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The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Wisdom (Part 2)

Last Saturday, on August 10, 2019, we dived deeper into our study for The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism — Prajñā (Wisdom / Insight).

We first read a few excerpts that describe the concept of “emptiness” with different emphases, and we discussed which of those resonated the most for each person. We then watched a Dharma lecture video on “How Can I Be Empty?” by Venerable Thubten Chodron, who expounded in a very clear and profound way how there really is not an independent, permanent “self” but instead a set of ever-evolving causes and conditions that lead to each decision that is made; there is no single “boss” who makes those decisions. The group then discussed what we each gleaned out of the talk and how that might apply both on our cushion and in our daily life. We ended the evening by reading an excerpt from the famous 2nd/3rd Century C.E.’s Indian Buddhist Philosopher, Nāgārjuna’s “Mūlamadhyamakakārikā” (“Fundamentals of the Middle Way” or “Verses of the Center”) on the topic of “Self.”

Below is a copy of our handout, reading materials, videos we shared, questions we discussed, and our homework for the week. Happy learning!


The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Wisdom / Insight (Part 2)

RECAP: Pāramitā (Sanskrit) or Parami (Pāli): “Perfection” or “Transcendent”. In Buddhism, the Paramitas refer to the perfection or culmination of certain practices. These practices are cultivated by Bodhisattvas for crossing from sensuous life (Samsara) to Enlightenment (Nirvana).

Wisdom / Insight (Prajñā):

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pali) — is often translated as “wisdom”, but is closer in meaning to “insight”, “non-discriminating knowledge”, or “intuitive apprehension”.

  • jñā can be translated as “consciousness”, “knowledge”, or “understanding”
  • Pra is an intensifier which can be translated as “higher”, “greater”, “supreme” or “premium”, or “being born or springing up”, referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.

Prajna Paramita: Perfection of Wisdom
In Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom is the direct and intimate realization of Śūnyatā, or emptiness.

SOURCE: O’Brien, Barbara. “The Six Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism.” Learn Religions, Jun. 12, 2019,


Śūnyatā (“Emptiness”):

“Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end.” – Nāgārjuna
(2nd/3rd C CE Indian Buddhist Philosopher, founder of Madhyamaka (Middle Way) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism)

“Emptiness” should really be understood as: “Empty of,” “Lack of,” “Devoid of.” But a lack of what?

Various Readings’ Excerpts on Śūnyatā:

Very simply, [Śūnyatā] is the teaching that all phenomena are without self-essence or independent existence.

SOURCE: O’Brien, Barbara. “The Six Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism.” Learn Religions, Jun. 12, 2019,

The Heart Sutra says, “all phenomena in their own-being are empty.” It doesn’t say “all phenomena are empty.” This distinction is vital. “Own-being” means separate independent existence. The passage means that nothing we see or hear (or are) stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape.

SOURCE: “Emptiness: The Most Misunderstood Word in Buddhism” by Lewis Richmond,

All things are in the perpetual process of arising and passing away, ever “becoming” and thus never actually “being.” Conditioned by multiple interdependent causes, all things are “empty” of any sort of independent or intrinsic nature and thus defy conceptualization.

SOURCE: “What’s in a Word? Emptiness” by Andrew Olendzki,

When Avalokita says that our sheet of paper is empty, he means it is empty of a separate, independent existence. It cannot just be by itself. It has to inter-be with the sunshine, the cloud, the forest, the logger, the mind, and everything else. It is empty of a separate self. But, empty of a separate self means full of everything. So it seems that our observation and that of Avalokita do not contradict each other after all. Avalokita looked deeply into the five skandhas of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness, and he discovered that none of them can be by itself alone. Each can only inter-be with all the others. So he tells us that form is empty. Form is empty of a separate self, but it is full of everything in the cosmos. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

SOURCE: “Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries” by Thich Nhat Hanh



Dharma Video:

How Can I Be Empty?” by Venerable Thubten Chodron**

** ** Venerable Thubten Chodron (德林 — De Lin) was born in Chicago in 1950. In 1977, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Nepal, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Ven. Chodron travels worldwide to teach the Dharma: North America, Europe, Latin America, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and former communist countries. Seeing the importance and necessity of a monastery for Westerners training in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, she founded Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastic community north of Spokane, WA and is the abbess there. It is the only Tibetan Buddhist training monastery for Western monks and nuns in America.



  1. Which part(s) of today’s readings and video did you find most helpful and/or had the most impact on you, if any? Please elaborate.
  2. How does it make you feel when you contemplate today’s teachings around our idea of “self”?
  3. What do you now understand sunyata to mean? How might we apply that understanding to our daily lives?



  1. Continue bringing Prajñā into your daily life! Last week’s homework video asked us to reflect often on our wrong actions, speech and thoughts, and use wisdom to correct them immediately. Now try adding this question whenever you reflect as well: “who thought that thought?”


Dharma Reading:

Excerpt from Nāgārjuna’s “Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (“Fundamentals of the Middle Way” or “Verses of the Center”)

'Mūlamadhyamakakārikā - Self' by Nāgārjuna