If you have a diacritic font installed this mantra is transliterated thus: Gate gate pāragate pārasamgate bodhi svāhā
This mantra represents a class of Mahayana scriptures known as the Prajñaparamita (perfection of Wisdom) Sutras. These include such famous teachings as the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. These texts were the subject of worship in Mahayana Buddhism, in much the same way that devotional figures were.
Prajñaparamita eventually became personified as a goddess, but this is not her mantra. This one is associated with the Perfection of Wisdom texts themselves.
The words here do have a literal meaning:
“Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, Enlightenment hail!”
Incidentally, the Diamond Sutra (shown above) is the world’s earliest complete survival of a dated printed book, made in AD 868.
Click below to listen to an MP3 version:
o is pronounced like o in ore
a is pronounced as u in cut
ā is like a in father
i in speech is pronounced like i in mill, but in chanting is often pronounced like ee in bee when it comes at the end of a word
m in parasamgate is pronounced like ng in long
The Prajñaparamita Mantra famously concludes the shorter version of the Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hridaya).
when pursuing the deep prajñaparamita,
recognized the five skandhas as completely empty
and passed beyond all vexations and distress.
Shariputra, appearances are not different from emptiness,
emptiness is not different to appearances.
Appearances are emptiness,
emptiness is an appearance.
Impressions, thoughts, associations
and knowing too, are also like this.
Shariputra, all dharmas are empty of appearances,
are not created, are not extinguished,
are not defiled, are not pure;
do not increase, do not decrease.
For this reason, amidst emptiness there are no appearances,
nor are there any impressions, thoughts, associations and knowing,
There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch, ideas.
There are no colors, sounds, smells,
tastes and touch dharmas.
There is no eye-element up to no imagining nor knowledge element.
Neither is any non-understanding,
nor is there any end to non-understanding up to no old-age and death.
Neither is there any end to old-age and death.
There is no suffering, cause, extinction or path.
There is no knowledge nor anything to find.
Because there isn’t anything to find,
the bodhisattva is free because of relying upon prajñaparamita:
a heart without any obstruction.
Because there are no obstructions, there is no fear.
Abandoning, overturning dreams and concepts,
finally reaches nirvana.
Because all the Buddhas of the three times have relied upon prajñaparamita, they have found anuttarasamyaksambodhi.
For this reason, know prajñaparamita is the great spiritual mantra.
The great understanding mantra.
The supreme mantra.
The unequaled mantra, able to cut through all vexation
because in reality there is no emptiness.
Speak the prajñaparamita mantra, speak the mantra’s words:
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.
(Chinese to English translation, by Willam J. Giddings, 2003)