From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā
(Pali) has been translated as "wisdom," "understanding,"
"discernment," "cognitive acuity," or "know-how." In some sects of
Buddhism, it especially
refers to the wisdom that is based on the direct realization of the
Truths, impermanence, interdependent origination, non-self, emptiness, etc. Prajñā is
the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about
In the Pali
In the Pali Canon, paññā is defined in a
variety of overlapping ways, frequently centering on concentrated insight into the three characteristics (impermanence,
suffering, no-self) of all things and the Four Noble
For instance, when elaborating upon the Five Spiritual Faculties (faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom),
the Buddha describes paññā (here translated as
"discernment") as follows:
- "And what is the faculty of discernment? There is the case
where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is discerning, endowed
with discernment of arising & passing away — noble,
penetrating, leading to the right ending of stress. He discerns, as it is actually present,
[the Four Noble Truths]: 'This is stress... This is the origination
of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of
practice leading to the cessation of stress.' This is called the
faculty of discernment."
Similarly, in discussing the Threefold Training of higher-virtue
(adhi-citta) and higher-wisdom (or "heightened
discernment," adhi-paññā), the Buddha describes paññā
- "And what is the training in heightened discernment? There is
the case where a monk discerns as it actually is that 'This is
stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the
cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the
cessation of stress.' This is called the training in heightened
In a subsequent discourse
regarding the Threefold Training, the Buddha indicates that higher
wisdom entails the application of concentration and insight to end
"fermentations" (or "mental intoxicants"; Pali: āsava),
effectively achieving arahantship:
- "And what is the training in heightened discernment? There is
the case where a monk, through the ending of the mental
fermentations, enters & remains in the fermentation-free
awareness-release & discernment-release, having known &
made them manifest for himself right in the here & now. This is
called the training in heightened discernment."
In mapping the Threefold Training to the Noble
paññā is traditionally associated with "right
view" (sammā-diṭṭhi) and "right
resolve" (sammā-saṅkappa) which the Buddha
- "And what, monks, is right view? Knowledge with regard to
stress, knowledge with regard to the origination of stress,
knowledge with regard to the stopping of stress, knowledge with
regard to the way of practice leading to the stopping of stress:
This, monks, is called right view.
- "And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on
freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right
In to the fifth-century CE exegetic Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa states that
the function of paññā is "to abolish the darkness of delusion" and that it is "manifested as
non-delusion." Its proximate cause is concentration.
Buddhaghosa provides the analogy of a tree to discuss the
development of paññā:
- The soil of the tree are the:
- purification of virtue
- purification of consciousness.
- purification of view
- purification by overcoming doubt
- purification by knowledge and vision of what is and is not the
- purification by knowledge and vision of the way
- purification by knowledge and vision.
Buddhaghosa instructs that, to achieve paññā, one
should first learn about the soil, then the roots and then the
Sutras, such as the Heart Sutra, describe prajñā as
supreme, highest, incomparable, unequalled, and unsurpassed. It is
spoken of as the principal means, by its enlightenment, of
attaining nirvana, through
its revelation of the true nature of all things.
The beginning of the Heart Sutra includes the phrase "...doing
Prajñā..." indicating that prajñā is also an activity as well as an
outcome, quality or state. As activity, prajñā can be described as
"choiceless engagement" where "choiceless" means selflessly
accepting outcomes as they develop while understanding
interdependent co-existence and sunyata, followed by further
In the history of Zen Buddhism, the Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng
(d. 713) emphasized the practice of prajñā in counterpoint to the
quietistic and self-absorbed style of meditation that was then
current. In so doing, he emphasized dynamic action and human
involvement as essential to Zen practice.
Paññā is also listed as the fourth virtue of ten
Theravada paramitas and prajñā is the sixth
of the six Mahayana paramitas.
