2020-04-13: Paññā (1 of 5) The Wisdom Arising from Suffering
2:59PM May 20, 2020
So for this week, starting today, I am talking about the fifth faculty of the five faculties, the faculty of wisdom. The Buddhist word in Pali for wisdom is paññā. It can be translated in different ways. Sometimes it's translated as discernment. Sometimes I've translated it or rendered it as insight.
The advantage of these words like discernment and insight, I think, suggests more the idea that it's an understanding, a seeing that happens in the situations we're in. Wisdom can imply that we've learned some wisdom, some knowledge, some understanding of how things work. And we bring that along with us in our life, and apply it or are ready to use it or see it with a kind of pre-existing learning. That's also very valuable and important. But we also have the capacity to see, to have a certain presence and attention in the present moment. And to have a wisdom faculty operating, where we discern, we see deeply into experience. So the truth of it gets revealed and understood in the moment as it is. It's obvious, but that's how it works. That's how it is.
So the wisdom faculty is a capacity that we all have, meaning it's just a natural functioning of our inner life. We all have this faculty. The word wisdom can seem somewhat lofty, and for some of us seem beyond reach because it's only great wise people who can have wisdom. But the practice shows us that as we settle in and listen deeply, as we have the capacity for real attention to what's going on, listening deeply to ourselves, deeply to the world -- our psychophysical system will begin to discern what's happening. We'll begin to see more and more clearly what is happening so that we can respond wisely in ways that are useful and supportive for us in our practice. And this use, or the application or the maturing of the wisdom faculty happens gradually over time. There's a kind of progress in the cultivation, development and the ripening of wisdom as we do this practice.
For many people, the first form of this wisdom that arises is the wisdom that arises in the forge of suffering, in the great difficulties and challenges of our lives. It's been said in the ancient Buddha's teachings, I believe, that everyone comes to Buddhist practice through suffering. And somehow something doesn't seem quite right. Something is uncomfortable, something seems off. Something really hurts, and it's challenging and overwhelming, difficult. And so sometimes the suffering that brings us to practice is when nothing else works. Everything else has not really helped us with the issues of our lives.
I had the experience of reaching rock bottom, like all my attempts to find a way out of my suffering didn't work. And so finally I just tried letting go, but even that didn't work. And so finally, with rock bottom, I guess I let go in a fuller way than when I did the letting go. I just kind of gave up basically, and only then did the practice really arise in me. Not because I applied myself or understood what to do, but rather the giving up in this very radical way tapped into a simplicity of being that wasn't my intention. I wasn't trying to do anything anymore, be anybody anymore, accomplish something, or defend myself. Just being in that space opened up a new possibility. And that new possibility inspired me greatly in doing the practice.
I could give you a whole autobiography of all the different ways that I've suffered. And, you know, it would make an interesting story, probably for each of us, "The Autobiography of My Suffering." Hopefully, the way that autobiography works in Buddhism would be how the autobiography of my suffering led me into the practice -- how it really inspired me to engage in a path that's meant to bring us to the other side of suffering, to bring us not just relief from suffering, but really a very full and deep release from it.
The vehicle for doing that has a lot to do with our own capacity to see, to listen, to be mindful, to be present for our experience. It's not an easy task. But it's a lot easier if we begin to have faith (the first of the five faculties) that our whole psychophysical system, when we're listening deeply, when we're present deeply, does know the way towards healing, does know the way. It knows the way to resolve these things, the path to release, the path to healing what ails us and the challenges we have.
It's a remarkable journey to step away from the story-making person that many times we are, many times with the story-making mind. That mind is very small. Sometimes it works really well. It creates wonderful stories that are opening and freeing, but it's a very limited part of who we are. And it's too limited sometimes to really help us work through some of the great difficulties we have in life. Certainly stories and ideas and memories are important. We can appreciate those, but then go beyond them and quiet the mind enough so that we can open up, and really feel and be present, and sense what's here.
If what we feel is suffering, then the wisdom faculty is the ability, the discernment that says, "I'm going to learn a different way. I'm going to find a different way to live this life." And then to have faith that it's possible. There is a practice to be done. And so we see that the wisdom faculty and the faith faculty are mutually supportive of each other. There's a discernment and the seeing of a possibility. And we don't really know the outcome of that, or we don't really have an experience for ourselves yet. But then to have faith in that possibility. To have the discernment and insight that, "Yes, this is my suffering." To listen to it, to not cower from it, to not see it as being hopeless, to have the courage or the kindness, the compassion for ourselves. To hold the suffering with faith, with wisdom, with compassion, with a sense of possibility.
One function of both faith and wisdom, this initiating faith and initiating wisdom, is that teaches us, "Yes, it's time to be present. This is the time to hold all this in attention, to listen deeply, to be present for our experience." And, how we find ourselves beyond that, how the practice keeps unfolding beyond this initial moment of discernment, insight, wisdom, inspiration. Yes, I'm suffering, no doubt. It's okay to open widely, to make space for it, hold it in the body just long enough so that I can be inspired. Yes, I'm going to practice.
And then part of the next step of wisdom is to have wisdom or discernment of what the wise way is to be with our challenges and our suffering. Not only to open to it and feel it, which can be overwhelming sometimes -- but to have some wisdom and understanding of how to see the different options, and how to be present for what is difficult, or how to be inspired, and how to take the next step with our suffering, how to practice with it. That would be the second form of wisdom that we'll talk about tomorrow.
But today, I just basically had two things in mind. One was to talk to you about the initiating wisdom. That has a lot to do with suffering, and seeing suffering, and being inspired by our faith that there is another alternative. There is a possibility of freedom from suffering, release from suffering. That was one thing I was hoping to convey.
The other was to be inspired to have faith in that possibility. Then we have a kind of ballast, strength, settleness or rootedness that this is a good thing to do and we can do it. And that's why the wisdom factor, I think, follows the first four factors. Just enough faith, courageous engagement, mindful listening, and unification are gathered together, bringing all of ourselves to the table of practice -- then we'll find our way with our suffering.
So, whatever personal challenges you have, whatever suffering exists in this world, may it be the forge, the seedbed, for the arising of both your wisdom and your faith. We'll continue tomorrow. Thank you very, very much.