A frequent criticism of modern Buddhist is the almost one-sided emphasis on meditation. In response to my post last week on modern Buddhism, a reader commented that “not only is the sila [ethics] being left out by some folks, the prajna is also devalued as well.” I agree this certainly seems to be the case.
The Sanskrit word prajna is syllabified as praj, meaning “higher,” and na or “consciousness.” Wisdom is “above” consciousness, a state of realization caused by direct awareness into reality. In general, Buddhism distinguishes higher wisdom from knowledge. To the dismay of those critics of modern Buddhism obsessed with a purely intellectual approach, dharmic wisdom is not based solely on intellectual achievement.
It’s said that under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha awoke to three kinds of wisdom: the wisdom concerning all dharmas (things), the wisdom obtained by his own effort, and the natural wisdom.
The first wisdom corresponds to knowledge, specifically the understanding that nothing in the universe exists without a relationship of mutual dependence with other things. However, as previously stated, knowledge alone is not enough; the aim of Buddhism to go beyond knowledge to higher or deeper wisdom.
The second wisdom corresponds with jiriki, self or inner power. This wisdom, obtained through meditative concentration, we call dhyana-prajna.
The third wisdom, the natural wisdom, is the most intuitive of the three, the most difficult to describe in words. It has nothing to do with intelligence or shrewdness, rather it is the pristine wisdom innately possessed by mind. It is the buddha-nature, the mind of original enlightenment, also called “dustless wisdom.”
I think people grow tired of hearing about ineffable wisdom, wisdom that goes beyond wisdom, and so on. Maybe you have to experience it to understand, or perhaps folks would get a better feel for what we mean if we explain that it’s like breaking out of the prison of thought.
Awakening, the process of enlarging awareness, is different from thought. The aim is to free awareness, so that awareness requires no thought. It unfolds, as a flower unfolds, opening to the sun.
The lush chrysanthemum is not different from prajna.”