Panna, or wisdom, is comprised of Total View and Total Aspiration. To be wise, one would see the true nature of existence as selfless, impermanent, and of an unsatisfactory nature, and from that have the aspiration to live in a wholesome way that is aligned with that truth. Having panna aids a practitioner in working more intentionally and therefore more effectively with the rest of the 8 Fold Path.
Developing wisdom, according to Namgyal Rinpoche, comes before developing calm (sila) or absorption (samadhi) on the path. Namgyal Rinpoche was recorded to have said in “Body Speech and Mind” that you need mindfulness of the inner in order to see clearly the outer, “[…] to know it isn’t all projections. Ignorance is cleared in that order.” Having developed wise aspiration and view of reality, it will be more intentional and insightful working on whole actions, speech, and livelihood. To learn more on why the path is ordered this way, see the Using This Site page.
Now my friends, for the question that burns through the best of us: what is wisdom?
Namgyal Rinpoche described it best:
“When Buddha himself was on his path of spiritual purification and practice, his most profound insight was the direct experience of the so-called middle way. He started seeing things beyond extremes. In his very first teaching, the ‘Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion’, he states:
“The middle way breaks rigorously through the concept of duality. It pulverizes wrong view and establishes so called ‘right view’. Expressing it in the most basic way possible, the practice of the middle way purifies the mind by abandoning the falsely established idea that there is a ‘self’ interacting with ‘the other’.
“Clearly and directly realizing the absence of self and the emptiness of all phenomena is therefore the ‘goal’ of wisdom. This is also often called insight. All the talking about ‘Selflessness’ and ‘Wisdom’ remains just talking if we have no practice, so let’s get practical.”
Supporting what Namgyal has said, Yasutani Roshi (1885-1973) said:
“The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.”
The Buddha has been quoted saying:
“’All phenomena are selfless’ (Sabbe Dhamma Anatta).”
The study of of selflessness is just one study of the 3 Marks of Existence (one of the many Buddhist laundry lists). Ignorance prevents us from seeing that all phenomena around us is 1. without a self (anatta), 2. impermanent (anicca), and 3. of an unsatisfactory nature (dukkha). A study of the 3 Marks of Existence would be highly beneficial for developing wisdom.
In addition, the online wisdom library, in one of their definitions of panna, points out how wisdom “comprises a very wide field” including these 3 types of wisdom:
“Knowledge based on thinking (cintā-mayā-paññā), knowledge based on learning (suta-mayā-paññā), [and] knowledge based on mental development (bhāvanā-mayā-paññā).”
The wisdom library points out how wisdom also shows up in multiple Buddhist laundry lists:
“Wisdom is one of the 5 mental faculties (s. bala), one of the 3 kinds of training (sikkhā, q.v.), and one of the perfections (s. pāramī).”
Knowing what we do now about panna, here are some translations of the word other than “wisdom”:
Insight into the nature of reality
Intellect as conversant with general truths
A mind that has released delusions to perceive the nature of things correctly as emptiness
The idea that almost the entirety of civilization across time has lived entire lies based on delusion is an awe-inspiring thought. It is a concept related to the hypotheses by Descartes who compared waking reality to that of a dream reality. We can be utterly convinced that an experience is real, when it turns out that we’ve only deceived ourselves. It’s easy to see how we experience this every night, but most people do not begin to conceive that we do this every day.
Doug Duncan Sensei’s first book is titled “Dharma if you Dare”. It is a provoking title understood by dharma students because once you have a taste of dharma, you have had a taste of truth and it is difficult to return to the dream world that you previously entertained. Proceed with caution, for as you develop wisdom, and practice dharma, the world as you know it will be turned inside out. There are no safe zones because everything is subject to impermanence, no-self, and suffering.
Once you start developing your dharma, you will still get parking tickets (as I did today), you will still need to pay them off, and you will still have an ego that whispers: I did not deserve that ticket! The difference between an enlightened being and an unenlightened being, Doug Sensei says, is that the enlightened being accepts it all. I take this to mean that they, unlike the unawakened person, has come to realize the truth that phenomena is impermanent, selfless, and of an unsatisfactory nature.
Namgyal Rinpoche also said, for those working with Tibetan deities and the Three Poisons:
“Panna is developed by working with Manjusri, red. Manjusri is for overcoming dullness.”