Prajñā (Buddhism)

10 pāramīs
6 pāramitās
Colored items are in both lists.
Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom. China, 9th–10th century

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli), often translated as "knowledge" or "wisdom", is an understanding of the true nature of reality, primarily the three characteristics of all things: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering), and anattā (non-self). In addition, Abhidharma and later Mahāyāna text may include suññatā (Skt; Eng: emptiness).


Prajñā is often translated as "wisdom", but is closer in meaning to "insight", "non-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 traditionsEdit

Paññā is the fourth virtue of ten pāramīs found in late canonic (Khuddaka Nikāya) and Theravādan commentary, and the sixth of the six Mahāyāna pāramitās.

Theravada BuddhismEdit

In the Pāli Canon, paññā refers to knowledge and wisdom. Pali texts relate that there are three levels of paññā, or knowledge.[3][4]

  1. Learned knowledge (Pāli: suta-maya-paññā), or knowledge or wisdom that comes from books or listening to others.
  2. Reflective knowledge (Pāli: cinta-maya-paññā), or knowledge or wisdom that comes from thought or logic and reasoning on what we know from learned knowledge. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu describes this higher form of knowledge "understanding".
  3. Knowledge from spiritual development (Pāli: bhāvanā-maya-paññā), or knowledge that comes from direct spiritual experience. Sometimes called "direct knowledge".

Abhidharma commentaries describe seven ways to gain wisdom.[4]

  1. Asking a wise person
  2. Keeping things clean
  3. Balancing the five faculties (faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom)
  4. Avoiding foolish people
  5. Associating with wise people
  6. Reflecting on and analyzing the Dhamma
  7. Having the mind inclined towards developing wisdom

Paññā is described by scholars as essentially being the ability to understand the three characteristics of all things, namely impermanence, suffering and non-self.[5][6][7][8]

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

Mahāyāna BuddhismEdit

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ Keown 2003, p. 218.
  2. ^ a b Loy 1997, p. 136.
  3. ^ Bhikkhu, Buddhadasa (2017-05-16). Under the Bodhi Tree: Buddha's Original Vision of Dependent Co-arising. Simon and Schuster. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-61429-219-7.
  4. ^ a b (2019-09-21). "(4) Fourth Pāramī: The Perfection of Wisdom (paññā-pāramī)". Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  5. ^ Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ Carl Olson (2005). The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8135-3778-8.
  8. ^ Thepyanmongkol, Phra (2012). A Study Guide for Right Practice of the Three Trainings. Wat Luang Phor Sodh. pp. 255–258. ISBN 978-974-401-378-1.
  9. ^ Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli 1999, p. 437.


Published sourcesEdit

  • 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 linksEdit