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April 09, 2009


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Lauren Crane

What's that first word? Looks like "NCY"


Thanks, Barry. I'm going to plaster the ZM's sign-off to my monitor. Reading it, I'm again joyful-tearful. "Try, try, try for ten thousand years..." Shit, I'll keep trying as long as it takes, even if it takes me...TWO. MILLION.YEARS (making Dr. Evil gesture).

@ Lauren Crane: "Only" - the enso stands in for the "O."

Speaking of enso...Barry, what is the Korean term for it?

Ashin Sopāka

Interesting how Sanskrit and Pali terms diverge; could be the reason why there are two approaches to the Buddha's teachings.

In Pali, the prefix "pa-" means "directional prefix of forward motion, in applied sense often emphasising the action as carried on in a marked degree or even beyond its mark" (PTS Pali English Dictionary), and as you note above "-nya" means knowledge.

The understanding from Pali then is a knowledge that exceeds normal knowledge, a deep, penetrative kind of knowledge or the wisdom gained through experiential practice.

Please don't misunderstand, this isn't an issue of right or wrong, just interesting interpretations :)

Barry Briggs

Hi Lauren - Alice got it right - the word is "Only" in Kwong Roshi's very beautiful hand.

Alice - Dr Evil! Yes! You know, I don't know the Korean term for "enso" - I'll ask one of the bosalnims when I next see her.

Hi Ashin Sopaka - The truth is: I'm a scholar of neither Pali nor Sanskrit. My understanding of *prajna* comes from the translator Red Pine. He talks about this meaning of prajna in his book on the Heart Sutra. I have no way of knowing if he's right or wrong - but since his translations are well-regarded, I'm willing to spread any confusion or insight...or both. I do very much appreciate your comment. The Pali meaning of prajna certainly seems more in keeping with the traditional notion of wisdom as a "special" kind of knowledge. However, from the Zen point of view, there is nothing, no thing, that is special. Not even prajna.


As I understand "prajña," or "sherap" in Tibetan, it means "pentrating insight, supreme knowledge, the non-conceptual understanding of things as they are." I don't think it differs much from the Pali in that it means "beyond/transcending knowledge," which requires unlearning our conventional knowledge and returning back to not-knowing, which is another way of saying non-conceptual awareness/knowing.

Specifically, the sanskrit word "nitartha" ("Ngedon" in Tibetan) refers to the "true or definitive meaning realized through practice." This is prajña gained from vipassana/vipashyana investigations.

I don't think the meaning of prajña/pañña is the discrepancy in the two approaches of Theravada and Mahayana teachings, but rather the ideal of the arhat/arahant and the bodhisattva.

At least that's my understanding....:)

Barry Briggs

Hi Alice - Thanks for adding to the conversation on prajna. Indeed, the two interpretations, along with the Tibetan understanding of prajna as "penetrating insight," likely come to the same thing.

It's interesting that the short chant in today's (Friday's) post contains this verse about wisdom:

Hearing the sound of the bell,
all thinking is cut off.
Wisdom grows;
enlightenment appears;
hell is left behind.

In the Zen view, wisdom follows the cutting off of all thought. In this way, prajna is not a type of uber-thought but the absence of thought (or better, the absence of attachment to thought - the cutting off of thought).

At least that's my misunderstanding....:)


Aw man, I love this "don't know" thing! Thanks, Barry! Great post!

Barry Briggs

Me, too, Uku. Me, too!


The calligraphy is beautiful, and so on the mark!


Barry Briggs

Hi Puerhan - Yes, Kwang Roshi has an amazing brush. Check out more of this work at:



Thanks for reminding me of S-S's don't know. It led me to a nice reflection of "don't know" vs ignorance - that which is open to all things vs that which can only see through view and constriction.

Barry Briggs

Hi Rohan - thank you for your comment. Seung Sahn always said that don't know is "clear like space" - vast and open to every moment of experience.

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