Vijjā as scientific knowledge as opposed to pañña

Any thoughts on the possible differences in these words? It seems the wisdom faculty is to slow down conditioning and stop all together, and the vijjā faculty would be for development of kammatthanas specifically kasinas. The latter seems as though development of it will lead to more fruitful existence in general. As alchemy/Chinese medicine/ and Ayurveda assists us in a fruitful pleasant abiding, it seems as these would fall under “scientific knowledge”. Would the Buddha instruct us to make use of these states, at least out of compassion for all sentient beings?
Ex: meditation, sense restraint, seclusion is quite productive for pañña, but I also cant deny the lay life I live where development of something fruitful for other sentient beings is also crucial for others’ welfare, my own livelihood, and also can be a great act of dana.
Another thing that comes to mind is “if there’s nothing to do, do (more accurately “be”) nothing. If there’s something to do, give it all you got!”
So this “give it all you got” to me, means study the basic principles that make the external object exist, the elemental nature, and how to incorporate it for the best use to humanity. Really, just to be good, effective, thorough and knowledgeable about whatever task there is to take on.
One of the things that made me come back to “the drawing board” was the idea of Memory sports, including memory palaces. I’m thinking there could be something to this study for the development of the society around us but that might be another subject all together. It never dawned on me to go back to “how I learn” as opposed to “what to learn”. Any thoughts?

Hi Paul @Westbury08, Hope youre doing well!

I’m not entirely sure what you’re exploring in the second part of your post, but I might be able to help with the first part:

There are lots of different types of knowledge in the suttas, sometimes they are clearly defined and singular in meaning, at other times they seem to have synonymous, overlapping meanings. Generally, the differences between these terms can be teased out in detail by examining their various usages in the suttas, but it is not always easy and can actually be a little confusing and frustrating because of the lack of clear meaning.

Briefly, Paññā encompasses a broad category of knowledge, intelligence, reasoning and cognition. It does not represent “higher knowledge” by itself,and is frequently used in compounds that modify it’s meaning. For example, see it’s varied use here in the [Saṅgīti Sutta DN33].(SuttaCentral)

Three kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of a trainee, the wisdom of an adept, and the wisdom of one who is neither a trainee nor an adept.
Tisso paññā—sekkhā paññā, asekkhā paññā, nevasekkhānāsekkhā paññā. (42)

1.10.106 Another three kinds of wisdom: wisdom produced by thought, learning, and meditation.
Aparāpi tisso paññā—cintāmayā paññā, sutamayā paññā, bhāvanāmayā paññā.

So, this is just knowledge generally. Paññā is synonymous with Ñāṇa, which is used in similarly general ways to paññā, but also has very specific meanings through compound words and phrases, like the well known ñāṇaṃdassanaṃ (knowledge and vision).

Ñāṇa is frequently the antonym to avijjā (ignorance/delusion), whereas that is not always the case for Vijjā, interestingly. Vijjā is also used broadly in various ways but most often refers to higher types of knowledge—especially as attainments— like the Tevijjās, the three knowledges gained by the Buddha during the Enlightenment process:

  1. Knowledge of former lives.
  2. Seeing how beings arise and pass away.
  3. Knowledge of the destruction of the taints.

Vijjā’s definition as scientific knowledge which you refer to above, is probably because it was thought of as an applied knowledge, based on the application of mental cultivation which developed the cognitive powers, rather than like a applied science as we know it, or in the alchemical or medicinal sense.

Another term for knowledge is Abhiññā, which specifically refers to the super-normal knowledge of higher powers and psychic abilities: They are:

  1. magical powers (iddhi-vidha),
  2. divine ear (dibba-sota),
  3. penetration of the minds of others (ceto-pariya-ñāna),
  4. remembrance of former existences (pubbe-nivāsānussati),
  5. divine eye (dibba-cakkhu),
  6. extinction of all cankers (āsavakkhaya).

The last three in the list also come under the tevijjas.

So, there are some specific meanings and some synonymous meanings, often appearing together. The combination of words that have synonymous meaning is confusing to our minds today (why repeat it if it’s the same meaning??) But this seems to have an intensifying effect that makes sense in an oral recitation context.

We can see how these similar words for knowledge are used together in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta:

…This is that middle way, which gives vision and knowledge, and leads to peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and extinguishment.
…Ayaṃ kho sā, bhikkhave, majjhimā paṭipadā tathāgatena abhisambuddhā cakkhukaraṇī ñāṇakaraṇī upasamāya abhiññāya sambodhāya nibbānāya saṃvattati.
…Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.
…pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi, ñāṇaṃ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi.

(Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation is slightly different: there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.)

