Prajna – The Perfection of Wisdom

Umi no Nami Dan Rotnem

This month we take up the one remaining paramita: prajna, often translated as wisdom. 

The perfection of wisdom has some specific characteristics. In our tradition, we can see it in the context of practices that develop transcendent wisdom, which itself is awakening:

  • The foundations of mindfulness

    • Body, Feeling, Mind, Dharma

  • The faculty and strength of wisdom 

    • Realization and integration of the four noble truths into daily life

  • Investigation of dharma

    • Direct inquiry into what constitutes our experience

  • Right view

    • Direct realization of things like impermanence, suffering, selflessness, dependent-origination, and the rest of the teachings. 

All of these are what are known as transformational methods. While helpful, they are only of benefit in that they create conditions for a personal realization of our true-nature through dhyana!

It is this practice of meditation, and thereby seeing one’s own nature (or kensho) that prompts awakening to a radically altered worldview: prajna. The essence of this is captured beautifully by The Great Wisdom Heart Sutra, as we can see its Sanskrit name: Hridaya Prajnaparamita Sutra. 

Experiencing the clear deep truth of the transcendent wisdom (prajna) of meditative awareness (dhyana), Avalokiteshvara realized the fundamental emptiness of all experience (kensho), and ended all ego-confusion and mental suffering. 

The explanation of the 8th koan in the mondo manual is another context where we can feel into the awakening wisdom of prajna:

Wherever there is sentience (the ability to perceive, think, or feel), there is This consciousness. Mental forms cannot arise without empty awareness of mind in which they arise… Wherever you are, no matter what is arising within you, this awake, silent, empty, fearless Clear Deep Heart-Mind is always here.

Right here, right now, notice that which is illuminating the experience of being where you are, reading this. Notice how one may even observe this witness, and the witness to the witness. The doing happens before there is any doer. 

Here, now, this moment of being is dhyana, is prajna, is the emptiness of being, is buddha! Taking this realization and awakening into our lives, we can be liberated from suffering. Knowing we are a conditioned process arising and falling away thousands of times a second, we are free. 

Free to do what, exactly? To radically accept the interconnection, interdependency and interpenetration of life as a fleeting gift. To willfully surrender to the truth of accountability and take responsibility for reconstructing our patterns of behavior. 

We are what we are doing. In owning this truth, we can claim our freedom.

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