The perfection of wisdom (Prajnaparamita)
is the ability to guide all
to transcend the sea of Samsara,
and to reach the shore of Buddhahood
A mantra is something that you utter when your body, your mind and your breath are at one in deep concentration. When you dwell in that deep concentration, you look into things and see them as clearly as you see an orange that you hold in the palm of your hand. Looking deeply into the five skandhas [aggregates: form, feeling, perception, mental formation, consciousness], Avalokitesvara [Guanyin Bodhisattva] saw the nature of inter-being [interdependence] and overcame all pain [suffering]. He became completely liberated. It was in that state of deep concentration, of joy, of liberation, that he uttered something important. That is why his utterance is a mantra.
When two young people love each other, but the young man has not said so yet, the young lady may be waiting for three very important words. If the young man is a very responsible person, he probably wants to be sure of his feeling, and he may wait a long time before saying it. Then one day, sitting together in a park, when no one else is nearby and everything is quiet, after the two of them have been silent for a long time, he utters these three words. When the young lady hears this, she trembles, because it is such an important statement. When you say something like that with your whole being, not just with your mouth or your intellect, but with your whole being, it can transform the world. A statement that has such power of transformation is called a mantra. Avalokitesvara’s mantra is ‘Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha’.
‘Gate’ means ‘gone’. Gone from suffering to the liberation of suffering. Gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness. Gone from duality into non-duality. ‘Gate gate’ means ‘gone, gone’. ‘Paragate’ means ‘gone all the way to the other shore’. So this mantra is said in a very strong way. Gone, gone, gone all the way over. In ‘parasamgate’, ‘sam’ means everyone, the Sangha, the entire community of beings. Everyone gone over to the other shore. ‘Bodhi’ is the light inside, enlightenment, or awakening. You see it and the vision of reality liberates you. And ‘svaha’ is a cry of joy or excitement, like ‘ah!’ or ‘hurrah!’ ‘Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment!’