It’s an interesting study to look at these terms and their usage in the texts:

Hope this is helpful!


I will explore these definitions a little more in my study and practice Bhante. Thanks for the clarity into these definitions.
Maybe more precisely what I’m trying to get at is how to most effectively develop skill sets, internally but more precisely externally. Something like “study tools” or “memory aids”. After listening to a Dhamma talk, I was reminded of the iddhipadas which may be more of what I’m looking for.
After reflection, I’m not sure that directed thought onto cultivation of abhiñña or vijjā would do me well in say learning a new language effectively or effectively studying for an exam.
Do you think there is anything along the Buddhist field we could contribute to “effective study techniques” or “development of an exceptional memory” for instance?
I realize I’m getting into the danger zone of “will power” when talking about using these principles for efficient success in life or effectively getting a task completed, but at the same time I see that it could be important for our society and our participation amongst it.
I know I’m still a big vague, but hopefully I touched on some points that can be expanded and looked into.
Thanks again and good to hear from you Bhante🙏

Hi again Paul. It sounds like you are looking for something in the Dhamma that will help you in daily life! Well the good news is; it will! Regular meditation will certainly improve the functioning and quality of the cognitive processes of the brain and have side benefits, like improving attention and memory. However, as you noted:

I’d agree. Tempting as it is, this is probably a bit of a wrong angle to come at for spiritual practice. It’s what the Mc-Mindfulness advocates have attempted to do to Buddhist teachings in the corporate world; dilute the teachings and reduce the meditation path to a purely utilitarian function to help with productivity. This puts a deeply powerful spiritual path (that has the potential to eradicate suffering for ever!!) at the service of something quite mundane and worldly. One simile I’ve heard; this is like putting rocket fuel in lawnmower. Sure, it will make the lawnmower move, but the lawn mover doesn’t need rocket fuel to do its job, and the lawnmower wont get you into the ‘heavens’!

The reason McMindfulness has been successful is because it does produce results. People’s minds become clear, their attention improves, their productivity goes up, their memory gets better. The reason for this is that by training and developing the mind, they have decreased the amount of obstructions, distractions and defilements in the mind and instead have harnessed much more mental clarity and energy. The feel better and brighter. I also see this on retreat, when people’s meditation is going well, they decide to ruin it by starting to use their newfound metal clarity to solve all their work problems and make complicated schemes and plans… This has the unfortunate effect of stopping further progress in their practice, because the causes and conditions that supported the clarity (quietness, calm, letting go) have been pushed aside by the excited, agitated and restless mind that wants to achieve something.

Another issue is that this sort of thing isolates a part from an integrated whole spiritual path. Often the first thing to go is ethics. An example of this is the way army snipers are trained to do meditation and conscious breathing before they take a shot that will kill someone.

So, I would suggest that we need to be quite clear in separating our spiritual aims and practices from our work practices or study needs. This doesn’t mean that our spiritual life wont benefit our domestic and work life, it certainly will. Nor does it mean that the things we learn at work or in our studies wont inform our spiritual life. But it’s probably not the best to put our spiritual practices into the service of worldly aims, it really is the wrong way around!

There are many useful things in Buddhism that will have side benefits. There are memorisation tools and mnemonic embedded in some texts, there is repetition and ‘habit stacking’, reflection, ethics, as well as things like confession or asking for forgiveness along with many great pieces of wise advice for how to live our lives.

One thing that a few of my teachers have said is that meditation and mindfulness really cultivates a strong present moment awareness and attention. This is something that makes a big difference in understanding concepts, memory retention, exam prep, essay writing etc. So, maybe that’s one piece of concrete advice that might help!


Nice reflection. I appreciate that you said it’s “the other way around”. I’ve heard it so many times, but it’s another one of those “oh yeah, duh!” Moments. It’s easy to lose track of what really matters.
So I’d say getting into Abhidhamma, kasinas and expanding on the iddhipadas along with that present moment awareness might be the rocket fuel that blows the motor if cultivated for external results? I know the satippathana is not necessarily an authentic sutta, but is there some truth in “developing internally, externally, internally and externally” and wouldnt that include those samadhi tools?
Maybe the reason these subtleties aren’t mentioned for “self help” is merely an ethical one, and only a person who sincerely undertakes magga palla should possibly delve into these practices.

According to my understanding, panna, or prajna, is intuitive wisdom. When one has one’s first awakening and becomes a Stream-enterer, one’s awareness of prajna becomes much stronger. From that point on, one’s spiritual advancement is guided principally by prajna. Looking at prajna from the point of view of the Dharma, enlightenment is nothing more than ceasing to identify oneself with the five skandhas, which have no reality, and coming to a knowledge of what one is and always has been–unlimited being. This unlimited being that we are is covered up by attachment, aversion and delusion. However we are never completely blind to what we are: the unlimited Self is always present, and this presence is prajna. Thus when one experiences the first awakening, the eye of prajna is said to open.

