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Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom. China, 9th–10th century

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:


Prajñā is often translated as "wisdom", but according to Damien Keown it is closer in meaning to "insight", "discriminating knowledge", or "intuitive apprehension".[1]

  • 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",[2] referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.[2]

Mental factor

Pali tradition

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

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).[3]

Sanskrit tradition

Khenjuk states:

Prajñā means fully discerning the examined object. Its function is to cast away uncertainty.[4]

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.[5]

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.[5]

Understanding in the Buddhist traditions

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Prajñā is one of the six (or ten)

Paññā is the fourth virtue of ten Theravāda pāramitās, and the sixth of the six Mahāyāna pāramitās.

Theravada Buddhism

In the Pāli Canon, paññā is concentrated insight into the three characteristics of all things, namely impermanence, suffering and no-self, and the four noble truths.[6][7][8]

In the 5th-century exegetical work Visuddhimagga, one of the most revered books in Theravada Buddhism, Buddhaghoṣa states that the function of paññā is "to abolish the darkness of delusion".[9]

Mahāyāna Buddhism

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.

See also


  1. Keown 2003, p. 218.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Loy 1997, p. 136.
  3. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. The wisdom faculty.
  4. Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Discrimation.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Apprciative discrimination [shes-rab].
  6. Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1. 
  7. 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."
  8. Carl Olson (2005). The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8135-3778-8. 
  9. Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli 1999, p. 437.


Published sources

  • 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 


  1. See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "jña," p. 425 (retrieved 14 August 2012 from "Cologne U." at mw0425-jehila.pdf).
  2. See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "prā," p. 652 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at

External links

This article includes content from Prajñā on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo