also called
Ekayana or Original   Buddhism



1. Among outstanding scholars two have contributed a great deal to the understanding of the Great Mother in Buddhism. First of all there is Lex Hixon with his book "Mother of the Buddhas"*, a compilation of the Prajnaparamita or Perfect Wisdom Sutra. His personal style makes the book very accessible. The "feminine" connotation makes that the tone is gentle. Something that touches one's heart and not only one's mind. The question is, is there really something feminine in? In the introduction Lex Hixon starts with emphasizing "Perfect Wisdom" as "mother, creator, native ground and tender wet-nurse in omniscience for every past, present and future Buddha or Awakened One". (p.4). This sounds encouraging, hence I pursued my quest for the Reality beyond. In his chapter "Spiritual Lineage of the Prajnaparamita" the author elaborates on some famous masters, like Lama Tsong Khapa (1357-1419) who "reinterpreted and revitalized the Perfect Wisdom so masterfully, that he came to be regarded as a living incarnation of the Bodhisattva Manjushri.**  Two things has to be mentioned here. Through his own attainment the Lama emphasized the "emptiness, insubstantiality and transparency of all apparent self-existence". Furthermore he confirmed the existence of a unitive awareness, "in which relative and absolute truth are fused". To him both indisputable Truths are related to Mother Prajnaparamita.

2. The second chapter is called "The Universe according to Mother Prajnaparamita". Needless to say, that I started reading with heightened interest, expecting to find the ultimate secret of the Mother. In the opening statement the Mother is called the "Wisdom Goddess". Knowing too well the meaning of "Goddesses" in many traditions, including Buddhism I couldn't help but feeling slightly disappointed. I suspected Prajnaparamita to be one of those many female Enlightened beings, in itself perfectly okay, but on miles distance from what I understand to be the "Mother of Buddhahood". An Enlightened Goddess - in her most favorable appearence - is merely a collegue of the Buddhas, existing on the same level. To me, however, the Mother - logically - should be the Reality beyond Buddhahood. So I cautiously proceeded. Soon I encountered another deep Buddhist Truth. Namely, that the nature of What Is can never be described, analyzed, defined or grasped. This sounds very familiar, because that is one of the ways Buddhahood e.g. Enlightenment can be "described". The peculiar thing here is, that the author characterizes this as a core aspect of Mother Prajnaparamita. In the text further descriptions follow: the Mother is considered to be great, profound, limitless, infinite, transparent, empty, pure etc. etc. Really beautiful, but again nothing new, nothing special. The thing is that - like the teachings of Lama Tsong Khapa - it doesn't go beyond Buddhahood.

3. In the next section my eagerness to finding the Mother was even further tested. Here it is said that "Mother Prajnaparamita is born out of her mysterious womb of Perfect Wisdom". To make it more confusing it is furthermore said: "Precisely this transmission of energy empowers all Buddhas from the beginningless past, the open future and the endless dimensions of the present to express Buddha nature, the total awakeness of omniscience". Flabbergasted by this mixture of "wisdom" I contemplated on how to link these statements in order to gain proper understanding. To make it more complicated, the text further elaborates on "the Mother", saying that "she is not a world view at all, but a viewless view, which transmits the energy of supreme awakening, the total awakeness of universal Buddhahood". The confusion is rather great. First of all, she seems to be a Mother born out of her own Womb. Subsequently, she is described as some kind of "energy". Elswhere she is called "ultimate awakeness", while in the quotation above she "a viewless view", that transmits the "energy of supreme awakening". Previous gives the impression, that the honorable Dharma predecessors weren't sure about the true nature of the "Mother of the Buddhas" at all. I suspect, that they wanted to pay tribute to the "feminine aspect" of Reality - probably because this was something that couldn't be entirely avoided - without the need of properly defining it.

