Prajñā (P. paññā; T. she rab ཤེས་རབ་; C. bore/hui), commonly translated as "wisdom" or "insight," is insight in the true nature of reality, namely primarily anicca (impermanence), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering), anattā (non-self) and śūnyatā (emptiness).
Prajñā/paññā is identified within the Buddhist teachings in the following contexts:
- One of the threefold trainings
- One of the five spiritual faculties and one of the five powers
- One of the six paramitas in the Sanskrit tradition
- One of the ten paramis in the Pali tradition
- One of the twenty-five beautiful mental factors within the Abhidhammattha-sangaha of the Pali tradition
- One of the five object-determining mental factors within the Abhidharma-samuccaya of the Sanskrit tradition
Prajñā is often translated as "wisdom", but according to Damien Keown it is closer in meaning to "insight", "discriminating knowledge", or "intuitive apprehension".
- jñā can be translated as "consciousness", "knowledge", or "understanding".[web 1]
- Pra is an intensifier which can be translated as "higher", "greater", "supreme" or "premium",[web 2] or "being born or springing up", referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.
- The wisdom faculty: Paññā is wisdom, or knowing things as they really are. It is here called a faculty because it exercises predominance in comprehending things as they really are. In the Abhidhamma, the three terms—wisdom (paññā), knowledge (ñāṇa), and non-delusion (amoha)—are used synonymously. Wisdom has the characteristic of penetrating things according to their intrinsic nature (yathāsabhāvapaṭivedha). Its function is to illuminate the objective field like a lamp. It is manifested as non-bewilderment. Its proximate cause is wise attention (yoniso manasikāra).
- Prajñā means fully discerning the examined object. Its function is to cast away uncertainty.
The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:
- What is prajñā? It is the distinction of all that which is firmly established. Its function is to avoid any confusion or doubt.
The Necklace of Clear Understanding states:
- It is an awareness which discriminates between the individual observable qualities and defects as well as between the qualities of what is under consideration. The object which has been singled out by appreciative discrimination is threefold (1. Positive 2. Negative 3. Indeterminate) and the individual defects and qualities of these are distinguished.
Understanding in the Buddhist traditions
Paññā is the fourth virtue of ten Theravāda pāramitās, and the sixth of the six Mahāyāna pāramitās.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the importance of prajna was stressed in combination with karuna, compassion. It took a central place in the Prajñā-pāramitā Sutras, such as the Heart Sutra. Prajna is spoken of as the principal means of attaining nirvāna, through its revelation of the true nature of all things as emptiness.
- Keown 2003, p. 218.
- Loy 1997, p. 136.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. The wisdom faculty.
- Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Discrimation.
- Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Apprciative discrimination [shes-rab].
- Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
- Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8., Quote: "All phenomenal existence [in Buddhism] is said to have three interlocking characteristics: impermanence, suffering and lack of soul or essence."
- Carl Olson (2005). The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8135-3778-8.
- Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli 1999, p. 437.
- Buddhaghosa; Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli (1999), The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga, Buddhist Publication Society, ISBN 1-928706-00-2
- Keown, Damien (2003), A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
- Loy, David (1997), Nonduality. A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Humanity Books
- Nyanaponika Thera; Bhikkhu Bodhi (1999), Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya, Altamira Press, ISBN 0-7425-0405-0
- Rhys Davids, T. W.; Stede, William (1921–25), The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary, Pali Text Society
- See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "jña," p. 425 (retrieved 14 August 2012 from "Cologne U." at mw0425-jehila.pdf).
- See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "prā," p. 652 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/cgi-bin/monier/serveimg.pl?file=/scans/MWScan/MWScanjpg/mw0659-prajalpana.jpg)
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