What Do You Mean By “Wisdom”?

It’s an important virtue in Buddhism.

It’s one of the Three Trainings, along with Virtue and Meditation.

But, Wisdom is not always well defined. We sometimes blur the line between wisdom and knowledge, or between wisdom and intellect. These things aren’t the same.

But What is Wisdom, Really?

To me, wisdom means an intuitive understanding of the Dharma.

We can understand concepts like impermanence, emptiness, and interconnectedness on an intellectual level without so much difficulty. It’s easy to memorize and recite the four noble truths or our favorite sutras, but memorization isn’t wisdom. If it was, then the directions for becoming wise would be simple and straightforward. It’s easy to say that “ego is an illusion.” but to really understand that in our minds is something different.

Understanding interconnectedness is knowledge. Wisdom is being interconnectedness—understanding and acting on our interconnectedness in everything that we do. It is much easier said than done.

Knowledge consists of words, letters, and concepts. Wisdom is beyond concepts.

We can learn about the Dharma all we want. There are endless things we can read and we are lucky to live in a time when that is the case. There was a time when many Buddhist teachings were hard to find. That is not so anymore. In fact, more old texts are getting translated all the time.

And that’s good. Knowledge is important too.

But we have to actually practice the Dharma to gain wisdom.

It isn’t just something to learn about. It’s something to do.

The Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki once said,

“There are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened action.”

When we engage with wisdom we are enlightened, we are experiencing enlightenment.

 

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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