My understanding of vijnana (vijja) is that it is every thing of which we become aware or conscious. When a thought arises as a result of one of the habits or tendencies called anusaya, this thought is a mind-vijnana. If we see a mosquito, there really is no mosquito, only an eye-vijnana. If we hear a mosquito, there really is no sound, only an ear-vijnana.

The skandha of knowledge is samjna: knowledge of characteristics or differences. It can also be thought of as relative knowledge. It is all false, because in reality there are no characteristics or differences–everything is sama, the same. Differences are illusion. Not only is samjna false, it is a source of evil karma, because when we imagine differences, our mind (citta) attaches itself to the “good” and is averse to the “evil”; from attachment and aversion arise klesa, passions. This is the meaning of the story of Adam and Eve, who became mortal when they had “knowledge” of the good and bad characteristics of things.

Regarding doing, all action is karma. “The sage does nothing while the ignorant bind themselves up.” The highest state, that of the buddha, is the state of non-doing:

“Finally, in the eighth stage, the Bodhisattva’s activity is practiced spontaneously: without effort (anabhisamskara), without thought (anabhoga), for it is unaffected by dharma or adharma. This is why it is called anabhisaṃskārābhogavihāra . . .” - Nagarjuna, “Acala” (Acalā (the eighth bodhisattva bhūmi) [Appendix 1] )

I might be wrong, but I think vijja (vidya) and viññana (vijñana) are two different concepts for two different processes/phenomena.

Kind regards!

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I apologize for my mistake. I looked up vijja but I must have spelled it wrong. But I still think that samjna – “knowledge of characteristics” – would be scientific knowledge, and that prajna – wisdom – is the opposite. Prajna doesn’t admit worldly views of this and that, and belonging to the Dharma it doesn’t even admit words.

Prajna isn’t something that can be defined or described–it can only be experienced. Nevertheless, the great masters have attempted to give disciples an idea of what it is to experience prajna, and I think that Hakuin and Lin-chi have done this beautifully.

“Learn to put a stop to thoughts and never look for something outside yourselves. When an object appears, shine your light on it. Just have faith in this thing that is operating in you right now. Outside of it, nothing else exists.” Lin-Chi (17)

“Fellow believers, you carry your bowl and your sack of shit (body) and rush about looking for the Buddha and the Dharma. Do you know him who thus runs about seeking? He is lively as a fish in the water, has neither root nor trunk. Try to catch him, he refuses to be held on to; try to push him away, you cannot shake him off. The harder you strive after him the farther away he is. When you stop striving after him, he is right in front of you. His supersensuous voice fills your ear. Those without faith labor for a hundred years to no purpose.” - Lin-chi (19)

Hi @dbarahona, thanks for your thoughts. In the Early Buddhist Texts, these terms have specific meanings and usage. Some of these terms may have differing usages that developed over time, in different places and cultures (such as might be the case in the much later Chan texts you are quoting).

It’s good to make sure you have the right terms before posting. If you’re coming from the Chan tradition there might be some confusion with the spelling and usage of some technical words, as well as concepts used on this forum, which is a place very much focussed on the Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs). If you’re unfamiliar with the Pali terms, but interested in learning more about them and their usage in the early Buddhist suttas, then you might like to investigate the links that I provided above:

There’s also a very useful terminology index at the bottom of the Sutta Central home page as well as introductory texts about the early suttas.

Happy exploring!


On a simmilar theme, I’d be grateful to hear the views of Pali scholars on the use of ‘Knowledge’ in SN45.1 Ignorance. @sujato @Brahmali

Knowledge precedes the attainment of skillful qualities, with conscience and prudence following along.
Vijjā ca kho, bhikkhave, pubbaṅgamā kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samāpattiyā, anvadeva hirottappaṃ.

I’ve read through the references provided, and see that Vijja is used in multiple ways throughout the suttas.

However, I’m interested in teasing out the differences between ‘knowledge’ versus ‘understanding’ in this sutta. (Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as ‘True Knowledge’).

In particular I feel that the knowledge of ‘facts’ alone, is not sufficient - it requires understanding. Understanding is what happens to those facts within the mind. It is understanding that leads to right view - not just the facts/knowledge alone.

This line of questioning has been stimulated by the thread on

and statements like

And the fact that ‘information’, and ‘knowledge’ do not yield specific results… rather it is how they are processed and understood.

