Wisdom

The 9th chapter, “Transcendent Wisdom,” in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life that I referenced in my Sept. 8th post, begins with these words:

Wisdom is the only true final antidote to all suffering (the whole path aims at this).”

The Sanskrit word for wisdom is prajna, which is syllabified as praj, meaning “higher,” and na or “consciousness.” But higher consciousness should not be taken to mean that wisdom some sort of mystical state. It is more like the difference between viewing a landscape from the ground or atop a mountain. The higher one’s vantage point then the more one is able to see.

Dharmic wisdom has many shades and hues. Wisdom obtained by study is what the sutras call “literary prajna.” Prajna-paramita, or Transcendent Wisdom, is the coupling of compassion with emptiness-knowledge. Prajna-Dhyana is the non-duality of wisdom and meditation. But none of these constitute the highest form of wisdom.

“The Way is your everyday mind,” is a saying attributed to Huang Po, a Ch’an master during the Tang Dynasty. He means there is no wisdom that is detached from daily life.

You can go off in search of higher states of consciousness, but the state of mind that is most important is the one rooted in the everyday world. Through understanding daily life, we can understand the whole of life.

I don’t know how many of readers consider yourself Buddhists. It’s not important. Being a Buddhist is nothing special in the long run. It’s just being an ordinary person. Doing ordinary things. However, because most Buddhist engage in some sort of meditative practice, ordinary things are done with a bit more awareness, and one hopes, tranquility.

The ancient Ch’an/Zen tradition seemed to understand this very well. There’s old story from the school that illustrates the point, with the usual dash of paradox, of course:

Someone asked the Zen master three questions, What is Buddha? What is Dharma? What is Sangha? And the master answered each question with the same words, “Go and drink tea.”

In other words, you practice, and you do your daily life. That’s wisdom. That’s true Buddhism.

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6 thoughts on “Wisdom

  1. Here is an apropos quote from the Charter for Compassion site:

    Wisdom tells me I am nothing.
    Love tells me I am everything.
    And between the two my life flows.”
    –Nisargadatta Maharaj

  2. Very wise words, David. 😉

    What’s surprised me about my journey is how it started out being VERY mystical (complete with visions, if the truth be told!) and ended up being extremely concrete, as I take very specific steps to redefine my mind’s misunderstandings and misperceptions. Peace truly is found in everyday reality, but the trick is in learning to see that reality.

    1. One of my teachers used to say that it was easy to have visions and experience mystical states, it was like taking drugs. What was difficult, he said, was grinding through the hard parts of daily life. You are fortunate to have learned this already. You are a hero, or rather, a heroine.

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