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Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom. China, 9th–10th century
Translations of
English wisdom,
Pali paññā
Sanskrit prajñā
Tibetan ཤེས་རབ་
(THL: sherab; WYL: shes rab)
Paramita icon 125px.png
Prajna is one of the six (or ten)

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli) "wisdom" is insight in the true nature of reality, namely primarily anicca (impermanence), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering), anattā (non-self) and śūnyatā (emptiness).


Prajñā is often translated as "wisdom", but 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]

Understanding in the Buddhist traditions

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.[3][4][5]

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".[6]

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. Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1. 
  4. 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."
  5. Carl Olson (2005). The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8135-3778-8. 
  6. 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 Prajna on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo