The Perfection of Wisdom - What does panna penetrate? I

We read in the Commentary to the “Mahaniddesa” of the Khuddhaka Nikaya, the Commentary to the “Guhattaka Sutta-niddesa”, “the Cave”: 

“The term ‘panna’ means: it penetrates.

What does it penetrate?

It penetrates the noble Truths, the Truth of, ‘This is dukkha...’ ”


The noble Truth of dukkha is not merely dukkha which is suffering, oppressing us

in daily life, such as loss of possessions, blame, pain etc. The noble Truth of

dukkha is the truth that nothing is permanent, that whatever arises such as

seeing, hearing, thinking, happiness or pain arises just for an extremely short

moment and then disappears. Knowing, “this is dukkha”, means, knowing that

what arises and falls away immediately is dukkha.

  We read further on in the Commentary quoted above:

“This kind of panna is an indriya, a controlling faculty,

in the sense of predominance,

because it overcomes ignorance, avijja.”

Whenever panna does not arise, we are overcome by ignorance. The  characteristic of panna is the opposite of that of ignorance. Ignorance can be overcome when panna arises.
We read further on:

“This kind of panna has the characteristic of illuminating and of penetration.

As when a lamp burns at night in a four-walled house the darkness ceases,

light manifests itself, so panna has illuminating as its characteristic.”
So long as the truth has not been realized we cannot speak of illumination. One merely begins to understand realities. However, when panna has reached a higher level, it has the characteristic of illumination: it can realize the truth when the element of nama, the element which experiences, clearly appears through the mind-door. Then the characteristic of rupa does not blend in with the characteristic of nama-dhatu, the element of nama. That is the meaning of illumination

Topic 280