Perfection of Wisdom

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Prajñāpāramitā

Prajñāpāramitā is a Sanskrit term used in Buddhism that translates roughly into English as the "Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom." Prajñāpāramitā is a central concept in Mahāyāna Buddhism and its practice and understanding are taken to be indispensable elements of the Bodhisattva Path. The practice of Prajñāpāramitā is elucidated and described in the genre of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, which vary widely in length and exhaustiveness.

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History

Earliest Prajñāpāramitā texts

Prajñāpāramitā is a generic term for a series of Mahāyāna texts known as the "Perfection of Wisdom" discourses. These texts, the earliest of which date around the 1st century BCE, are among the first known Mahāyāna literature, and are aptly named, due to their special interest in the understanding of the nature of wisdom or prajñā.[1]

Western scholars often consider the earliest sūtra in the Prajñāpāramitā class to be the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra or "Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines", which was probably put in writing in the 1st century BCE.[2] More material was gradually compiled over the next two centuries. As well as the sūtra itself, there is a summary in verse, the Ratnaguṇasaṃcaya Gāthā, which some believe to be slightly older because it is not written in standard literary Sanskrit. However, these findings rely on late-dating Indian texts, in which verses and mantras are often kept in more archaic forms.

A number of scholars have proposed that the Mahāyāna Prajñāpāramitā teachings were first developed by the Caitika subsect of the Mahāsāṃghikas. They believe that the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra originated amongst the southern Mahāsaṃghika schools of the Āndhra region, along the Kṛṣṇa River.[3] These Mahāsaṃghikas had two famous monasteries near the Amarāvati and the Dhānyakataka, which gave their names to the schools of the Pūrvaśailas and the Aparaśailas.[4] Each of these schools had a copy of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in Prakrit.[5] Guang Xing also assesses the view of the Buddha given in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra as being that of the Mahāsaṃghikas.[6] Edward Conze estimates that this sūtra originated around 100 BCE.[7]

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