Prajna-paramita (bodhisattva path)

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Prajñā-pāramitā (P. paññā-pāramī; T. shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ་; C. bore boluomiduo/zhidu; J. hannya-haramitta 般若波羅蜜多), aka "perfection of wisdom," is one the "perfections" (paramitas) that is cultivated on the bodhisattva path.

This paramita is identified as:

One Teacher, Many Traditions states:

Cultivating the wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge to attain full awakening does not require a high IQ or educational degree. Rather we must be open-minded, have the ability to learn and analyze clearly, be sincere in our spiritual aspirations, and have created sufficient merit. Our intelligence and ability to understand can be increased in this life through learning, thinking, and meditating under the guidance of a wise and compassionate teacher.
In the Sanskrit tradition, the perfection of wisdom is of three types: wisdom understanding emptiness, wisdom of fields of knowledge and skills necessary to benefit sentient beings, and wisdom knowing how to benefit sentient beings. Here the wisdom realizing emptiness is emphasized, because without it we remain in saṃsāra and our ability to benefit others is restricted.
Meditation on emptiness is of two kinds: space-like meditation and illusion-like meditation. Space-like meditation is meditative equipoise on emptiness—the selflessness of persons and phenomena. It is called “space-like” because emptiness is unencumbered and limitless like space and the mind meditating on emptiness is spacious, uncluttered by the appearances of inherently existent objects and discursive conceptualizations.
After refuting inherent existence, what remains is mere nominal existence. It is obvious from our own experience that things exist and bring help or harm; our actions have effects. However, when we analyze how these things exist, we cannot find anything that exists “from its own side,” in its own right. Everything exists by being merely designated.
After practitioners arise from meditative equipoise on emptiness, things once again appear inherently existent due to the latencies of ignorance. Bodhisattvas now do illusion-like meditation, reflecting that things are like illusions in that they appear one way (as inherently existent) but exist in another (as empty of inherent existence). This meditation enables practitioners to remain equanimous regarding the seemingly attractive and repulsive things they encounter. Mindfulness of the illusion-like nature of persons and phenomena reinforces their realization of emptiness in formal meditation sessions.
In the Pāli tradition, the perfection of wisdom understands the general and specific characteristics of phenomena. It arises based on concentration and knowledge of the four truths and clearly illuminates phenomena.
Wisdom purifies all the other perfections, enabling them to serve as the foundation for the omniscient mind of a buddha. Wisdom enables bodhisattas to give even their own bodies. It frees ethical conduct from afflictions such as craving. Recognizing the dangers of sense pleasures and the householder’s life, wisdom knows the benefits of renunciation, jhāna, and nibbāna. It steers joyous effort in a proper direction, enabling it to accomplish all virtues. Wisdom gives bodhisattas fortitude when encountering others’ wrongdoings and offensive behavior. Those with wisdom speak truthfully , have firm determination , lovingly care for the welfare of all beings, and maintain equanimity when serving and guiding them and while still abiding with the vicissitudes of saṃsāra.
To cultivate wisdom arising from learning , bodhisattas fully study the five aggregates, six sources, eighteen constituents, four ariya truths, twenty-two faculties, twelve links of dependent arising (Vism 14–17), four establishments of mindfulness, and classifications of phenomena. Bodhisattas also learn worthy fields of knowledge that could be useful to sentient beings. Bodhisattas cultivate the wisdom arising from thinking by reflecting on the specific characteristics of the phenomena that they have studied.
Then they engage in the preliminary portion of the wisdom arising from meditation , which is included under mundane kinds of full understanding ( pariññā , parijñāna ). Here bodhisattas discern the three general characteristics of the aggregates and understand all internal and external phenomena as follows, “This is mere name and form ( nāmarūpamatta ), which arise and cease according to conditions. There is no agent or actor. It is impermanent in the sense of not being after having been; unsatisfactory in the sense of oppression by changing; and not self in the sense of being unsusceptible to the exercise of mastery.” Through this understanding bodhisattas abandon attachment and lead others to do so too. They mature sentient beings’ minds in the paths of the three vehicles, helping them to attain the jhānas, meditative liberations, concentrations, attainments, and mundane superknowledges. They continue doing this until they reach the peak of wisdom and the qualities of the Buddha are in sight.
The wisdom arising from meditation may be spoken of in two ways: the five mundane superknowledges (Vism 12–13) and the five purifications. Purification of view, purification by overcoming doubt, purification by knowledge and vision of what is and is not the path, and purification by knowledge and vision of the way are mundane purifications. Purification by knowledge and vision is the supramundane knowledge of the four ariya paths (Vism 18–22).
Dhammapāla comments that the Visuddhimagga describes these topics for someone following the sāvaka path to arahantship. Bodhisattas should practice them with compassion, bodhicitta, and the skillful means of wisdom. In addition, bodhisattas develop wisdom up to and including purification by knowledge and vision of the way. They must wait to attain purification by knowledge and vision because this is the four ariya paths that realize nibbāna in stages. Before entering the ariya paths, bodhisattas must skillfully balance their development of compassion and wisdom, and only when the pāramīs are complete do they enter the ariya paths and attain full awakening. In this way their attaining nibbāna will coincide with their full awakening.[1]


  1. Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron 2014, s.v. Chapter 13, section "Perfection of Wisdom".