhism. Sanskrit mahā, meaning "great," conveys the notion of universality. Prajñā, often translated as "wisdom," might be rendered as intense knowledge; it is commonly described as knowledge of the true nature of things, as being "empty" or lacking absolute, independent existence. Pāramitā means "reached the other shore" or "reached the ultimate," and connotes transcendence of mundane limitations, the "other shore" referring to liberation of the mind.

Thus "great transcendent wisdom," as we read it here, means transcendence by universal intense knowledge. The Treatise on Great Transcendent Wisdom, a classic work on this teaching, says, "All things are subject to causes and conditions, none are independent. . . . All are born from causes and conditions, and because of this they have no intrinsic nature of their own. Because of having no intrinsic nature, they are ultimately empty. Not clinging to them because they are ultimately empty is called transcendent wisdom."

From this it can be seen that knowledge of "emptiness" is knowledge of conditionality: emptiness, being the absence of independence or own being of conditional things, is not apart from the conditional. This includes all things, whether concrete or abstract, even the items of the Buddhist teachings. Hence transcendent wisdom is that whereby the world, including even the doctrines and means of Buddhism, is transcended, so that there is no clinging to anything. According to Buddhist philosophy, clinging is a prime source of delusion, whether that clinging be to "profane" or "sacred" things. Therefore realization of the relativity, or nonabsoluteness, of all things is at the core of freedom and enlightenment as proposed by Mahayana Buddhism.

However, if it is because of relativity, or conditionality, that all things are "empty," it is equally true that by the very same conditionality they do exist dependently. The tendency to misinterpret "emptiness" nihilistically, whether by intellectual misunderstanding or by

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Shobogenzo, Zen Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 21
  • Great Transcendent Wisdom (makahannyaharamitsu) 23
  • Glossary 27
  • The Issue at Hand (genjōkōan) 29
  • The Nature of Things 36
  • Notes 42
  • The Whole Works (zenki) 43
  • Such (immo) 47
  • Notes 55
  • One Bright Jewel 57
  • Notes 62
  • Flowers in the Sky 64
  • Notes 74
  • The Ocean Seal Concentration 76
  • Notes 84
  • The Scripture of Mountains and Waters 87
  • Notes 99
  • Being Time 102
  • Notes 109
  • The Eight Awarenesses of Great People (hachidaininkaku) 111
  • The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas (bodaisatta Shishōhō) 116
  • Birth and Death (shōji) 121
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