By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna, OEB 长金
When you set out to climb a mountain you must have the summit in view. It is the sight of the summit that imparts the general direction of one’s steps. For this reason, even at the very beginning of a climb you must keep looking up. Yet you still have to climb the lower slopes and scale the intermediate reaches before you gain the summit. If we were to compare climbing with attaining wisdom, we could say that wisdom comes only at the end of your practice of the path.
Wisdom can be described as the understanding of the Four Noble Truths, the understanding of interdependent origination, and other Buddhist doctrines. What we mean when we say this is simply that the attainment of wisdom is the transformation of these doctrinal items from mere objects of intellectual knowledge into real, personal experience. In other words, we want to change our knowledge of the Four Noble Truths for example, from mere book learning into actual, living truth.
Anyone can read a book about the meaning of the Four Noble Truths, interdependent origination, causality, or any other host of topics. But this does not mean that he or she has attained wisdom. The Buddha himself said that it was failing to understand the Four Noble truths and interdependent origination that we have gone on in this cycle of birth and death for so long. Obviously, when he said this, he meant something deeper than simple failure to be acquainted intellectually with these items of doctrine.
The term “understanding” must be taken in the sense of right understanding, that is to say, direct and immediate understanding. It can be likened to a simple act of perception, like seeing a patch of blue color. Perhaps this is why the language of seeing is so often used to describe the attainment of wisdom. We speak of wisdom in terms of “seeing the truth” or “seeing things as they really are” because the attainment of wisdom is not an intellectual or academic exercise: it is understanding the nature of the reality of the universe around us. This opens the door to freedom from suffering to nirvana.
In Buddhism, wisdom is the key to the realization of the goal. In some religions, we find that faith is paramount; in other traditions, meditation is supreme. But in Buddhism, faith is preliminary and meditation is instrumental. The real heart of Buddhism is wisdom.