4. So the Reality of the Mother was purposely kept vague. For instance Subhuti asks his master: ""O Lord Buddha, is it really possible to discern the Perfection of Wisdom, to discriminate and analyze it, to make valid, rational statements concerning it, presenting it in the light of intellectual categories?" Her Void thus doesn't describe a Reality Beyond, but just symbolizes the bottomlessness of all phenomena. Perfect Wisdom in the words of Sakyamuni himself means: "This unformulatability and unapproachability is a consequence of the fact, that all structures of relativity, on all levels of experience are inherently unformulatable and unapproachable. Even the most fundamental principles are totally empty of independent self-existence. Precisely this unthinkability of What Is is conventually designated by the term "Perfect Wisdom".  Isn't there thus no any Reality Beyond? The key lies in the difference between "Buddhas" and "Buddha Nature". The Sutra talks about the "Mother of the Buddhas", not of the "Mother of Buddhahood". The difference seems to be neglectable, however it is not. Buddha Nature is the "Impersonal Enlightened State of the universe" (IESU), while a Buddha is a human being who has dissolved into IT. The clue is, that the Prajnaparamita Sutra defines the "Womb" as the realm from which Buddhas emerge. It is equal to Enlightenment or Buddha Nature. It doesn't go beyond it. This wouldn't be a problem, if the Sutra wouldn't have used the word "Womb". It omits the underlying (Non)Reality. This underlying Reality consists of the insight - granted to me in the Threefold Realization - that Buddhahood in its turn is born out of Ultimate Bottomlessness or Vacuum. While Buddhahood can be defined as "Emptiness", so the Vacuum can be called "Emptiness beyond Emptiness". Thus Buddha Nature isn't the Ultimate Mother. In its turn it is (continuously) born from Something Beyond. Therefore, in the Sutra the term "Mother of the Buddhas" is misleading. It means "Mother of an Awakened One" or "Mother of an Enlightened Being" or "Enlightend human being" only. That's why I was looking in vain for the True Mother in the Sutra.

* To the ego Enlightenment is "Emptiness" because in Realization the former is dissolving into the latter. Enlightenment in its turn dissolves into That Which Is Beyond: "Emptiness beyond Emptiness". Therefore the latter being the True Bottomlessness, the Cosmic Womb or the Great Mother. "Emptiness beyond Emptiness" thus frequently used by Buddhists, but understood (from experience) by almost none. It is equal to "Nirvana", an abstraction which purpose is to hide the underlying Truth: the Ultimate Reality being "feminine", e.g. a Cosmic Womb.

5. Can you grasp the difference. Not so? Well I don't blame you at all. I discovered the Truth after a long time myself, after all. In the Sutra, see the statement above (section 3): "Mother Prajnaparamita is born out of her mysterious Womb", so Buddhas are born out of "their mysterious Buddha Nature". Mother Prajnaparamita is therefore said to be equal to Buddha Nature, Buddhahood, Enlightenment. It doesn't say anything about any Dimension BEYOND. That's why the descriptions of Perfect Wisdom as described above did not show any surprise at all. They all belong to the familiar world of Buddhism as we know it. "Her" Reality is utterly within the limits of Enlightenment philosophy as advocated by all Buddhist traditions. So am I disappointed? Not at all. It confirms my "centuries old insight", that Buddhism is an "Enlightenment-centered philosophy". The "Son" is central, rather than the "Mother". Surely, lipservice is offered to the Beyond (of the Beyond), however, without having practical consequences. As is stated in the "Mother of the Buddhas" (p. 96): "She is not marked by fundamental characteristics. This absence of characteristics is her transcendent, mystic motherhood, the radiant blackness of her womb"....The blackness still suggests a spark of hope of ultimate understanding. However, the reality of "her" true function - to defend patriarchal values - is immediately emphasized after: "She is the perfect antidote to the poisonous view which affirms the cycle of birth and death to be a substantial reality"***. Here again: playing with words and concepts without understanding the Truth Beyond. Mystifying "motherhood" in order to suppress the True Nature of the Mother? It sounds familiar. All other patriarchal traditions have done the same. If on the other hand Mother Prajnaparamita is the "Law" ("all levels of existence being empty of independent self-existence") behind the emptiness of things - as confirmed by Sakyamuni - why not thus revealing Her Truth as "Emptiness beyond Emptiness" - the Cosmic Vacuum - the Ultimate Bottomlessness, the Inconceivable Womb out of Which not only Buddhas are born, but also Buddha Nature?"

* "Mother of the Buddhas" by Lex Hixon. 1993 Quest Books.
** Robert A.F. Thurman, Professor at Columbia University.   
*** Contrary to what is claimed here "the cycle of birth and death" rules all levels of existence, including Buddhahood. The Sutra purposely (?) tries to suppress this insight in favor of "escapist" tendencies, which aim at "liberating oneself from the cycle of birth and death" or the "world of samsara". Also read "To Realize your Maitreya Mind"


From the Prajnaparamita Sutra

SARIPUTRA: This Perfection of Wisdom, O radiant Lord, is none other than the total awakeness which is omniscience.

