Because panna (wisdom) is the understanding of anicca, dukkha and anatta, it leads to the cessation of ignorance, greed and aversion and therefore to Nirvana. Now Nirvana or the state of being enlightened is permanent, so panna must be too, mustn't it? The cessation of ignorance alone is not enough, because it could rise again, couldn't it? I mean it already happened one time...

So to hinder ignorance from rising again, panna must be permanent. This is how I always understood it. I always thought of it as an aspect of Nirvana, and therefore not a part of the impermanent (?) skandhas.

Now I read a text which says that panna is a sankhara. Aren't sankharas as the 4th skandha impermanent and cease to exist when entering Paranirvana?

So what is panna?

Thank you.

4 Answers 4


Light is movement of photons which vibrate within a certain frequency range and travel at the speed of light. If there there is no one present with eyes to sense light, is there still light? I would say yes.

Nibbana is a permanent phenomena (dhamma) which is like light. Even if there are no enlightened ones to experience it, it is still there.

From MN 49 with corrected translation from this answer:

That which could be known (Nibbana), is invisible, infinite, radiant all round—that’s what is not within the scope of experience based on earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Creator, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Overlord, and the all.

Also Ud 8.1-4.

But wisdom (panna) is different. It depends on the mind. If the mind ceases, then wisdom ceases. When the Buddha passed away, his wisdom ceased, but his teachings (Dhamma) which arose out of his wisdom, continue to exist through the suttas and the noble sangha.

So are the teachings (Dhamma) permanent or unconditioned? I would say no. If the suttas and the noble sangha disappear after many centuries or millennia (i.e. the end of the current Buddha sasana), then the teachings also disappear.

Some have asked if physical space is permanent or unconditioned. From Einstein's theory of general relativity, we know that physical space-time is conditioned.

So, in every case, we can see that only one phenomena is permanent and unconditioned and that is Nibbana. It is that which is experienced by the mind when it is free of defilements and fetters. It is not a mental idea or state of mind or state of consciousness.

  • Dear @ruben2020, This is how I think and I may be wrong. Light is the way that the photons are cognised by eye consciousness. If there's no consciousness, photons are just photons but not light. I know this is a deep topic for us. You can find a Sutta reference instead of a metaphor. I remember some of the content of a Sutta you can include here but couldn't locate it in Sutta-Central or Access-to-insight.
    – Damith
    Nov 18, 2020 at 6:02
  • @Damith Well, that's just the convention of physics. Anyhow it's called "speed of light" not "speed of photons". Furthermore light is both electromagnetic wave and particle (photons). But usually we use the term "light" to mean visible light, ultraviolet light and infrared light. But we don't usually use "light" for other types of electromagnetic waves like radio waves, microwave, gamma rays etc.
    – ruben2020
    Nov 18, 2020 at 6:06
  • But what is won then by me attaining enlightenment? There are still beings caught in Samsara, suffering. Do they get less and less with time, until there are no beings there anymore, so Samsara is extinguished completety and all what remains is Nirvana? Is that true? Othewise I don't see the sense of pursuing enlightenment. Because if Samsara would go on to exist forever, that means there is infinite suffering. If I attain enlightenment, a certain amount is subtracted from that infinite suffering. But it's still infinte (∞ - 100 = still ∞)
    – user20063
    Jan 15, 2021 at 10:06
  • @Vinc What is won by you? The cessation of suffering. Plus you can help others along the way. There is no way to end suffering 100% in the universe, at least from Theravada's view.
    – ruben2020
    Jan 18, 2021 at 3:35

sutta explain that panna [discernment] and consciousness are conjoined.

What one cognizes, that one discerns. Therefore these qualities are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference between them.

consciousness is to be understood and panna is to be developed.

developing panna one comes to understand consciousness, having understood consciousness one has developed panna.

Suppose a person attains full understanding of consciousness but lacks in the power of concentration. Suppose this person then dies without having attained Arahantship and is born again.

It is not same body that is born and it is not the same faculties that are consequently constructed but the body and faculties that come to be are a result of previous development.

There is no discernable point in the past where there was no delusion with a consequently discernable appearance of delusion.

Perfected Panna has such result that it always leads to the consequent perfection of the other faculties in no more than 7 births. The perfection of faculties results in extinguishment of conditions that lead to death & birth altogether.

Therefore if faculties had ever been brought to culmination in the past, then this birth wouldn't have occurred.


The panna of an arahant is permanent during the arahants lifetime, per MN 12, which says:

Sariputta, even if you have to carry me about on a bed, still there will be no change in the lucidity of the Tathagata's wisdom.

But because the mind of an arahant ceases when life ends, obviously, panna does not last forever. Therefore, ultimately, panna is impermanent.

Nibbana is an unconditioned independent element of nature that permanently exists forever. The suttas says regardless of how many Arahants abide in the Nibbana element, the amount of the Nibbana element never ceases, changes or fluctuates (AN 8.19).

But panna is a conditioned mental element that is impermanent. For example, when there is no arising of Buddhas, there is no real panna in the world. There are times when panna does not exist; such as when Dhammadhatu is suspended from BSE.

  • Thank you very much for answer. I am only wondering: Why then is Nirvana permanent, if there is no panna which hinders ignorance from arising again?
    – user20063
    Nov 17, 2020 at 21:28
  • Nirvana is an external element. It is not something "mental". Nirvana exists permanently even when there is no awareness of it. For a crude metaphor, there is an underlying "stillness & peace" that pervades the whole universe. This is the Nirvana element. Nov 17, 2020 at 22:53
  • Dear @Dhammadhatu, "The panna of an arahant is permanent during the arahants lifetime". This is not true because three marks of existence true for all the conditioned things, even for the panna mental factor (element) of an Arahant. Panna arise, exist, cease with the consciousness momentarily.
    – Damith
    Nov 18, 2020 at 6:16
  • Please re-read my answer, which explained everything. Your idea of momentary consciousness is wrong because it does not affect the wisdom of an arahant. Regards Nov 18, 2020 at 6:36

No, it's not nicca, but the final means for liberation. Pañña-vimutti. This path is for liberation, and for nothing else. Of course "knowledge about liberation" will be ones last and most helpful knowing, wisdom. Liberated, unbound, there is no more use of this, saṅkhāra of this raft.

May one investigate the heartwood-similie suttas on this account.

[Note that this isn't given for stacks, exchange, other world-binding traded, but for liberation only]

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