Presidents Guidance

From Kosei,
October 2022

Knowing the Source of Suffering
Wisdom, Part 1

Receiving the Wisdom of the Buddha

“When I’m playing, / It feels so small. / When I’m set to picking up pebbles during morning cleanup, / It feels so big.” I quoted this poem, “The Playground,” in my book, Cultivating the Buddhist Heart: How to Find Peace and Fulfillment in a Changing World (Kosei Publishing, 2008). In thinking about the meaning of wisdom, the sixth of the Six Paramitas, this poem written by a fourth-grade elementary school student teaches us something important we can all relate to. Therefore, I would like you to keep it in the back of your mind.

Buddhist wisdom has such definitions as, “Penetrating insight into the principle of impermanence” (Iwanami bukkyo jiten [Iwanami Buddhist dictionary], Iwanami Shoten), and “The ability to perceive and judge things correctly, in line with such Buddhist truths as emptiness,” and “One of the Six Paramitas, prajna” (Daijirin, Sanseido). To summarize, wisdom is “the ability to grasp the truths of impermanence and emptiness” and “mental functioning that makes the right decisions based on reason and logic.” That said, this seemingly difficult word, wisdom, is one we often use in conversations with members of our sangha (friends in the faith).

I think we all know what it’s like when someone in the sangha, listening sympathetically to our hardships, offers us encouragement by saying, “Try to be diligent in the practice so that you can receive the wisdom of the Buddha,” or “Once you get the Buddha’s wisdom, you will be liberated.” However, is this wisdom actually something that we receive from the Buddha?

In the sense of recognizing the truth realized by Shakyamuni and making decisions based on that truth, I think it is not impossible to say, in consideration of our respect and gratitude toward Shakyamuni, that we receive wisdom from the Buddha. In reality though, wisdom is not something that Shakyamuni Buddha bestows upon us. Rather, we realize that we have within ourselves the power to perceive the truth and make decisions—wisdom—and apply that wisdom from time to time in our daily lives, which is nothing less than we, as disciples of the Buddha, receiving his wisdom.

Taking Control of Our Attachments

Why, then, is wisdom so important in Buddhism? Looking at the following lines of verse from the Suttanipata, an anthology of the words of the Buddha, we can gain a better understanding of the importance of wisdom. “If people hope that their desires are fulfilled and things go well for them, [when] their human desires have been truly satisfied, their hearts rejoice.” However, “If the people who hope to have their desires fulfilled are so greedy that they cannot be satisfied, they suffer as if shot by arrows.” In other words, “The many kinds of suffering in this world are caused by forming connections to attachments.” (Quoted from Budda no kotoba: Suttanipata [The words of the Buddha: Suttanipata] by Hajime Nakamura [Iwanami Shoten, 1984.])

Therefore, if our wisdom takes control of desires and attachments, suffering goes away on its own. Please recall the fourth-grader’s poem quoted earlier. It is true, after all, that we human beings often complain that the same playground “feels so small” when we are playing and “so big” when we have to clear it of pebbles, because the mind of selfishness wants to do as it pleases, which is the source of suffering and anxiety.

This is why Shakyamuni left us many hints for acquiring wisdom that we can use to control our desires and attachments. For example, he tells us to “break through self-centered views and see the world as emptiness.” While “emptiness” is a word that gives us the impression of something even more difficult to grasp, it means that we should stop making value judgments, such as viewing things as “big” or “small” based on self-centered thoughts or whatever suits us. We must accept reality honestly. In the next issue, we will learn more about emptiness.

By putting the wisdom inherent in each of us to use and stepping forward together confidently, feeling as refreshed as the clear autumn sky, let’s move forward as bodhisattvas who show consideration for others.