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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Prajna-Paramita

Usually translated “perfection of wisdom.” From the Sanskrit compound PRAJÑĀ + PĀRAMITĀ. In MAHĀYĀNA BUDDHISM wisdom consciousness (prajñā) is contrasted with ordinary worldly or conditioned consciousness (vijñāna). To attain wisdom consciousness, five “perfections” are required: charity (dāna), purity or self-discipline (śīla), patience (ksānti), diligence or vigor (vīrya), profound meditation (DHYĀNA). To these are added in the usual listing, the sixth, which is wisdom (prajñā). Sometimes the perfections are given as ten, adding to the six previously stated: expedient means (upāya), exertion or resolve (pranidhāna), strength (bala), and knowledge (jñāna). In effect, these are the Mahāyāna Buddhist equivalents of the Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha and forming an important part of the doctrine of THERAVĀDA BUDDHISM. These six (or ten) perfections are detailed in a sūtra literature called Perfection of Wisdom, the earliest of which (in 8000 lines) was written sometime between the first cent. BCE and first cent. CE. Two of the most popular and influential of these texts are the Vajracchedaka (“Diamond-Cutter”) Sūtra and the Hrdaya (“Heart”) Sūtra. Among other things, this literature expounds the doctrine of emptiness (ŚŪNYATĀ), which became the characteristic doctrine of the Madyamaka School of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

The Voice of the Silence, a Mahāyāna Buddhist work translated by Helena P. BLAVATSKY, lists the six prajñā- pāramitās; these are commented on extensively by Charles W. LEADBEATER in Talks on the Path of Occultism, Vol. 2 (1926; 4th ed. 1954), pp. 183-4 and 262-273. Furthermore, HPB states in The Secret Doctrine that prajñā, which she calls “the capacity of perception,” exists differently in all the seven principles of man (cf. SD I:139 and II:29 fn, 636, 641), suggesting that wisdom continually expands as human beings develop spiritually. It also implies that the five (or more) stages that lead to wisdom deepen in their meanings for us as we unfold our spiritual consciousness.

R.W.B.

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