Jñāna

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jñāna (P. ñāṇa; T. ye shes ཡེ་ཤེས་: C. zhi 智) is translated as "primordial wisdom," "exalted wisdom," "knowledge," "understanding," "timeless awareness," etc. Jñāna typically refers to nonconceptual or unobscured states of knowledge.[1]

The term jñāna is used in the following contexts:

Explanations

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism states:

...numerous specific types [of jñāna] are described in Buddhist literature. Jñāna in the process of cognition implies specific understanding of the nature of an object and is necessarily preceded by saṃjñā (“perception”). Jñāna is also related to prajñā (“wisdom”); where prajñā implies perfected spiritual understanding, jñāna refers to more general experiences common to a specific class of being, such as the knowledge of a śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha, or buddha.[2]

84000 translation group (glossary) states:

Specifically refers to an awakened being’s wisdom. Also translated as “transcendental wisdom,” “original wakefulness,” and so forth.
Also known as “pristine awareness,” “primordial wisdom,” “primordial awareness,” “gnosis,” or the like. Typically refers to nonconceptual or unobscured states of knowledge.
This term denotes the modality of buddha mind. Although all sentient beings possess the potential for actualizing gnosis within their mental continuum, the psychological confusions and deluded tendencies which defile the mind obstruct the natural expression of these inherent potentials, making them appear instead as aspects of mundane consciousness.
Although the Sanskrit term jñāna can refer to knowledge in a general sense, it is often used in Buddhist texts to refer to the mode of awareness of a realized being. In contrast to ordinary knowledge, which mistakenly perceives phenomena as real entities having real properties, wisdom perceives the emptiness of phenomena, their lack of intrinsic essence.
This term denotes the mode of awareness of a realized being. Although all sentient beings possess the potential for actualizing transcendental knowledge within their mind streams, mental obscurations make them appear instead as aspects of mundane consciousness. Also known as “pristine awareness,” “primordial wisdom,” “primordial awareness,” “gnosis,” or the like.[1]

StudyBuddhism states:

(1) In the context of the five types of deep awareness [aka five wisdoms, pañca-jñāna], a type of principal awareness that all beings have as an aspect of Buddha-nature. It is "deep" in the sense that it is a fundamental way in which the mind works and has always been there, primordially, with no beginning and no end.
(2) When contrasted with "discriminating awareness" (Skt. prajna; T. shes-rab) in the non-Gelug usage of the term, the principal awareness that nonconceptually cognizes the deepest truth of something (its inseparable voidness and appearance), beyond all words and concepts.
(3) In the context of the ten Mahayana far-reaching attitudes [aka ten paramitas], when contrasted with "discriminating awareness," principal awareness that nonconceptually cognizes the two truths of something.
(4) In the context of an arya's nonconceptual cognition of voidness [aka emptiness, shunyata], in the Gelug usage, either the principal awareness that explicitly and nonconceptually cognizes voidness (deepest truth) during total absorption or the principal awareness that implicitly and nonconceptually cognizes voidness during subsequent attainment.[1]

Etymology

84000 translation group (glossary) states:

The term jñāna is formed by the root jñā, meaning “to know,” “to know of,” “to understand,” “to be aware of,” with the addition of the pratyaya lyuṭ, which can be interpreted as having different values (the instrument of awareness, its agent, or the action of awareness). We have chosen “awareness” as it was the only that seemed to fit for two important (and not unrelated) contexts wherein jñāna is used: awareness of something, and nonobjective, nonconceptual awareness. In Tibetan the two senses are sometimes distinguished by using ཤེས་པ་ and ཡེ་ཤེས་, respectively, but the distinction in the usage of these two terms is not clearly marked in works that are translations from the Sanskrit, and hence it is less relevant for the Kangyur than it may be for indigenous Tibetan works. The nature of jñāna and its relationship with “wisdom” (prajñā) is the topic of one of the chapters of the Abhidharmakośa (read.84000.co/translation/toh4089.html) and is also thematized in a number of Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstras.[1]

Regarding the Tibetan translation for this term, yeshe, Ringu Tulku states:

In the word yeshe, ཡེ་, is short for ཡེ་ནས་, yé né, which means ‘right from the beginning’ or ‘primordially’. Some people translate it as ‘pristine’ or 'pure', meaning that it is untouched and unstained, and has been there all the time. It is the way it always was.

Distiction between jñāna and prajñā

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche states:

The difference between prajñā (sherab) and jñāna (yeshe) is very subtle and slight. But I think we can say that jñāna is the most natural state of our awareness or consciousness, which is unstained, uncontrived and completely ordinary. It is there all the time, but we don’t recognize it. It is prajñā that brings about the recognition, but of course they are not two separate things.[3]

84000 translation group (glossary) states:

The nature of jñāna and its relationship with “wisdom” (prajñā) is the topic of one of the chapters of the Abhidharmakośa (read.84000.co/translation/toh4089.html) and is also thematized in a number of Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstras.[1]

Alternative Translations

  • wisdom
  • timeless awareness (Lama Chökyi Nyima)
  • inborn knowing
  • pristine cognition
  • deep awareness (Dr. Alexander Berzin)

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Internet-icon.svg ཡེ་ཤེས་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  2. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. jñāna.
  3. RW icon height 18px.png Wisdom


Sources