This week’s theme for The Teachings of the Buddha is “Shining the Light of Wisdom.”—editor's note.
The texts cited in the last chapter treated meditation as a discipline of mental training aimed at a twofold task: stilling the mind and generating insight. The still mind, calm and collected, is the foundation for insight. The still mind observes phenomena as they arise and pass away, and from sustained observation and probing exploration arises “the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena” (adhipaññādhammavipassanā). As wisdom gathers momentum, it penetrates more and more deeply into the nature of things, culminating in the full and comprehensive understanding called enlightenment (sambodhi).
The Pāli word translated here as “wisdom” is paññā, the Pāli equivalent of Sanskrit prajñā, which gives its name to the voluminous prajñāpāramitā sūtras of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The idea of paññā/prajñā as the principal tool on the path to enlightenment, however, did not originate with the prajñāpāramitā literature but is already deeply embedded in the teachings of Early Buddhism. The Nikāyas take paññā not only as a point of doctrine but as a rich theme for imagery. Thus, Texts IX,1(1)–(2) speak of paññā respectively as a light and a knife. It is the supreme light because it illuminates the true nature of things and dispels the darkness of ignorance. It is a knife—a sharp butcher’s knife—because it cuts through the tangled mass of the defilements and thereby opens the way to liberation.
To continue reading the introduction to “Shining the Light of Wisdom,” click here.