A Zen’s-Eye View: Wisdom must be cultivated by listening and contemplating

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In my recent A Zen’s-Eye View columns, I have presented the first six of eight practices of awakening that Buddha taught on his deathbed: 1) have few desires, 2) know how much is enough, 3) enjoy serenity, 4) make diligent effort, 5) remember to be mindful and 6) practice meditation. I repeat these practices to help with the fifth practice of awakening, “Don’t forget to be mindful.” In order to be mindful of the practices of awakening, we have to memorize them.

The seventh awakening is to cultivate wisdom. It is to listen to the teachings of the eight great awakenings, to contemplate their meaning and how they can apply to daily life. Wisdom is to practice these teachings, and as a result to realize great awakening.

The Buddha said, “Monks, if you have wisdom, you are free from greed. You will always reflect on yourself and avoid mistakes. You will attain liberation through these eight practices of which I speak. Indeed, wisdom is a reliable vessel to bring you across the ocean of old age, sickness and death. It is a bright lamp that brings light into the darkness of ignorance. It is an excellent medicine for all who are sick. It is a sharp axe to cut down the tree of delusion. Thus, you can deepen awakening through the wisdom of listening, contemplation and practice. If you are illuminated by wisdom, you can see deeper then what your physical eyes can see. You will have clear insight. This is called ‘to cultivate wisdom.’ ”

In Buddhism, the word for wisdom is prajna, and it is often translated as “wisdom beyond wisdom.” This is to remind us that when we speak of wisdom we are not speaking of the ordinary knowledge that we gather through collecting information, organizing it, analyzing it and evaluating it. These are the skills of a limited human intellect. Prajna is greater than intellectual knowledge or anything we have been taught. It is also greater than the psychological insights we sometimes get.

To cultivate wisdom is to cultivate realization of the truth that all of life is interconnected and that the only sensible course of action is to do no harm, to do only good and to do good for others. Any other act of body, speech and mind is rooted in ignorance, the opposite of wisdom, and diminishes all of life.

Wisdom is not adopting a belief or religious creed and then allowing that belief or creed to harden our point of view with inflexibility and rigidity. Wisdom allows us to see the truth of each moment and then flickers with that truth like a flame flickers in a rising breeze. Wisdom cuts away the blinders that prevent us from realizing true enlightenment.

Suggested practice: Spend the next couple of weeks contemplating your core beliefs. When you identify a longstanding belief, ask yourself, “Did this belief reveal itself to me through wisdom beyond wisdom, or did someone or something condition my mind into believing this?”

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at the Creston Zen centre. She will be offering a beginners’ meditation class at 7-8:30 p.m. Jan 9, 16, 23 and 30. This course is by donation. For more information, contact her at 250-428-6500.