In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Perfection of Wisdom

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Commentaries
  • Studies on Chinese Translations
  • Prajñāpāramitā Thought

Buddhism Perfection of Wisdom
Stefano Zacchetti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0153


The Sanskrit compound Prajñāpāramitā (“Perfection of Wisdom” or “Insight”) may refer to both a set of (primarily cognitive) practices, and a class of scriptures devoted to their exposition. There is a broad albeit not unanimous consensus in modern Buddhist studies that the Perfection of Wisdom was one of the earliest scriptural traditions related to the Mahāyāna (“Great Vehicle”) movement. Prajñāpāramitā texts outline a method that a bodhisattva should follow in order to reach the ultimate goal of perfect awakening. The central idea of this method is that a practitioner should achieve a state of complete detachment from all things and factors (and particularly from his or her own spiritual achievements), through the understanding of their “emptiness” (śūnyatā). These ideas have found expression in a diverse and rich textual corpus, grown over a long period of time, and consisting of both base texts (i.e., scriptures presented as sermons preached by the Buddha, or sūtras), and their commentaries. A substantial part of this huge literature survives in Sanskrit (albeit mostly in rather late manuscripts), and most of it has been translated over the centuries into Chinese and Tibetan. The Perfection of Wisdom was arguably influential, to varying degrees, on any form of Mahayana Buddhism. It remained a central tradition even in later Indian and in Tibetan Buddhism and had a tremendous impact in China: after having been introduced in China during the 2nd century CE, the Perfection of Wisdom came to dominate the philosophical debate during the 4th–5th centuries.

General Overviews

In the absence of an up-to-date general overview on the Perfection of Wisdom and its literature, Conze 1978 remains the best introduction to this subject. In a sense, Conze 1978 and Hikata 1958 complement each other, as the latter is more informative on Chinese sources on this subject. Nakamura 1980 provides rich information on secondary literature, particularly in Japanese.

  • Conze, Edward. The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. 2nd ed. Bibliographia Philologica Buddhica, Series Maior I. Tokyo: Reiukai Library, 1978.

    Although unavoidably outdated, Conze’s book remains the most comprehensive introduction to the Prajñāpāramitā literature, discussing its historical development and providing essential bibliographical information on each text. It also includes a detailed discussion of the commentarial literature (pp. 93–120).

  • Hikata, Ryusho. Suvikrāntavikrāmi-paripṛcchā-Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra Edited with an Introductory Essay. Fukuoka, Japan: Kyushu University, 1958.

    Apart from the critical edition of a comparatively short but important Perfection of Wisdom scripture (The Questions of Suvikrāntavikrāmin), Hikata offers an authoritative general overview of the Prajñāpāramitā literature and its historical development.

  • Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. Hirakata, Japan: Kansai University of Foreign Studies, 1980.

    This general survey covers the whole span of Buddhist studies providing useful information on primary sources and secondary literature (on the Perfection of Wisdom see pp. 159–165). Particularly informative on Japanese scholarship.

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