Now I know that it is a bit cyclical, in that information - like hearing the Dhamma- leads to wisdom… but I can’t help but feel that the emphasis should not just be on the ‘knowledge’ but the understanding of it, even before it moves towards wisdom (and not encroaching on the meaning of ‘Direct Knowledge’). One might recite the dhamma without understanding it - one has knowledge of it, but not understanding. The knowledge of it won’t move one along the path. “A sage, firm in knowledge, gives rise to right view”.

Ajahn Thanissaro translates it as ‘Clear knowing’, which seems more in line with ‘understanding’.

If taken as the opposite to Avijja - delusion/ignorance, then ‘understanding’ would seem a reasonable antonym.

Looking at various translations of Vijja, (and related terms such as Panna, Nana, and Abhinna) I see that it doesn’t ever seem to be translated as ‘understanding’, could someone shed a bit more light on this :pray: :slight_smile:

With much metta


Yes, these are all rather unsatisfactory renderings, and I would not make much of the English terms.

The reason that translators tend to use something like “knowledge” for vijjā is to keep the connection with veda, i.e. a “body of knowledge”. The suttas repeatedly invoke the “three vijjas” as replacement for the “three vedas”.

The tradition typically does not see any meaningful difference between such terms as vijjā, paññā, and ñāṇa. They are treated as sysnonyms.

This is supported in the EBTs where, for example, avijjā is defined as lack of ñāṇa of the four noble truths; and one who sees the truths is said to have paññā.

“Understanding” would, apart from the loss of connection with veda, be a fine translation of vijjā. I nearly used understanding for paññā instead of wisdom.

Pali is much richer in terms for knowing than English is, and any attempt at distinguishing these terms absolutely in translation is doomed to fail. Practically, I try to keep the main categories consistent and then render per context.


Thank you Bhante :slight_smile: :pray:


Fun fact, the Indo-European root vid underlies modern English video, etc. The sanskritic form of vijjā is vidyā. In English the “v” and “d” have weakened, so we have “wit”. And this is why there is a silent “t” in “witch”. So a witch is one who bears the “knowledge”, which is essentially the same meaning as in Pali. And the name for the knowledge itself is “wicca”, which is virtually unchanged from vijjā!



Thank you for this topic. When I was in my teens, Ammachi (Amma, the living “hugging saint” ) gave me the name Sri Vidyā. It seems Vidyā is the sanskrit of Vijjā, and I was hoping to learn more of the meaning of this word in Pali. Oddly, I did study science, and now call myself a Buddhist. When I was a child I called myself a witch. Welp, time to get going on those past life recollections! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


I had heard of the connection of vijjā and witcha before, it’s a relief to not have to be clustered with other cultures who look down on especially the feminine with knowledge. That allows us (all genders) space for “witchy” activity, which in context of right action, entails quite a lot of fun stuff! (OBEs, lucid dreaming, remote viewing, even birth control). Interesting to also note how the Persian/Zoroastrians made the Brahmanic “good” into “evil” and vice versa. I think of the fight between eternal life and cessation along these lines.

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Also to expand upon the idea in the OP of memory along with the integration of principles that make it stick or manifest (my original concept of vijjā, which there could be a much better word for maybe like “Iddhi”) there’s of course bringing mindfulness in front, being introduced to the new material at hand, a vimamsa type association between the old and new information, and eventually some type of basic vipassana or understanding of it.

One of the most effective techniques are Memory Palace which requires a recollection of information such as “Some type of soup…” “oh szchuan soup” “Oh Szechuan soup on top of that motorcycle which is placed in the room at the monastery.” “Hm, why is that? Oh yeah it’s because that’s the Pali for ”Bahu Saccanaca Sippanan Ca vinnayo ca sussikito subhasita ya vaca etam mangalam uttamam”” …yes I totally skipped spelling. saccanaca=Szechuan, sippanan=sipping soup, and the rest is repetition.

after seeing the Szchuan soup on the seat of the motorcycle I also used a guy working on the engine of it (skilled craftsman) which is the English translation

Key factor here is that there’s a geographical location, symbol, association of old knowledge and new info and some sort of interactive activity (sipping soup, smell of engine fumes, whatever the imagination fathoms) which is all making this more and more of a sustainable form to recall and at the same time conditioning factors to manifest karmically.

Was just thinking this whole activity of gaining knowledge could be associated with Vijjā, which seems quite different than the pañña of seeing constituent parts by letting go of diversity. Hope that’s accurate. If there’s Pali terminology for the process above, what mental activity is being done (could just be Iddhipadas in hindsight), and if that’s somehow different than pañña, please let me know. Hope I wasn’t too confusing.

If anyone has any cool info to add to the above for retaining info, I’d be happy to hear about it.

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