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Wisdom. Wisdom is a part of all of the paramitas. It is the ground they stand on, so to speak. To be wise is to be charitable, disciplined, patient, determined, mindful, and the result is the development of wisdom. Wisdom comes with time. It cannot be hurried, though we are all wise within our own understanding each moment. This sense will evolve as we take each step of our lives. We will become wise when we see our Truth, our failures, our successes, our efforts, and so on as just what they are, impermanent moments of our being. Letting go of these is the fruit of our wisdom.

Wisdom (paññā) is the ability to make intelligent decisions and draw correct conclusions based on experience and Knowledge. Wisdom is an ability of the mind and thus the state of the mind will have an influence on the ability to be wise. Freeing the mind from prejudices and preconceived ideas, developing awareness and having an uncluttered and tranquil mind all assist in the development of wisdom. The Buddha also asserted that there is a close connection between ethical behaviour and wisdom: ‘Wisdom is purified by virtue and virtue is purified by wisdom. Where one is so is the other. The virtuous person has wisdom and the wise person has virtue. The combination of virtue and wisdom is called the highest thing in the World.’ (D.I,124).


Wisdom translates two different Sanskrit and Tibetan terms:

  1. (Skt. prajñā; Tib. ཤེས་རབ་, sherab; Wyl. shes rab), the sixth of the six paramitas, defined as the precise discernment of all things and events.
  2. (Skt. jñāna; Tib. ཡེ་ཤེས་, yeshe; Wyl. ye shes), which is sometimes translated as primordial wisdom. One of the two accumulations.



Ringu Tulku Rinpoche says:

"Sherab consists of the syllable ཤེས་ shé, which means ‘knowing’ and རབ་ rab which means ‘excellent’ or ‘best’. So it is the best knowledge, the best form of knowing. It is knowing correctly, clearly and fully."


Patrul Rinpoche says:

"Wisdom is identified as the recognition during the formal meditation session that all phenomena are empty, and the knowledge during the post-meditation phase that all phenomena are unreal, like a magical illusion or a dream."


Chökyi Drakpa says:

"Through the wisdom that comes from hearing, you are able to recognize the disturbing emotions. Then, through the wisdom that comes from reflection, you are able to overcome the disturbing emotions temporarily. And finally, through the wisdom that comes through meditation, you conquer completely the enemy of negative emotions and obtain the confidence of knowing inexpressible and inconceivable reality with the wisdom of discriminating awareness."


Ringu Tulku Rinpoche says:

"In the word ཡེ་ཤེས་, yeshe, ཡེ་, is short for ཡེ་ནས, yé né, which means ‘right from the beginning’ or ‘primordially’. Some people translate it as ‘pristine’ or 'pure', meaning that it is untouched and unstained, and has been there all the time. It is the way it always was. So yeshe is discovered with ཤེས་རབ་, sherab. Yeshe is understood by sherab, or approached by sherab."

The Difference Between Sherab and Yeshe

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche says:

"The difference between sherab and yeshe is very subtle and slight. But I think we can say that yeshe is the most natural state of our awareness or consciousness, which is unstained, uncontrived and completely ordinary. It is there all the time, but we don’t recognize it. It is sherab that brings about the recognition, but of course they are not two separate things."

"When wisdom is functioning in our life, it has the effect of enabling us to overcome the ingrained perspectives of our habitual thinking and arrive at a fresh and holistic view of a given situation. We are able to make a broad assessment of the facts, perceive the essence of an issue and steer a sure course toward happiness. Wisdom dispels our delusions of separateness and awakens in us a sense of empathetic equality with all living things."

A Buddha is characterized as a person of profound wisdom. The idea of wisdom is core to Buddhism. But wisdom can be a vague and elusive concept, hard to define and harder to find. How does one become wise? Is wisdom something that we can actively develop, or must we merely wait to grow wiser as we grow older? Perhaps it is because wisdom is such an indistinct concept that it has lost value as a relevant ideal in modern society, which has instead come to place great store in information and the attainment of knowledge.

Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai, characterized the confusion between knowledge and wisdom as one of the major failings of modern society.

His critique is starkly demonstrated in the astonishing progress of technology in the last century. While scientific and technological development has shown only a mixed record of alleviating human suffering, it has triumphed remarkably in its ability and efficiency in unleashing death and destruction.

Toda likened the relationship between knowledge and wisdom to that between a pump and water. A pump that does not bring forth water (knowledge without wisdom) is of little use.

This is not to deny the importance of knowledge. But knowledge can be utilized to generate both extreme destructiveness and profound good.

Wisdom is that which directs knowledge toward good--toward the creation of value.

Buddhist teachings, such as the concept of the five kinds of wisdom, describe and analyze in detail the dynamics of wisdom and how it manifests at different levels of our consciousness.

When wisdom is functioning in our life, it has the effect of enabling us to overcome the ingrained perspectives of our habitual thinking and arrive at a fresh and holistic view of a given situation. We are able to make a broad assessment of the facts, perceive the essence of an issue and steer a sure course toward happiness.

Buddhism also likens wisdom to a clear mirror that perfectly reflects reality as it is. What is reflected in this mirror of wisdom is the interrelatedness and interdependence of our life with all other life. This wisdom dispels our delusions of separateness and awakens in us a sense of empathetic equality with all living things.

The term "Buddha" describes a person who freely manifests this inherent wisdom. And what causes this wisdom to well forth in our lives is compassion.

Buddhism sees the universe, and life itself, as an embodiment of compassion--the interweaving of the "threads" of interdependent phenomena, giving rise to and nurturing life in all its wonderful and varied manifestations.

It teaches that the purpose of human life is to be an active participant in the compassionate workings of the universe, enriching and enhancing life's creative dynamism.

Therefore, it is when we act with compassion that our life is brought into accord with the universal life force and we manifest our inherent wisdom. The action of encouraging and sharing hope with others awakens us to a larger, freer identity beyond the narrow confines of our ego. Wisdom and compassion are thus inseparable.

Central to Buddhist practice is self-mastery, the effort to "become the master of one's mind." This idea implies that the more profoundly we strive to develop an altruistic spirit, the more the wisdom of the Buddha is aroused within us and the more powerfully we can, in turn, direct all things--our knowledge, our talents and the unique particularities of our character--to the end of creating happiness for ourselves and others.

Speaking at Tribhuvan University in Nepal in 1995, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda commented, "To be master of one's mind means to cultivate the wisdom that resides in the inner recesses of our lives, and which wells forth in inexhaustible profusion only when we are moved by a compassionate determination to serve humankind, to serve people."

If human history is to change and be redirected from division and conflict toward peace and an underlying ethic of respect for the sanctity of all life, it is human beings themselves who must change. The Buddhist understanding of compassionate wisdom can serve as a powerful basis for such a transformation.

Thinley Norbu writes:

"The Tibetan words sherab and yeshe appear again and again in [the teachings] because they are connected with enlightenment. It is important to give an explanation of these words because of the tendency to materialize and separate them, which is incompatible with the meaning of Dharma, which is to make non-contradiction."

Alternative Translations

For Sherab

For Prajña

Further Reading