There Is No Suffering 30

To refine our understanding, Buddhism regards consciousness as consisting of eight levels, or functions. The first five derive from our sense faculties of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The sixth is our ordinary discriminative and cognitive mind; it is the coarsest level of consciousness because it arises from the interaction of external sense data with our internal sense faculties. The seventh consciousness is the deeply rooted and ever-present clinging to an idea of self. It is so subtle and so imbedded that, without our being aware, it operates and filters all of our experiences. This seventh consciouseness also links our sense experiences to our repository of past actions—the eighth consciousness ( alaya vijnana). All actions we have ever performed through body, speech, and thought leave imprints in the depth of our being. The eighth consciousness stores all of this energy of past actions, and conditions our present and future, keeping us bound to samsara, the cycle of existence.

At the first bhumi, a bodhisattva has transformed the sixth consciousness into the ‘wisdom of non-arising’—where afflictions no longer manifest outwardly, or arise. The cultivation of a bodhisattva at and above the eighth bhumi completely dissolves all grasping to self, the seventh consciousness, leaving only residues of the subtlest karmic propensities that obscure complete enlightenment. At the tenth bhumi, a bodhisattva is at the threshold of buddhahood. This is the meaning of ‘deep.’ It is the level of deep prajnaparamita through which Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva courses.

Essence of Prajna

When we speak of prajna aside from the question of who experiences it, there is no shallow or deep—prajna is prajna. In fact, prajna can be translated as ‘deep,’ which also carries connotations like ‘subtle,’ ‘ultimate,’ ‘thorough,’ and ‘profound.’ In the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra, a disciple asks the Buddha, “What is the meaning of ‘deep’?” The Buddha replies, “Prajna.” The disciple the asks, “What is the meaning of ‘prajna’?” The Buddha answers, “Deep.”

When an ordinary sentient being has an enlightenment experience, it is the same prajna that bodhisattvas and buddhas experience. In the flash of enlightenment, you see what the Buddhasees. The difference is that yours only lasts an instant, and its scope is limited by obstructions in your mind. The quality of the prajna, however, is the same.