Mantra of the Prajna Paramita (Hint: Gate is pronounced like "gah-tay")
The mantra of the Prajna Paramita is found at the end of a brief, but classic Buddhist scripture, The Heart of the Prajna Paramita Sutra, often called The Heart Sutra or The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra. 'Prajna' means 'wisdom.' 'Paramita' means a crossing over, or going beyond. The last verse of the sutra goes like this:
"Therefore, Prajna Paramita is know as the most divine mantra,
the great enlightening mantra,
the utmost mantra,
the incomparable mantra,
destroyer of all suffering!
Since what is true is not in vain,
listen to the mantra of the Prajna Paramita-- it goes like this:
GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SVAHA!"
Years ago we wrote down a translation of this mantra on an index card and have kept it in a special place. That translation was:
"Going, going, going on beyond, always going on beyond, always becoming Buddha."
This seems a marvelous thought. It suggests movement toward awakening. It expresses the enlightenment of a buddha as an unfolding process, rather than a steady state. It puts us in the hopeful position of one who may not have arrived, but who may be on the way. The destination may not be an end, but the trip itself.
As appealing as this translation is, it is by no means the only one. When we did an Internet search for the terms "Heart Sutra" or "Prajna Paramita" we got numerous references. We found several different translations of the mantra. They include:
- Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond. Oh what an awakening! All hail!
- Gone, gone, gone beyond altogether beyond, Awakening, fulfilled!
- Gone, gone, gone to the Other Shore, attained the Other Shore having never left.
- Gone, gone, totally gone, totally completely gone, enlightened, so be it.
- "Oh, you have done! You have done! You have completely crossed the margin. This is Enlightenment! Congratulations!"
You will also find the point of view that the mantra is essentially untranslatable. Untranslatable does not mean meaningless, so how can one approach the meaning? We are most fortunate to have access to varying translations of this powerful phrase. Like a detective we can view the pieces, recognize the commonalities, and find the truth behind the inadequate English words. Better yet, perhaps we can hold each interpretation in mind to taste it's unique flavor. As a connoisseur of fine wines can distinguish the character of different vintages of similar wines, we can sniff the mantra, swirl it around, and drink deeply of its essence.
The Sanskrit mantra carries such meaning that one can easily take it half a dozen ways. Each of the translations may be true, yet any one may be inadequate to express the full meaning. But that is the marvel of a mantra. It is just a word or just a sound until you hold it in your heart, mind and soul. The meaning comes through repetition and involvement.
Use the mantra of the Prajna Paramita to take you beyond. Let it take you to the other shore. Allow it to awaken you. Let it remind you of your becoming. Let it carry you away without your leaving. Repeat the mantra to yourself. Say it out loud or silently to yourself. Say it over and over. Through repetition it will become part of you. Through diligent practice you may become part of it. As you repeat this "most divine mantra" hold in your mind the alternate interpretations noted above. Sense the subtle differences in meaning. Carry the various meanings until they merge and all the meanings blend into one pure understanding.
GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SVAHA
© 1997 Tom Barrett