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In Buddhism, dhamma vicaya (Pali; Sanskrit: dharma-) has been variously translated as the "analysis of qualities," "discrimination of dhammas,"[note 1] "discrimination of states," "investigation of doctrine,"[note 2] and "searching the Truth." The meaning is ambivalent; it implies the investigation of the Buddhist teachings (dhamma), but also the application of discernment to body-mind phenomena in order to apply right effort, giving way to entry into the first jhana.
According to Rupert Gethin, "Dhamma-vicaya means either the 'discrimination of dhammas' or the 'discernment of dhamma'; to discriminate dhammas is precisely to discern dhamma."
In the Pali canon's Sutta Pitaka, this is the second of the Seven Factors of Awakening (satta bojjhaṅgā). It is preceded by the establishment of mindfulness (sati) and applied with energy/effort (viriya) Together, mindfulness, discernment and effort calm the mind, and give way to the onset of the jhanas, which are characterised by the remaining four factors of awakening, namely rapture (piti), tranquility (passaddhi), unification (samadhi) and equanimity (upekkha).[note 3] According to the Samyutta Nikaya, this factor is to be developed by paying continuous careful attention (yoniso manasikāra bahulīkāro) to the following states (dhammā): wholesome and unwholesome (kusalā-akusalā); blameable and blameless (sāvajjā-anavajjā); inferior and superior (hīna-paṇītā); and, evil and good (kaṇha-sukka). An alternate explanation in the nikayas is that this factor is aroused by "discriminating that Dhamma with wisdom" (taṃ dhammaṃ paññāya pavicināti).
The Abhidhamma's Dhammasaṅgaṇi even more strongly associates dhamma vicaya with paññā (wisdom) in its enumeration of wholesome states (kusalā dhammā):
where "searching the Truth" is C.A.F. Rhys Davids' translation of dhammavicayo.
In later Abhidhamma texts and in post-canonical literature (such as those by the 4th-century CE Indian scholar Vasubandhu), dhamma vicaya refers to the study of dhamma as physical or mental phenomena that constitute absolute reality (Pali: paramattha; Skt.: paramārtha).
Paññāya is an inflected form of paññā (Pali; Skt.: prajñā) that could be translated in a variety ways. For instance, as reflected here, Bodhi translates it as "with wisdom," while Gethin (1992, p. 147) translates it as "by means of wisdom." (Thanissaro, 1995, translates it as "with discernment," using "discernment" for paññā.) As suggested by Bodhi (2000, pp. 1900-1, n. 59) quoted in the preceding end note, a conventional manner of understanding paññā here is in terms of seeing a dhamma in terms of the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta).