Prajna Paramita, “The Perfection of Understanding” or; “The Perfection of Non-Discriminating Knowledge” or; “The Perfection of Intuitive Apprehension”

I made a slide-deck primer on Prajna Paramita, which I share with only a small number of people. By popular demand, and because it’s unfeasible to keep sharing a slide-deck, I write out that particular presentation into a full Article.

If you look deeply into the person you love, you’ll be able to understand her suffering, her difficulties, and also her deepest aspirations. And out of that understanding, real love will be possible. When someone is able to understand us, we feel very happy. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is the fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. Looking deeply into any object, understanding will flower. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply.

— Thich Nhat Hanh on Prajna Paramita, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

What is Prajna?

  1. Prajna is said to be the Mother of Buddhas, because all Buddhas arise due to the practice of Prajna Paramita.
  2. Prajna is the Container of the Six Paramitas, because the perfection of understanding enriches all the other Paramitas (although all Paramitas are in all other Paramitas; when we practice one deeply, we practice all of them).
  3. Prajna is Right Understanding.
  4. The Root of Prajna is looking into One’s Mind.

What is Prajna, really?
Prajna Paramita is the practice of RIGHT UNDERSTANDING, and refers to the Direct Insight into:

  1. The Four Noble Truths.
  2. The Three Marks of Existence, anicca (impermanence), anattā (non-self), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering).
  3. And Sunyata (Emptiness); which is synonymous with Co-Dependent Origination.


The Four Noble Truths

  1. Exisence is marked by Dukkha (dissatisfaction/suffering
  2. The cause of Dukkha is primarily “Craving” (Taṇhā).
  3. Dukkha can be ended by the cessation of Craving (and other causes).
  4. The path to the cessation of Dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Paths.

Threefold PartitionEightfold PathMethod of Practice
SILA (Ethical Compass of Virtues)3.Right SpeechFive Precepts (with the correct motivation, not a blind obligation to appearances and bodily morality).
4.Right Action
5.Right Livelihood
SAMADHI (Correct Meditation)6.Right Effort (Diligence)Meditative practices such as Mindfulness (samatha), and Concentration (samadhi).
7.Right Mindfulness
8.Right Concentration 
WISDOM (Insight)1.Right View Knowing the Four Noble Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, and understanding Codependent Origination. And having correct intentions for why you practice.
2.Right Intention

Anicca (Impermanence)
All phenomenon (what is observed— such as objects, feelings, and the world), whether perceived as so-called physical or mental, is a formation (Saṅkhāra), it has a co-dependent origination (Pratītyasamutpāda) and is impermanent. 

Any given phenomenon arises in conjunction with other phenomena (codependency), undergoes changes and disappears.

When we see a Mountain, we feel that it has a real existence, because the process of its existence seems so much longer than our own, and seems to have always been there. But at a microcosmic level, it is undergoing trillions of changes as things move, things transform, and things decay and disappear. Thus a Mountain is actually dynamic flashes of energy, like a shadow, a lightning bolt, a raindrop, just as we are, just as all things are. It arise and dies every moment.

Anatta (Non-Self)
Because everything is Anicca (impermanent), the phenomena that codependently forms the sense of ownership and the sense of self, are also impermanent, and will dissolve and transform into other phenomena. Thus, the Self dies every moment, and re-originates as a similar but different self.

So when we grasp deeply onto a sense of Self (I am Justin, I am a skilled designer, I love this sense-object, and I dislike this sense-object. This is feeling is mine. This sensation is mine. This organ is mine. This history is mine), we will suffer when those objects & stories we are attached to inevitably dissolves or prove themselves not ours to own.

“This not mine, this is not me, this is not myself.”

Shakyamuni Buddha

Dukkha (Dissatisfaction/Suffering)
Because things are Anicca (Impermanent), and we are Anatta (Non-Self), when we grasp and become attached to these transitory phenomena, we are distressed when they dissolve.

When we want something, and cannot have it, we become distressed.

When we have something, and cannot keep it, we become distressed.

When we despise something, and we have it, we become distressed.When we do not have what we despise, but cannot keep it from becoming ours, we become distressed.

Co-Dependent Origination
All phenomena are not static, but are processes of Becoming. This exists, so that exists, if this ceases to exists, that also ceases to exist. Ie, Because Eye and Light have contact, and there is a consciousness to perceive that contact, there is colour. When Eye and Light do not have contact, and no consciousness to perceive it, there is no colour. In truth, Colours don’t exist independently. Neither do eyes. Neither do Light. Neither do consciousness.

Things do not have substantive existence (there is no substance). What appears to be substantive (Justin is alive) are dynamic processes in homeostasis (equilibrium of processes) that last until it stops. There are no things, only processes. Ie, When I am feeling unwell, I become paranoid, when people interact with me, I take it as a slight, I then feed my paranoia by making up stories about why people are trying to hurt me, which feeds my anger. This is a process (with causes), but in ignorance, I think “that person is making me angry!” (when in reality, I made me angry— and anger doesn’t really exist as something substantive, only as processes). Or take evolution for example. We call a cat a cat, but a cat is a process of biological evolution that is ongoing. That cat was once a different cat, and was once a fish. Even the idea of a cat or a fish are not substantive, they are ideas we construct. No alien would recognize a cat or a fish, and might not even perceive that a cat or a fish are different in any meaningful way.

Things are codependent, no matter how reductive. That is to say, everything is made of something, caused by something, conditioned by something, allowed by something, brought forth by something. There is not a single thing you can demonstrate that isn’t in some way or form, evolved from an earlier set of codependent aggregates of phenomena.

Some words of wisdom from the Sixth Zen Patriarch.

Good and Wise Friends, the capacity of the mind is great and far-reaching; it encompasses the dharma realm. When functioning, it is clear and distinct, discerning and responsive. It knows all. All is the one [the mind]; and the one [mind] is all. Things naturally come and go, but the essence of the mind is unimpeded. That is prajna [wisdom].

Good and Wise Friends, prajna wisdom comes from one’s own essential nature: it does not come from outside. Do not make the mistake of using will and intellect. It is called “The natural workings of the true nature.” When the self-nature is true, everything else is true.

The mind has the capacity for great things; it is not meant to behave in petty ways. Do not talk about emptiness all day long, but fail to cultivate it in your minds. That would be like a commoner proclaiming himself the king of the country. How absurd; this could never be! Such people are not my disciples.

Good and Wise Friends, what is prajna? In our language [Chinese], prajna means wisdom. In every place and in every moment, in thought after thought, never becoming muddled and constantly acting wisely—just this is practicing prajna.

With one deluded thought, prajna is cut off. With one wise thought, prajna springs to life. Ordinary people, muddled and confused, fail to recognize prajna. Their mouths talk about prajna, but their minds remain confused. They are forever saying, “I cultivate prajna!,” and though they talk on and on about emptiness, they have no idea of its true meaning. Prajna has no shape or form; it is only the mind of wisdom. If you understand it in this way, just this is prajna wisdom.

— Huineng, The Platform Sutra

Further quotes, from the Fourth Zen Patriarch.

One should maintain an awareness of one’s own body as without substance; as purely an experience like a shadow, which can be seen but not grasped. Wisdom-awareness appears within this shadow. Ultimately without location, wisdom is unmoving, yet responds to all things, forever transforming. It produces the six senses and their realms of perception – all insubstantial, like dreams or illusions.

…To “maintain the One without wavering” is to focus on remaining with this single awareness with the eye of non-grasping purity, and to be committed to this practice at all times without wandering off. When the mind tries to run away, bring it back quickly.

…When the eye sees something, there is actually no outside “thing” that enters the eye. Like a mirror reflecting a face – although perfectly clear, there is no “thing” within the mirror. A person’s face doesn’t enter into the mirror; the mirror doesn’t reach out to a person’s face…If the mind becomes aware of some sensory stimuli and perceives it as coming from outside oneself, then return to a view of that sense object as not ultimately substantive (or independent).

The conditionally generated experiences of the mind do not come from anywhere within the ten directions, nor do they go anywhere. When you can regularly observe thinking, discrimination, deluded views, feelings, random thoughts, and confusion as not individually substantive mental events, then your practice is becoming basically stable. If you can settle the mind and remain free of entanglement with this continual conditioned thinking, you will be serene and fully aware, and discover an end to your afflictions. This is called liberation.

If on observing the mind’s subtle afflictions, and it’s agonizing confusions, and even its deepest introspections, you can, in a single moment, let go of them all and return to gentle stability, your mind has naturally become peaceful and pure. Only you must be courageous.

— Commentary from Dayi Daoxin, The Essentials of Entering the Way and Pacifying the Mind

The End of Tang China and the Rise of Xenophobia

Tang China was a powerful and culturally rich multicultural Empire with satellite states in Afghanistan and strong centralized control and friendly relations with neighbours (tributaries).

During this time period, countries like Japan and Korea developed their classical culture by almost completely copying Tang Chinese Culture. Multiple Zen masters and prominent Foreign Buddhists of this era were all trained/or successors to schools in China. Kyoto for example, is a smaller replica of Chang’an, Matcha was actually the method of green tea preparation enjoyed by the Tang Chinese (China later developed loose tea leaf instead of powdered tea). Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean were actual languages influenced by Middle Chinese.

The Capital of Chang’an had a population of almost a million people. Half of those people were foreigners. Many of them multi-generational, growing up in China, taking the Civil Service Exams, becoming Officials and Aristocrats, marrying the locals, etc. Many were slaves as well.

Something like 14% of Tang China’s Prime Ministers were foreigners (yes, actual foreigners).

The surviving Persian Royal Familiy (escaping the Rashidun Caliphate’s Conquest of Iran) married into the Tang Royal Family and were given the royal surname of “Li”. The Last Prince of Persia, Peroz III, was actually the Commander of “Area Command of Persia” in Tang Afghanistan.

However, a series of disasters happened during the height of the Empire and caused a dramatic downfall.

The Sequence of Decline 

1) The half-Sogdian (Persian) General An Lushan lead a rebellion against the Empire and occupied the secondary Capital of Luoyang.

2) Military betrayal by the Uighurs (another Turkic Persian group, at this time mostly Zoroastrians, not Muslims), who helped retook Luoyang from the rebels, but refused to leave until they were paid huge monetary rewards. AND the Tibetan Empire took this opportunity to invade and steal Chinese Territory.

3) The perceived betrayal by foreigners lead to a rise of xenophobic sentiments in the normally very multicultural Tang Culture.

4) The xenophobia culminated in the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 845 AD, where Emperor Wuzhong, acting under both financial interest and religious favouritism towards Taoism, destroyed 4,600 Buddhist temples, 40,000 shrines, and removed 260,500 monks and nuns from the monasteries. He forced monks and nuns to return to lay life, and expelled foreign monks and nuns back to their home countries. Because he classified Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism as “Foreign forms of Buddhism” (despite the fact Buddhism was already foreign), those religions were persecuted as well, and eventually became extinct in China. Because they were also the last bastions of those religion in the world, Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism was practically finished globally. Surviving Manichaeans did manage to hide themselves as Buddhists and Taoist until well into the present day.

5) Emperor Wuzhong’s successor immediately repealed the persecution and tried to rebuild the religious institutions, but the damage was already done. Most of the persecuted religions would never recover. Islam survived, mostly because it was new, and because the Arab traders of the time were focused on trade, not religious propagation.

6) Xenophobia remained rampant, and several Peasant Rebellions were launched on a partially racist platform (mostly anti-government, tbh, I am not sure where I heard the xenophobic platform of the rebel armies from, but it was probably widespread at this time). These peasant armies eventually sacked both Chang’an and Luoyang. The Arab historian Abu Zayd Hasan of Siraf wrote that when Huang Chao (the rebel leader) captured Guang Prefecture, his army killed 120,000 to 200,000 foreigners.

7) Surviving ancient Chinese noble families (some who can trace their lineage to the ancient Zhou, Shang, and Xia Dynasties) were almost rendered extinct, forcing survivors to flee southwards.

8) The Succeeding Song Dynasty, after they reunited all of China from the pretender dynasties, was SINOCENTRIC. Confucianism (a native Chinese religion) became the state religion; women, who enjoyed liberties close to or greater than our modern world today during the Tang Dynasties were shackled under tighter conservative expectations, and foreigners were never again as welcome in China.

From Boreas to Fujin: The Iconographic evolution of a transcultural wind god

Introduction

Before we begin, this paper was actually written on November 29th, 2015, during my college days (I was in the Design Foundations program at the time).

I finally dug it out! I presumably have a copy on my old PC hard-drive, as I couldn’t find any in either of my Google Doc accounts. However, I actually discovered an attached copy in my FB messenger app, because I had sent one to a friend while I was writing it years ago…so, here we go.

I hope you will learn something absolutely fascinating about Buddhism, Alexander the Great’s Conquests, Wind Gods, and how Art and Religion are interwoven.

This paper actually reminded me why I was sold on the idea of starting a blog. Ask interesting questions, find interesting answers, and share them with people. What could be more fun?

Without further ado, the full transcript:


Justin Hsu

COMM1825-15F-Sec2

Mini Research Paper

From Boreas to Fujin: The Iconographic evolution of a transcultural wind god

The Japanese Buddhist Wind Deity, Fujin had his origins as the Greek Wind God Boreas. This short research paper will explore the iconographic evolution of Boreas through several different cultures, finally culminating in his final form in Japan.

It is often easy to assume that different cultures are isolated, developed separately and have no relations to one another, but this is often untrue. Indo-Europeans for example, counts amongst their descendants everything from the Irish to the Hindus. Austronesians can be found in Taiwan, New Zealand and even Hawaii. For this reason, art and culture can often transcend their boundaries. The Japanese Wind God, Fujin is but the final form of a long line of wind deities that have their origins in ancient Greece.

