2020-04-15: Paññā (3 of 5) Decisive Wisdom
2:59PM May 20, 2020
Good morning. Today I'm going to give the third dharmette on the wisdom faculty. The form of wisdom to be discussed today is what I call decisive wisdom. Wisdom that can make a decision, wisdom that could choose very clearly what to say, what to do, and how to be with our inner life.
The idea that as we sit, practice, and become wise, one of the first things that really helps this process is to develop greater clarity in the mind, to have the ability to be mindful and clearly aware of what's going on. The clearer we can be, the less we're projecting our opinions, fears, associations, confusion onto the world. We can see more clearly what's happening. As we see more clearly, we make distinctions. I don't know if we make distinctions, we just see more clearly. We differentiate the different details of what's happening in the moment, the different parts of it. That's the distinguishing wisdom I talked about yesterday.
As we start making more distinctions, as we see differences, we start seeing not only what's skillful and not skillful, what's helpful and not helpful in the moment, but we also start seeing, or having a sense or understanding of the consequences of our actions, which we've started registering. Because we're clear and we're tracking what's going on, we notice when we say X, that the communication lines with other people tend to close down, or they become more distant from us. If we say Y, the communication lines are open, and people can forward to participate more.
After a while, we see the differences in how we speak. Certain ways has some result, and others have different results. Seeing that clearly, then allows us to see the choice: "Do I say X next time or do I say Y?" Decisive wisdom is the wisdom that knows what's the wise thing to do based on what's important for us.
As we settle and get clearer, we also become in touch with our values and the capacity for freedom - the capacity to live in an open, uncontracted, uncompulsive way. We see the consequences of how we speak and the impact it has both on others and on ourselves. Same thing with our actions. What we do in the world, we start seeing the consequences of this. As those consequences register in our clarity and our care - we see that there's a choice. We can do something that creates health or dis-ease in social relationships. We can do things that are supporting and nourishing for our inner life, or do things which actually keep us more agitated, contracted, or caught.
As these things are seen more, it isn't that we're supposed to just accept it, see it, and allow it. There is a time and place for decisive wisdom to make a decision. The image for that in Mahayana Buddhism is that of the sword of wisdom. Sometimes you want to use that sword. One of the ways to use it sometimes is with a very clear, decisive, "No, not that." Hopefully we have the wisdom to know when it's actually supportive, useful, even nourishing to do that.
That's sometimes clearest in our own meditation practice. That's why meditation is such a great laboratory to start seeing and learning about all these forms of wisdom. If you're sitting in meditation, and it starts becoming clear to you, how much you're thinking, and how much you're thinking the same kinds of thoughts over and over again - after a while, you realize you've had the same thought 500 times. Nothing's really changed, except the thought is rather mean-spirited towards yourself. Here you go, the same thought again and again. After a while you realize, "Wait a minute. This thought doesn't have a good impact on me. It's not healthy, and there's not much point to repeat the same thought 501 times. Nothing changes - it's just going around and around."
At some point, the sword of wisdom can come along, and you say, "No, enough," very clearly. It's like the thinking mind, parts of it - at least for some of us, not for all of you - at times is like a little three-year-old. I've learned that sometimes three-year-olds need to have a very decisive "No." It was hard for me to come to with my children. But once I learned the right way to say, "No, you can't do that," they became happier. It was like they were pushing the edges to find out where they were safe. When they heard, "No more of that," then they immediately relaxed and became happy. It was quite impressive to see. I think sometimes our mind needs to hear that clear, "No - no more of that kind of thinking." Probably it will come back. But then we use the sword of 'No' again.
The same way we use - maybe we don't call it a "sword of Yes." But maybe wisdom has something very supportive. Sometimes what we do is say a definitive "Yes, this is what I want to do. This is what I want to make my life about - these values, this freedom, this possibility of not being caught in contractions, compulsion. Yes, this is what I want. This is important."
