It seems easy if you have a good intellect. Just follow the arguments by the great trailblazer, Chandrakirti, about how a chariot – well, let’s say a car – is neither inherently its whole, nor inherently one of its parts, nor some combination of whole plus parts, or even none of these. Therefore the chariot/car cannot exist from its own side. It is empty of existing from its own side, which is what we Buddhists mean when we say it is empty of true existence. Not too hard to understand, so why then, are we not quickly enlightened? What is wisdom? Surely when we refer to wise people, we do not mean people who can hold a clever argument. Ven. Tenzin Chönyi (Dr. Diana Taylor) explains1 …
Wisdom is a mental factor, meaning it is part of our functioning mind. It is a mental factor which looks at some thing, or some idea, and gets to know its nature, its attributes, and any other characteristics. In other words, it analyzes things. Its purpose is to counteract doubt.
There are two types of wisdom: conventional wisdom and higher wisdom. Conventional wisdom is about being clever, cunning, making good decisions. Shakyamuni Buddha said that what we need is a higher wisdom, a sound philosophy for life. This means that we need, in the first place, a wisdom which distinguishes what brings happiness, and what does not. Secondly we need a wisdom which shows us the actual nature of things, their being empty of existing from their own side.
What brings happiness? We begin to see that it comes from understanding that ordinary life, samsara, is undermined by chronic dissatisfaction. At the same time, it is possible to achieve something better – nirvana – which is free from this dissatisfaction. We begin to develop renunciation, wanting nirvana. So we begin to investigate what it is that brings nirvana. We begin to see that we need more time, so a good rebirth will help. We start to understand how looking at death teaches us how to live life.
So we start from a position of living a good life, which means, at the least, not harming others; this means that wisdom begins with ethics: how to avoid harming others. How do we do that? The answer is not always clear, which means we need some more conventional wisdom too. Why am I chronically angry, or depressed, or jealous? Western psychology can help with these answers, but Buddhism brings an extra dimension. We learn about how, from beginningless time, we have been craving to protect our ego, because we thought that this would bring happiness. Buddhist wisdom teaches that our ego is a myth we have created…
1This article is an adaptation of a keynote address by Dr. Ian Coughlan (Jampa Ignyen) – “Developing Wisdom: How to Achieve Understanding and Realization” – given at the conference Mind and its Potential, Sydney, 2006. Interested students can contact him at email@example.com
Ven. Tenzin Chönyi (Dr. Diana Taylor) is currently an FPMT touring teacher, and an honorary lecturer in the Medical Faculty (Department of Psychological Medicine) at Sydney University, Australia. Her book, Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Finding Release from Addictive Patterns, is available through Shambhala Publications.Tags: mind, ven. chonyi taylor