LORD BUDDHA: So it is, noble Shariputra, precisely as you say.

SARIPUTRA: The Perfection of Wisdom shines forth as a sublime light, 0 Buddha nature. I sing this spontaneous hymn of light to praise Mother Prajnaparamita. She is worthy of infinite praise. She is utterly unstained, because nothing in this insubstantial world can possibly stain her. She is an ever-flowing fountain of incomparable light, and from every conscious being on every plane, she removes the faintest trace of illusory darkness. She leads living beings into her clear light from the blindness and obscurity caused by moral and spiritual impurity as well as by partial or distorted views of Reality. In her alone can we find true refuge. Sublime and excellent are her revelations through all persons of wisdom. She inspires and guides us to seek the safety and certainty of the bright wings of enlightenment. She pours forth her nectar of healing light to those who have made themselves appear blind. She provides the illumination through which all fear and despair can be utterly renounced.

She manifests the five mystic eyes of wisdom, the vision and penetration of each one more exalted than the last. She clearly and constantly points out the path of wisdom to every conscious being with the direct pointing that is her transmission and empowerment. She is an infinite eye of wisdom. She dissipates entirely the mental gloom of delusion. She does not manipulate any structures of relativity. Simply by shining spontaneously, she guides to the spiritual path whatever beings have wandered into dangerous, negative, self-centered ways.

Mother Prajnaparamita is total awakeness. She never substantially creates any limited structure because she experiences none of the tendencies of living beings to grasp, project or conceptualize. Neither does she substantially dismantle or destroy any limited structure, for she encounters no solid limits. She is the Perfect Wisdom which never comes into being and therefore never goes out of being. She is known as the Great Mother by those spiritually mature beings who dedicate their mind streams to the liberation and full enlightenment of all that lives.

She is not marked by fundamental characteristics. This absence of characteristics is her transcendent, mystic motherhood, the radiant blackness of her womb. She is the universal benefactress who presents, as a sublime offering to truth, the limitless jewel of all Buddha qualities, the miraculous gem which generates the ten inconceivable powers of a Buddha to elevate living beings into consciousness of their innate Buddha nature. She can never be defeated in any way, on any level. She lovingly protects vulnerable conscious beings who cannot protect themselves, gradually generating in them unshakable fearlessness and diamond confidence. She is the perfect antidote to the poisonous view which affirms the cycle of birth and death to be a substantial reality. She is the clear knowledge of the open and transparent mode of being shared by all relative structures and events. Her transcendent knowing never wavers. She is the Perfect Wisdom who gives I birthless birth to all Buddhas. And through these sublimely Awakened Ones, it is Mother Prajnaparamita alone who turns the wheel of true teaching.

LORD BUDDHA: Precisely so, beloved Sariputra.

Blessed are the birth-givers

The second author, whom I admire because of her profound insight and straightforwardness is Professor Miranda Shaw, author of another fascinating book: "Passionate Enlightenment", Women in Tantric Buddhism, Princeton Press 1994. However, it is not her book I want to emphasize here, but an article* she wrote. Without involving herself in the discussion about the difference between "Emptiness" and "Emptiness beyond Emptiness" - reason why she hasn't critized the Prajnaparamita Sutra - she simply "uses" the Sutra to make her own point. Namely, the necessity of shifting the priority from the offspring - the Buddhas - to the Origin, the Womb from which the former are being born. Obviously there is a hierarchy between them: "first the Mother, then the Son". Prof. Shaw emphasizes exactly that. Because this kind of approach is very rare, even among buddhist feminists, I "forgive her", that she didn't grasp the omission in the Sutra. Considering that fact, Mirandas article is a highlight without precedence. Hence, I strongly recommend you to reading it. 

* "Blessed are the birth-givers", Parabola Vol.. 23 No. 4 Winter 1998. Pp. 48-53.

                                   Back                                          Next

(Back to the start of Han Marie Stiekema's website)

2004 Copyright Han Marie Stiekema. All rights reserved.
Everyone may use this website as a source of inspiration. However, since it
is freely given, no-one can claim, copy or derive any text, rights,
position or status from this website.