For some people, the Dharma practice is the most important thing in their life. They say "Yes" to it at the cost of everything else, because this is clearly what's most important. Like an artist who decides that art is the most important, and they'll be starving artists. There are Dharma practitioners who become not starving Dharma practitioners, but they really say "Yes" to something. So it's a decisive wisdom.
Or decisive wisdom on how we speak: "Yes, I want to appreciate this person." I want to say, "Oh, boy, you've worked hard, and I really appreciate what you've done." To say 'Yes' to that as opposed to not saying anything perhaps.
This idea of decisive wisdom comes really clearly into play around what in Buddhism is called the Four Noble Truths. This is one of the key wisdom teachings of Buddhism. It involves seeing distinctions. It involves seeing very clearly what in Buddhism is called suffering. Very clearly what are the causes, conditions - what contributes to the suffering, and clearly seeing, sometimes intuitively at first, and then more and more through experience - that there is the amazing possibility of having suffering end. Sometimes just in small pieces, it's partial. But to start getting a sense of, "Wow, I'm not locked in. It's not required to suffer so much. There is another way." Then to see the practices that support that possibility - to really see that clearly.
To make it a little helpful, to maybe simplify these Four Noble Truths - is the statement that if there's craving, you will suffer - that craving itself is a form of suffering: the compulsions, clinging, resistance. The word 'craving' has to do with compulsions, where we don't really have freedom anymore to choose. But there's a push, an impulse, pushing, compulsion to say, to speak, to act, and to think certain things. We feel like we're being carried along. We're contracted and caught in a way that causes a lot of suffering.
The suffering that we're talking about here is not all the ways in which the heart gets broken, all the ways in which we can feel sorrow, sadness, or even hurt sometimes. What we're talking about here is the kind of suffering that arises because we crave, because of this compulsivity. As we start seeing this operating more, we see our craving, clinging, resistance, pushing away, hostility, greed - whatever it is we're holding on to - our conceit - that we're holding on to. If we're clinging to anything at all, it's going to hurt us. We're going to suffer.
Distinguishing wisdom sees all that. Decisive wisdom says, "No more. I'm going to live a different way. This is not for me. I am now going to disavow myself from the investment, commitment or authority I've granted to my craving and clinging. This is not how I want to live my life." It can be a very clear decision. It doesn't mean that we stop by any means. But it's a world of difference to make that shift. It's like the same shift as to really go for refuge. "Yes, it's possible to live in a way that is not caught in the grip of attachments and fear, where we're attached to holding onto something." Then as we start seeing the choice - it's not easy to let go of craving - but as we start seeing the choice that exists, "Ah, there it is. I don't have to stay with my attachment to drive fast and to rev the cars waiting at a red stop sign." Those are small places of impatience, small kinds of craving.
Learn to let go. Learn to let go. Learn to let go.
Or learn to recognize the freedom. Learn to recognize the peace that's available, in a very wise way. We're talking about wisdom here. Wisdom is always healthy for us. So that's the caveat. Wisdom is always healthy, always nourishing. Then we find a way. Decisive wisdom says, "No." Maybe with all the love we're capable of, all the care, "No, I'm not going to crave. I'm not going to do that. I'm no longer going to stand behind it or feed it." Or the decisive wisdom says, "Yes," to being free - "Yes," to touching into the place inside where I care and love the world.
So, in decisive wisdom, we're still always doing distinguishing wisdom. There is a check and balance going on. We're using mindfulness to see, understand, feel, and experience when our decisive wisdom is a little bit off - when that sort of wisdom is not really kind or supportive. When the "No" is not really the right way. It's a little hostile perhaps. Or when the "Yes" is too accepting, complacent or going along with the status quo in a way that's not healthy. So hopefully these two work together - distinguishing wisdom that sees clearly, and decisive wisdom that helps us find our way on the path to freedom.
May these two forms of wisdom support and guide you. I look forward to continuing this sequence about wisdom tomorrow.