After Alexander the Great passed away, he left behind a sizeable Hellenistic presence in the East. In parts of what we would call Afghanistan today, his subordinates set up an ancient Kingdom known as Bactria and they became a bridge between East and West, a kingdom right alongside the silk road (Crabben 2011).

In the Indian subcontinent, the Mauryan King, Ashoka the Great rose to power and converted to Buddhism. He commissioned great missionary expeditions to spread Buddhism to all four corners of the world, and erected stupas- pillars with religious inscriptions in multiple languages that also housed the ashes of the Buddha- wherever Buddhism spread. (Szczepansk).

Eventually, the Bactrian King invaded India and created what is now known as the Indo-Greek Kingdoms “Indica served as an important source to many later writers such as Strabo and Arrian. The 1st century BC Greek historian Apollodorus, quoted by Strabo, affirms that the Bactrian Greeks, led by Demetrius I and Menander, conquered India and occupied a larger territory than the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, going beyond the Hyphasis…” (Sanujit, 2011, para.31). The Indo-Greek Kingdom was eventually divided into several kingdoms. Greeks living in India at the time were referred to as Yonas in Pali or Yavanas in Sanskrit (Simonin, 2011, para.2).

So where does Fujin come into all of this? Well, Boreas, the Greek wind deities were brought along with the Greeks, and found their way into Ghandara (a geographical region in Pakistan bordering the Kush Mountain range and the Himalayas). There, Ghandara artisans created incredible fusions of Greek and Hindu styled Buddhist art.

Here, the Buddha himself was given human form, modelled after Apollo. Now, these sculptures and reliefs often have decorative deities accompanying the central figure or story. Some of these included Centaurs or Tritons. One of these was the figure of Boreas, who was depicted in the classical style with a bag of wind. Eventually, this Greco-Buddhist version of Boreas became known as Wardo.

Iconographic Evolution of Fujin
Figure 1. Boreas to Wardo to Fujin. From Shizhao (2006, Wikimedia)
Did you know that the Japanese Wind God Fujin evolved from the Greek God Boreas/Aeolus? This is a case of art influencing the creation and depiction of a deity. In the Indo-Greek kingdom, Boreas became the Greco-Buddhist Wardo, was transplanted to China as Feng Bo and then to Japan as Fujin (all because of the spread of Buddhist decor and iconography). In all incarnations, he carries a bag of wind. The following images shows his iconographic evolution. Image 1. Left: Greek wind God (Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara), Hadda, 2nd century. Middle: Wind God from Kizil, Tarim Basin, 7th century. Right: Japanese Wind God Fujin, 17th century by painter Tawaraya Sotetsu. 

Wardo was transplanted to the nearby Tarim Basin in Northwestern China. He became the Taoist wind deity, Feng Po, literally, “Uncle Wind (Andrews, 2000, p.68). When Buddhism reached Japan, they brought with them Feng Po’s iconography, and he became Fujin, literally, “Wind God” (Petretta, 2014, para.3). He was adopted into Shintoism and given name and narrative. To be clear, Fujin is not a native Japanese deity that was given the iconography of Boreas, but he literally is Boreas. They are one and the same. “The Japanese wind god images do not belong to a separate tradition apart from that of their Western counter-parts but share the same origins.” (Tanabe, 2003, p.21).

In all incarnations, they have carried a bag of wind. “One of the characteristics of these Far Eastern wind god images is the wind bag held by this god with both hands, the origin of which can be traced back to the shawl or mantle worn by Boreas/ Oado.” (Tanabe, 2003 p.21).

 

And that was how Boreas made his way to Japan, carried forth by the passage of time, the syncretism of human cultures and the expansion of Buddhism.


References

1. Crabben, J. (2011, April 28). Bactria. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.ancient.eu/Bactria/

2. Szczepansk, K. (n.d.). Learn About Ashoka the Great (and Terrible). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://asianhistory.about.com/od/india/a/ashoka.htm

3. Sanujit. (2011, February 12). Cultural links between India and the Greco-Roman world. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.ancient.eu/article/208/

4. Simonin, A. (2011, April 28). Indo-Greek. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.ancient.eu/Indo-Greek/

5. Andrews, T. (2000). Dictionary of nature myths: Legends of the earth, sea, and sky (p. 68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

6. Petretta, D. (2014, November 22). Fujin: Origins Along The Slik Road | Global Connections. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://globalconnections.champlain.edu/2014/11/22/fujin-origins-along-the-slik-road/

7. Tanabe, K. (2003). Alexander the Great: East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan (p. 21). Tokyo: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan.

8. Shizhao, (2006, April, 20th). WindGods.JPG [digital image].

Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/WindGods.JPG

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