The Enlightened Wisdom (Bodhi Prajna) of Zen: Maha Prajna Paramita
A Zen Commentary on Prajna (Great Perfect Wisdom) from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing by Ted Biringer
Good friends, the Four Prajnas of Buddhahood, like the doctrines of the Five Ranks, the Ten Ox-herding Pictures, and others, are, of course, conceptual constructs; however, their reference is to the reality of your own true nature, which Buddhists refer to as buddha-nature. The division into four aspects is arbitrary, and you should understand that each one of these prajnas contains, and is contained by, the other three.
Many of the great Zen masters affirmed the profound insight of the doctrine of the Four Prajnas. Zen master Hakuin asserted that realization of the four prajnas was essential for all Zen students.
Learned audience, clear your minds and allow me to expound on each one of the four prajnas. If you learn to apply this teaching and master it in practice, it will lead you to accomplishing the task of a lifetime.
First is the universal mirror prajna. In rare instances, enlightenment or realization can occur before formal practice and study; however, most practitioners must begin with pre-realization practice based on the teachings of buddhas and Zen ancestors. This includes the study of basic Zen and Buddhist texts, and some form of meditation practice, usually sitting and walking meditation.
After some effort in pre-realization practice, awareness of the universal mirror prajna suddenly occurs. Zen texts often describe this as kensho (seeing into true nature). Dogen Zenji often refers to this as ‘body and mind cast off’ or ‘forgetting the self’. This initial experience can vary widely in depth and scope according to the individual. Though the experience itself usually fades quickly, the insight or wisdom activated through kensho can be truly transforming.
With this experience, practice and study shifts from the conceptual level to the living reality. This initial experience is the point where authentic Zen practice begins.
Until you actually experience this entry, often called kensho, you cannot grasp the truth of Zen. Bodhidharma, the First Ancestor of Zen in China, taught that seeing your nature is Zen.
This awakening reveals an aspect of yourself that–though concealed until the moment of kensho–has always been with you. This newly revealed aspect of your own true nature has been functioning all along. When you awaken, you do not attain some new knowledge or understanding, you simply become aware of what has always been true. It is this awareness itself that activates your inherent ability to access and utilize prajna.
…To be continued…