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Prajna is one of those terms that holds a fascination for me.  It’s what Buddhists call the clarity that comes from seeing the way things are.  (If you can see what-is, it’s likely that you’ll be able to act more appropriately, they say.)  It is, I suppose, another way of Un-Seeing.

Prajna encompasses discernment and discrimination, insight, wisdom and enlightenment, all of which are very big words with lots of layers of meaning in them.  I’ve gnawed on it for a long time now, and am still trying to get a handle on it.  It’s an ongoing process.

Yeah, yeah…I know.  Slow learner.  But, for real, reaching for clarity has been a puzzlement for people wiser than me through the ages.

I’ll try breaking it down into the parts.  Maybe that’ll help.


Discernment and discrimination are tools you use to separate things into various categories.  These help you define and label what’s in front of you.  They are really good for sorting things and sticking them in organized piles so you can think on them more easily.  They’re mostly good for labeling stuff.

I thought on that one for a while.  I even wrote a poem about it:


 What you call yourself has power:

Word does manifest as real.

You’re the archer, you’re the arrow,

And the Word’s the bow you wield.


When you call yourself a victim,

you teach others you are prey.

When you call yourself a warrior,

others fight you all the way.


When you call yourself a businessman,

you’ll run busy all the time.

When you call yourself a poet,

all the world turns into rhyme.


When you call yourself a captain,

then the world hangs on your neck.

When you call yourself a seeker,

nothing true comes at your beck.


When you call yourself a pauper,

then your world is filled with lack.

When you call yourself a king,

spears and knives will seek your back.


When you call yourself a servant,

rules and regs fly ’round your head.

When you call yourself a debtor,

obligations make your bed.


It’s a funny thing to notice,

the strangest thing of all to see:

when you stop plastering on the labels,

you’ll just be whatever you be.

By Netta Kanoho


Insight is a gift that comes to you when you study a thing deeply, looking at it from every angle.

My favorite story of an art exercise that develops insight is the one where a student is given a fish and told to paint/draw the thing every single day for a month.  At the end of the month, the fish is a lot worse for wear and probably hard on the nose.  However, if the student practices this exercise properly (with mindfulness, focus, and concentration), the student will begin to understand what “fish” is…it says here.

Insights are supposed to be delivered via “Ah-Ha” moments…when all of a sudden all the different perspectives come together into one big oh-wow thought that’s supposed to put all the bits and pieces together.  Ah-Ha moments are supposed to be life-defining things.  It’s the finger that sets up the path to, well…meaning, mana and all that good stuff…maybe.

Here is a TEDx talk from a high school teacher at Clarkstown High School North, Jordan Turner, who puts a different spin on the wonderful “Ah-Ha” Moment that is supposed to signal some big insight or other.

According to Turner, the Ah-Ha clarity may be just one more step to more questions.


Wisdom is another gift of time.  It seems to grow out of an accumulation of insights and is kind of like a catalog of thoughts based on previous experience that will probably work pretty well.

Enlightenment is apparently a level of insightfulness that encompasses everything that is in front of you, bringing the all of everything into clear focus.  It’s an ideal state of being, it says here.

It is also, according to Buddhists, the result of many, many lifetimes of concerted effort…two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, three steps back and so on and so forth.

The enlightenment all the wise guys seem to keep going on about is “freedom from delusion.”  It’s a tool — just as things like focusing on the abundance in the World, trusting the Creative to be untrammeled and limitless, learning to balance the energies of Heaven and Earth within your own self, making things pono (in right relationship to each other) and seeing what-is are all tools you use to work on becoming a high-vibe being in the World.

One of the best resource books for Seeker wanna-bes (as well as the more earthbound sorts who just want to live a better life) that I’ve ever found is one put together in 1984 by Rick Fields and three other editors of the New Age Journal.  The book, CHOP WOOD, CARRY WATER: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life, is full of ancient wisdoms that remain relevant today.  It is a down-to-earth guide for those who want to fly.


Many of the Seekers who look at these kinds of things may be a bit off, I am thinking.  They seem convinced that Enlightenment-with-the-Big-E is some kind of end-product and goal.  Enlightenment, to my mind, is just one more thing to clean the pot that is you.

The whole point for doing this dance, it seems to me, is about using that pot to cook up good nourishing things for the big party with the Creative and the World and the sentient beings in this life.  Now THAT is something I can get behind!

My own take on all this is that often what we call clarity is likely to reflect our own understandings of what is true and what we value.  We tend to see what we believe, I think.  Prajna goes beyond that.

What do you think?

Picture credit:  Lotus by M. G. N.  via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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