Paññā pāramī : transcendental wisdom, insight
Wisdom or discernment is a central concept to the Buddha’s teachings; in many ways it is the pivot point for all of his guidance. He encouraged his students to cultivate wisdom through actions and observations in everyday life.
What does discernment come from? You might compare it with learning to become a potter, a tailor, or a basket weaver. The teacher will start out by telling you how to make a pot, sew a shirt or a pair of pants, or weave different patterns, but the proportions and beauty of the object you make will have to depend on your own powers of observation. Suppose you weave a basket and then take a good look at its proportions, to see if it’s too short or too tall. If it’s too short, weave another one, a little taller, and then take a good look at it to see if there’s anything that still needs improving, to see if it’s too thin or too fat. Then weave another one, better-looking than the last. Keep this up until you have one that’s as beautiful and well-proportioned as possible, one with nothing to criticize from any angle. This last basket you can take as your standard. You can now set yourself up in business.
What you’ve done is to learn from your own actions. As for your previous efforts, you needn’t concern yourself with them any longer. Throw them out. This is a sense of discernment that arises of its own accord, an ingenuity and sense of judgment that come not from anything your teachers have taught you, but from observing and evaluating on your own the object that you yourself have made.
-From Inner Strength by Ajaan Lee
So wisdom is both an activity and an accomplishment. If we practice observing our actions of body, speech and mind, and look for their effects on ourselves and others, over time we can build up a sort of expertise. We will know, without thinking about it, that if we speak harshly to someone, they will react negatively. We will know that if we make a commitment we can’t keep, grief will probably come as a result. We will know that if we think of our impact on others (and ourselves) before we act and speak, we are more likely to discover and choose beneficial actions. At some level we already do this; the Buddha suggests that we train continuously in this way, and so become truly wise.