Wisdom

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Wisdom (Paññā) is the ability to make intelligent decisions and draw correct conclusions based on experience and knowledge. Wisdom is an ability of the mind and thus the state of the mind will have an influence on the ability to be wise.

Freeing the mind from prejudices and preconceived ideas, developing awareness and having an uncluttered and tranquil mind all assist in the development of wisdom. The Buddha also asserted that there is a close connection between ethical behaviour and wisdom. ‘Wisdom is purified by virtue and virtue is purified by wisdom. Where one is so is the other. The virtuous person had wisdom and the wise person has virtue. The combination of virtue and wisdom is called the highest thing in the world’ (D.I,84).

The Supremacy of Wisdom in the Pali Canon

There are a number of discourses in the Pali Canon which support the use of study with the frequent occurrence of wisdom being mentioned as supreme.

Venerable sir, our teachings are rooted in the Blessed One . . . It is bhikkhus, because he has developed and cultivated one faculty that a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints declares final knowledge thus. What is that one faculty? The faculty of wisdom. For a noble disciple who possesses wisdom, the faith that follows from it becomes stabilized, the energy that follows it becomes stabilized, the mindfulness that follows it becomes stabilized, the concentration that follows it becomes stabilized.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.45

It is, bhikkhus, because he has developed and cultivated two faculties that a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints declares final knowledge thus. What two? Noble wisdom and noble liberation. For his noble wisdom is his faculty of wisdom; his noble liberation is his faculty of concentration.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.46

Bhikkhus, just as the footprints of all living beings that walk fit into the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant’s footprint’s is declared to be their chief by reason of its size, so too, among the steps that lead to enlightenment, the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.54

Bhikkhus, just as among fragrant heartwoods red sandalwood is declared to their chief, so too, among the states conducive to enlightenment the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenemment.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.55

Bhikkhus, just as, among the trees of Jambudipa the rose-apple tree is declared to be their chief, so too, among the states conducive to enlightenment the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.67

Bhikkhus, just as, among the trees of the Tavatimsa devas the coral tree is declared to be their chief, so too, among the states conducive to enlightenment the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.68

Bhikkhus, just as, among the trees of the asuras the trumpet-flower tree is declared to be their chief, so too, among the states conducive to enlightenment the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.69

Bhikkhus, just as, among the trees of the supannas the silk-cotton tree is declared to be their chief, so too, among the states conducive to enlightenment the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.70

As can be seen in these many similes, the Buddha really hammers down the importance of wisdom for the Path and especially for the attainment of enlightenment. Faith is important to Buddhism and in this context it means confidence in the teachings. But even faith is attained by doing some initial examination. For example, we study many different religions and decide to try Buddhism because there is some logic to the teachings. Even in this way, the Buddha still places it as the lowest:

Bhikkhus, there are these five faculties. What five? The faculty of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. These are the five faculties. One who has completed and fulfilled these five faculties is an arahant. If they are weaker than that, one is a non-returner; if still weaker, a once-returner; if still weaker, a stream-enterer; if still weaker, a Dhamma-follower; if still weaker, a faith-follower.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.12

Non-returners who have eradicated five of the ten hindrances to enlightenment are usually reborn in the Pure Abodes and attain enlightenment there. There are five different levels or planes of existence in the Pure Abodes. The higher levels have a longer life. Non-returners ascend to the different levels based on what their directive force or “specialty” was as a human. At the first or lowest level in the Pure Abodes are those whose directive force was faith. At the next level is energy, the level above that is mindfulness, the level above that is concentration, and the highest level in the Pure Abodes is reserved for those with the directive force of wisdom. (Khuddaka Nikaya, Paramatthajotika)

Having faith / confidence is good and on the Path, but at the lowest level according to the Buddha’s Path. The highest and most important is the faculty of wisdom.

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