Prajñā Paramitā 5: Friendship


Continuing working from the handout created of two excerpts from the Prajñā Paramitā Sutrā in 8,000 lines. This week on the great friendship bodhisattvas enjoy with the 6 Prajñā Paramitā practices.

Download the handout formatted and with illustrations here:
PP Handout-devotion and good friends



The Lord: A Bodhisattva who has set out with earnest intention and wants to win full enlightenment should from the very beginning tend, love and honour the good friends.

Subhuti: Who are those good friends of a Bodhisattva?

The Lord: The Buddhas and Lords, and also the irreversible Bodhisattvas who are skilful in the Bodhisattva-course, and who instruct and admonish him in the perfections, who demonstrate and expound the perfection of wisdom. The perfection of wisdom in particular should be regarded as a Bodhisattva’s good friend. All the six perfections, in fact, are the good friends of a Bodhisattva. They are his Teacher, his path, his light, his torch, his illumination, his shelter, his refuge, his place of rest, his final relief, [397] his island, his mother, his father, and they lead him to cognition, to understanding, to full enlightenment. For it is in these perfections that the perfection of wisdom is accomplished. Simply from the six perfections has come forth the all-knowledge of the Tathagatas who, in the past period, have won full enlightenment and then entered Nirvana.

And so has the all-knowledge of the Tathagatas who in a future period will win enlightenment, and the Tathagatas who just now reside in incalculable, immeasurable, infinite, inconceivable world systems. I also, Subhuti, am a Tathagata who has in this present period won full enlightenment, and my all- knowledge also has come forth from the six perfections. For the six perfections contain the thirty-seven dharmas which act as wings to enlightenment, they contain the four Brahma-dwellings, the four means of conversion, and any Buddha-dharma there may be, any Buddha-cognition, cognition of the Self- Existent, any unthinkable, incomparable, immeasurable, incalculable, unequalled cognition, any cognition which equals the unequalled, any cognition of the all- knowing.

Therefore, Subhuti, simply the six perfections of a Bodhisattva [398] should be known as his good friends. They are his Teacher, etc., to: they lead him to cognition, to understanding, to full enlightenment. In addition, a Bodhisattva who trains in the six perfections becomes a true benefactor to all beings who are in need of one.

But if he wants to train in the six perfections, a Bodhisattva must above all hear this perfection of wisdom, take it up, bear it in mind, recite, study, spread, demonstrate, expound, explain and write it, and investigate its meaning, content and method, meditate on it, and ask questions about it.

For this perfection of wisdom directs the six perfections, guides, leads, instructs and advises them, is their genetrix and nurse. Because, it they are deprived of the perfection of wisdom, the first five perfections do not come under the concept of perfections, and they do not deserve to be called ‘perfections.’ A Bodhisattva should therefore train in just this perfection of wisdom if he wishes to get to a state where he cannot be led astray by others, and to stand firmly in it.


Lists and ideas referenced:

  • unstained – marred by self-oriented suffering and confusion
  • triple worldtraidhātuka – the world of desire (our world), world of form (physical form but no desire), world of formlessness (no physical form only consciousness). Humans, gods and other beings exist in all three worlds, but our common samsara world is the desire world. The gods of the desire world appear in the Prajñā Paramitā sutras led by Shakra (also called Indra and Kausika) – they inhabit a mythical world with Mount Sumeru in the center.
  • Six realms – levels of existence within each world system:
    hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, asuras (angry demigods), humans, devas (happy gods)
  • Wings of enlightenment / thirty-seven dharmas – terms for the 37 practices of the bodhipakshika – see previous handouts on this list available on the website by searching on “pakshika ceremony” for a summary & ceremony linked to teachings.
  • five eyes – human eye, divine eye, dharma eye, wisdom eye, Buddha eye
  • dharmas – units / instances of existence, from dhr = to support.
  • All-knowledge – understanding the nature of reality, omniscience
  • unstopped, unproduced – synonyms for unconditioned? The important dichotomy in Buddhism is between the conditioned (formed by the axis of many conditions) and the unconditioned (nirvana, space, freedom). Similar importance to the Western distinction between mind and matter (a distinction which does not exist in Buddhist thought).
  • Emptiness of own mark (own being) – no dharma has svabhāva: own-being or essential nature
  • ten powers of Buddha – complete knowledge of (1) what is right and wrong, (2) karma of every being (past, present and future), (3) stages of liberation, (4) powers & faculties of all beings, (5) desires and moral feelings of every being, (6) condition of every individual, (7) direction and consequences of all laws, (8) causes of mortality, (9) nirvāna, (10) destruction of all illusions
  • bodhisattva – enlightening being. Beings who’s primary motivation stems from the thought of awakening (bodhicitta) who are satisfied only by the complete well being of all beings.
  • Six perfections: perfection of (each item going beyond the basis of separateness of individuality): generosity, ethical conduct, patience, enthusiasm, concentration (stablitily of mind), wisdom.
    Where wisdom beyond wisdom is the basis for the other 5 perfect practices.
  • Four Brahma-dwellings – the bbrahma-vihara: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity
  • Tathagatas “thus-come one” – those who exist as an exemplar of suchness, epithet for the Buddha
  • Subhūti – in early Buddhism an expert in loving-kindness but not wisdom, here a bit of a dig at that system he speaks with the wisdom authority of the Buddha.
  • Shariputa – another disciple of Buddha, in the reverse position from Subhūti – in early Buddhism he was foremost in the understanding the reality of dharmas (early Buddhist wisdom, as formulated in the Abhidhamma texts), but in the Prajñā Paramitā, the one asking the questions. E.g. Shariputra is obsessed with classifying the dharmas and misses the one big truth of Prajñā Paramitā.


About Nomon Tim Burnett

Spiritual Director and Zen priest Nomon Tim Burnett has been a student of Zoketsu Norman Fischer since 1987 when he was a resident at San Francisco Zen Center's Green Gulch Farm. After sitting practice periods at Green Gulch and Tassajara Zen Monastery, Tim helped found the Bellingham Zen Practice Group in 1991. Tim was ordained as a Zen Priest by Norman in 2000 and received Dharma Transmission in July, 2011. A person of wide-ranging professional interests, Tim has been a botanist, carpenter, elementary school teacher, writer, and computer programmer. In addition to his work at the Spiritual Director of Red Cedar Zen Community, Tim is Executive Director of Mindfulness Northwest.
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