The Perfection of Wisdom: Prajnaparamita

If we lack the wisdom that can discriminate accurately between reality and fantasy, we lack the most important tool for fulfilling our own and other’s worldly and spiritual positive aims. In a state of unawareness and confusion, we can only guess what will be helpful for us or for someone else, and often we’re wrong. With far-reaching discriminating awareness – the perfection of wisdom – coupled with compassion and a bodhichitta aim, we can become a Buddha and know in full the most effective and appropriate methods for benefiting each and every being there is.

Far-reaching discriminating awareness – more widely known as “prajnaparamita,” the perfection of wisdom – is the last of the six perfections. With it, we thoroughly analyze and discriminate accurately and with certitude the nature and fine details of everything we need to know in order to attain enlightenment and fully benefit all others. There are three divisions – the far-reaching discriminating awareness that understands correctly:

1. The deepest phenomenon – the very nature of reality, namely all phenomena’s total lack of a self-establishing nature, cognized either conceptually through a meaning category or non-conceptually in a manifest manner

2. Superficial, conventional phenomena – the five major fields of knowledge: manual arts and craftsmanship, medicine, languages and grammar, logic and the inner knowledge of the complete Buddhist teachings, especially the stages of realization and the methods and signs of achieving them

3. How to benefit all limited, suffering beings – the 11 types of people to help that are also discussed in relation to far-reaching ethical self-discipline, perseverance and mental stability.

With the perfection of wisdom, we discriminate correctly and decisively:

  • The positive goals we are aiming to achieve
  • The benefits of attaining them
  • The disadvantages that come from not attaining them
  • The most effective methods for achieving these goals
  • How to properly practice those methods
  • The obstacles that could arise while trying to practice them
  • The ways to avoid or overcome these obstacles.

Without the correct understanding that comes from far-reaching discriminating awareness, we’ll be practicing the Buddhist methods blindly, unsure about what we’re aiming for, why we’re aiming for it, how to attain it and what we’ll do with our attainment once we’ve reached it. We’ll contaminate our practices with selfish, ignorant motivations, pollute them with disturbing emotions and attitudes, and thereby jeopardize our chances of any success.

Far-reaching discriminating awareness is essential for properly putting into practice the other five far-reaching attitudes – generosity, ethical self-discipline, patience, perseverance and mental stability or concentration. With this perfection of wisdom, we discriminate correctly and decisively:

  • What is and is not appropriate to give and to whom, and further, the void nature of ourselves, the person to whom we give and what we give, so that we’re able to give what is helpful without any pride or attachment and without regrets
  • What is helpful and harmful to ourselves and others, and further, the sufferings of samsara and drawbacks of remaining in a serene, apathetic state of nirvana, so that we exercise ethical self-discipline purely and only for the sake of benefiting others and not for fulfilling our own selfish aims
  • The faults of impatience and the benefits of patience, so that we can endure with love and compassion other’s negative and hostile responses to our efforts to help and all the difficulties involved in the practice of Dharma, without getting angry
  • The reasons why we are aiming for our spiritual goals and how the methods we practice will bring us to them, so that we persevere in our practice without becoming lazy or getting discouraged and giving up part way
  • What is reality and what is the projection of impossible ways of existing, so that concentration with mental stability focused on the true nature of reality will bring us liberation and enlightenment. Further, with discriminating awareness of our goal, we do not let any serene and blissful state attained in meditation detract us from our goal of helping all others.

The Ten Perfections

When ten far-reaching attitudes are listed, the last four attitudes are divisions of far-reaching discrimination:

  • Far-reaching skill in means – special discriminating awareness concerning the most effective and appropriate methods directed inwardly for actualizing the Dharma teachings and externally for helping others attain liberation and enlightenment.
  • Far-reaching aspirational prayer – special discriminating awareness concerning what we aspire for, namely never to be parted in all our lifetimes from a bodhichitta aim and for our activities to benefit others to continue forever without any break
  • Far-reaching strengthening – special discriminating awareness, gained through analysis and stabilizing meditation, employed for expanding our far-reaching discriminating awareness and not letting it be crushed by counteracting forces such as attachment
  • Far-reaching deep awareness – special discriminating awareness employed for fully integrating with our minds the correct understanding of the voidness of all phenomena, so as to be able to cognize simultaneously the superficial and deepest truths about everything.

Summary

With far-reaching discriminating awareness, we distinguish clearly and decisively the benefits of any practice we undertake and the drawbacks of continuing to live with what the practice will overcome. Backed by this firm understanding and conviction, and powered by an unwavering motivation of love, compassion and a bodhichitta aim, any Dharma practice we do become effective for attaining enlightenment and the ability to benefit all others as much as is possible.