At the moment I am reading the Mahavagga. I noticed that in the section on searches (SN45.161-170) the texts make a difference between direct knowledge abhijanati and full understanding parijanati, in the sense that the factors of awakening, noble eightfold path etc, are to be developed for direct knowledge, full understanding, for utter destruction and abandoning of for example, the three searches, the three taints, etc.
I am trying to get a feeling on what these two words mean (abhijanati and parijanati) and was wondering if anyone would like to comment on the difference between them? Could it be the one is more about knowing and understanding the direct experience as it unfolds, and the other about a complete understanding? I am looking forward to read your reactions, thank you!
My advice is try not to limit these words to one single meaning. There is a tendency in Buddhism to define every word very specifically. But language is very flexible, including Pali, and this is especially the case with words that mean knowing or understanding. There are many terms for this in Pali, and they are all more or less interchangeable.
Having said that, parijanati means most literally 'full understanding and therefore in certain contexts refers specifically to enlightenment, not to initial understanding gained at stream entry or so. But I bet even this is not absolute. I would be very surprised if it were.
I agree with your assessment above. It is correct to get into the habit of investigating individual words for knowledge of the suttas. I have found investigating the various prefixes is extremely illuminating. It seems in this case the prefixes are different:
The primary meaning of abhi is that of taking possession and mastering, as contained in E. coming by and over-coming, thus literally having the function of facing and aggressing = towards, against on to, at (see II.1a and b) mastering = over, along over, out over, on top of (see II. 1.b).
For example, in SN 56.11, it is not sufficient the 1st Noble Truth is merely directly understood (abhijanati). In SN 56.11, it is said the 1st Noble Truth should be fully understood (parijanati). What this often held to mean is if the 1st Truth is fully understood then the other Truths will also be fully understood.
It is incorrect to get into the habit of investigating individual words for knowledge of the suttas. The method recommended by the Buddha in Majhima Nikaya 95 is comparison of texts you already understand with new texts using meaning as the format. This encourages a broader view. Majhima Nikaya 96 addresses “The Search” and repeatedly refers to the development of direct knowledge from the perspective of the Buddha-to-be. Majhima Nikaya 19 also speaks from the pre-enlightenment perspective, which is relevant to western lay practitioners, but describes the practical means involved in direct knowledge & full understanding, which is to investigate the results and repercussions of wholesome thoughts and their unwholesome counterparts. The practice methods are explained in Majhima Nikaya 10 (the Satipatthana Sutta), section four:
D. Mental Qualities
"And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves?
 “There is the case where a monk remains focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five hindrances. And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five hindrances? There is the case where, there being sensual desire present within, a monk discerns that ‘There is sensual desire present within me.’ Or, there being no sensual desire present within, he discerns that ‘There is no sensual desire present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen sensual desire. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of sensual desire once it has arisen. And he discerns how there is no future arising of sensual desire that has been abandoned. (The same formula is repeated for the remaining hindrances: ill will, sloth & drowsiness, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.) etc.”
CurlyCarl, thanks for your quick reply and your explanation of the prefixes. I remember that abhi is translated sometimes as higher (I think) and seeing your translations I now understand more where this is coming from, thank you.
Paul, thank you for your extensive answer and letting me know not to only study individual words. I try to study the early texts in a broader way also, thank you for your encouragement with respect to this. In addition, it seems supportive for me to understand the different use of the words as well. For example, in MN95 (how beautiful about what is conducive to full awakening, thank you for mentioning this sutta!) the word janati is used (knows, experiences) and in MN10 ghat you mentioned, I think the word pajanati is used (more about clearly knowing I think). These slight differences meaning of the verb through use of prefixes as Curly described, and so they are also slightly different from the two words abhijanati and parijanati. Somehow it feels relevant to me that these nuances give me some sort of a “felt sense” about the meaning, which in turn feels supporting for me to really letting the texts “come alive”.
Sunyo, your reply really encourages me to feel the words even more (and not stick with just one translation). As I just mentioned in my reply to Paul, the different meanings really help to give me more feeling and understanding of the texts.
Also thank you for your reference on parijanati and full awakening (in certain contexts). This might then be in line with what CurlyCarl stated about fully understanding the four noble truths.
As you have correctly indicated, there are two levels. I’m referring to the second level, referred to in Majhima Nikaya 117 as “transcendent right view,” where “name” is abandonded. Even if not relevant to the practitioner’s current path, it is profitable to bear in mind and hold reservations about words:
“What is it that overwhelmed everything? What is it that nought else excels? What is it that to which one thing Everything else its course doth bend? 'Tis name that has overwhelmed everything Nought else exists that excels name And Name itself is that one thing Beneath whose sway all others came.”—Samyutta Nikaya 1.61