Three prajnas or mula
Norbu et al. (1999, 2001:
pp. 136–137) render the 'mūla prajñā' (Sanskrit) where 'mula'
may be set into English as 'root' (of a tree), thus:
- 'Study' (Sanskrit: shruta, Tibetan: thos + pa)
- 'Reflection' (Sanskrit: cinta, Tibetan: sam+ pa)
- 'Meditation' (Sanskrit: bhavana, Tibetan: sgom pa)
These three aspects are the mula prajñā of the sadhana of Prajñā-Pāramitā, the "paramita of wisdom". Hence,
these three are related to, but distinct from, the Prajñāpāramitā that denotes a
particular cycle of discourse in the Buddhist literature that
relates to the doctrinal "field"
(Sanskrit: kṣetra) of the
second turning of the Dharmachakra.
Gyatrul (b.1924), in a
to the work of Chagmé (Wylie: karma-chags-med, fl. 17th
century), rendered into English by Wallace (Chagmé et al., 1998:
pp. 35–36), conveying the importance of internalizing and
integrating the doctrine by extending the metaphor, states:
...do not let your Dharma be like rice in a bowl, always
remaining separate from the container. Rather, apply Dharma by
means of hearing, thinking, and meditating. One of these alone is
not enough. All three must be practiced. If you lack hearing and
thinking, you are not in a good position to meditate effectively.
Such meditation is like trying to climb a mountain without your
hands. However much you learn of the Dharma, practice it with faith
and compassion. Apply it to your own mind. 
In a commentary to Rangjung Dorje's Namshe Yeshe
Gepa (Wylie: rnam shes ye shes ‘byed pa) by Khenchen Thrangu
Rinpoche rendered into English by Peter Roberts (2001), the
mulaprajna are discussed thus:
We shouldn’t believe in something just because the Buddha, or
some great scholar or lama says so. We need a very clear and
profound conviction that the Buddha’s teachings are correct and
this is gained by using analysis and our own intelligence.
Therefore, after our teacher has taught us the path, we should
analyze and thoroughly contemplate the teachings, and so gain the
second type of understanding, which arises from this
This understanding based on listening and contemplation is not
enough—this alone cannot transform our mind. This final
transformation is accomplished by the practice of meditation.
SN 48.10 (Thanissaro, 1997).
AN 3:88 (Thanissaro, 1998b, which
includes the ellipses used in this article's block quote; also see
Nyanaponika & Bodhi, 1999, pp. 69-71).
AN 3:89 (Thanissaro, 1998c; also
see Nyanaponika & Bodhi, 1999, pp. 69-71). Also see Rhys Davids
& Stede (1921-25), entry on "Āsava" (pp. 115-16)
(retrieved 2007-06-22), which in part states: "Freedom from the
'Āsavas' constitutes Arahantship...."
In MN 44 (Thanissaro, 1998a),
Bhikkhuni Dhammadinnā – who the Buddha declared the foremost Dharma
teacher amongst his nuns (see Sravaka) – states:
What Bhikkhuni Dhammadinnā identifies here as "three aggregates"
are often correlated to the Threefold Training, as is done in this
- "...[T]he noble eightfold path is included under the three
aggregates [of virtue, concentration, & discernment]. Right
speech, right action, & right livelihood come under the
aggregate of virtue. Right effort, right mindfulness, & right
concentration come under the aggregate of concentration. Right view
& right resolve come under the aggregate of discernment."
SN 45.8 (Thanissaro, 1996).
Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), p. 437.
Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), pp. 442-443.
Norbu, Namkhai (author, compiler); Clemente, Adriano (translated
from Tibetan into Italian, edited and annotated); Lukianowicz, Andy
(translated from Italian into English) (1999, 2001). The
Precious Vase: Instructions on the Base of Santi Maha Sangha.
Second revised edition. Shang Shung Edizioni, pp.136-137.
Source:  (accessed:
Wednesday March 25, 2009)
Chagmé, Karma (author, compiler); Gyatrul Rinpoche (commentary)
& Wallace, B. Alan (translator) (1998). A Spacious Path to
Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and
Atiyoga. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow
Lion Publications. ISBN 9781559390712; ISBN 1559390719,
Rangjung Dorje (root text); Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
(commentary); Peter Roberts (translator) (2001). Transcending
Ego - Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom (Wylie: rnam shes ye
shes ‘byed pa). Source:  (accessed:
Wednesday April 1, 2009)