Prajñā or paññā in Buddhism is wisdom, understanding, discernment, insight, or cognitive acuity. It is one of three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path. Such wisdom is understood to exist in the universal flux of being and can be intuitively experienced through meditation. In some sects of Buddhism, it is especially the wisdom that is based on the direct realization of such things as the four noble truths, impermanence, interdependent origination, non-self and emptiness. Prajñā is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about enlightenmen
Prajna is Sanskrit for "wisdom." Panna is the Pali equivalent,
more often used in Theravada
Buddhism. But what is "wisdom" in Buddhism?
English word wisdom is linked to knowledge.
If you look the word up in dictionaries, you find definitions such as
"knowledge gained through experience"; "using good
judgment"; "knowing what is proper or reasonable." But this is
not exactly "wisdom" in the Buddhist sense.
is not to say that knowledge isn't important, also. The most common word for
knowledge in Sanskrit is jnana. Jnana is
practical knowledge of how the world works; medical science or engineering
would be examples of jnana.
"wisdom" is something else. In Buddhism, "wisdom" is
realizing or perceiving the true nature of reality; seeing things as they are,
not as they appear. This wisdom is not bound by conceptual knowledge. It must
be intimately experienced to be understood.
also is sometimes translated as "consciousness," "insight"
Wisdom in Theravada Buddhism
stresses purifying the mind from defilements (kilesas, in Pali) and cultivating the mind through
In order to develop discerning or penetrating insight into the Three Marks
of Existence and the Four Noble
Truths. This is the path to wisdom.
realize the complete meaning of the Three Marks and Four Noble Truths is
perceiving the true nature of all phenomena. The 5th-century
scholar Buddhaghosa wrote (Visuddhimagga XIV, 7), "Wisdom
penetrates into dharmas as
they are in themselves. It disperses the darkness of delusion, which covers up
the own-being of dharmas." (Dharma in this context means
"manifestation of reality.")
Wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism
in Mahayana is
linked to the doctrine of sunyata,
"emptiness." The Perfection of Wisdom (prajnaparamita) is
the personal, intimate, intuitive realization of the emptiness of phenomena.
is a difficult doctrine often mistaken for nihilism.
This teaching does not say that nothing exists; it says that nothing has
independent or self-existence. We perceive the world as a collection of fixed,
separate things, but this is an illusion.
we see as distinctive things are temporary compounds or assemblies of
conditions that we identify from their relationship to other temporary
assemblies of conditions. However, looking deeper, you see that all of these
assemblies are interconnected to all other assemblies.
favorite description of emptiness is by Zen teacher Norman Fischer. He said
that emptiness refers to deconstructed reality. "In the end, everything is
just a designation," he said. "Things have a kind of reality in their
being named and conceptualized, but otherwise they actually aren’t
there is a connection: "In fact, connection is all you find, with no
things that are connected. It’s the very thoroughness of the connection -- no
gaps or lumps in it -- only the constant nexus -- that renders everything void.
So everything is empty and connected, or empty because connected.
Emptiness is connection."
in Theravada Buddhism, in Mahayana "wisdom" is realized through the
intimate, experienced discernment of reality. To have a conceptual
understanding of emptiness is not the same thing, and merely believing in a
doctrine of emptiness isn't even close. When emptiness is personally realized,
it changes the way we understand and experience everything -- that is wisdom.