Making effort with wisdom

In the annual summing-up meeting of Glorious Sun Group, during the discussion segment, we were exploring the topics of “what is wisdom” and “where does wisdom come from.” Buddhism has a saying, “The five virtues are like the feet, the prajñā is like the eyes.” The five virtues are originally from Mahayana Bodhisattva’s six practices: charity, precepts, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom. Buddhism has a term called the six virtue practices that ferry one beyond the sea of mortality to nirvana. While explaining the relationship between these six practices, an ancient master said, “The five virtues are like the feet, the prajñā is like the eyes.” The prajñā means wisdom. It suggests that when a Bodhisattva is in the process of the first five practices, without the guidance of wisdom, he will be like a blind man who fails to find the door to enter; he may encounter twists and turns, walk through many winding courses, yet still accomplish nothing. If we modify this sentence, it can also apply to the administration of a corporation, “Effort is like the feet, wisdom is like the eyes.” If a corporation desires an ideal economic benefit, it requires all employees to work together. However, making effort is not just rushing forward without considering the consequences. Only through the right guidance of wisdom, can the sweat of effort grow the ideal fruitions.

There is a case in the Chan book of The Compliment of Five Lamps, that says there was a Chan practitioner in the Tang Dynasty called Daoyi, who went to a mountain of the Nanyue District in Hunan Province, China to practice deep meditation. He worked very hard but couldn’t reach the Chan realization after a long time of practice. Master Huairang knew he was a great vessel of Chan Buddhism, so he went to the place where Daoyi was meditating to enlighten him. When Master Huairang arrived, he didn’t say a word; he just took a brick and began grinding hard on a rock. Daoyi saw that and asked, “Most virtuous one, why are you grinding that brick?” The master Huairang replied, “I want to make a mirror out of it.” Daoyi was very curious and asked, “How can you make a mirror by grinding that piece of brick?” The Master Huairang answered with a question, “What’s your intention to meditate here?” Daoyi replied, “I intend to become a Buddha.” Master Huairang knew the time was ripe, and immediately said to him, “If grinding a brick cannot make a mirror, then is it possible for you to become a Buddha by practicing sitting meditation?” Daoyi was suddenly enlightened after hearing his words, and therefore became a pupil of Master Huairang, and served him for ten years. He learned all his teacher’s secrets of success and became a great master in that generation. This Chan story of “grinding a brick to make a mirror” fully explained how important it is to “make effort with wisdom.”

How can we obtain wisdom? In Buddhism, the interpretation for prajñā is wisdom, but what is prajñā? There are three kinds of prajñā: 1. The prajñā of words, 2. The prajñā of observation, 3. The prajñā of absolute fundamental reality.

  1. The prajñā of words means that we learn and understand what are the causes of problems and know how we should solve them through the reading of words.
  2. The prajñā of observation is that through sitting meditation, we discover the true features of something, the essence of matters, and thus realize that all the problems in the world are within cause and effect, cause and condition. As a result, we know how our body, mouth and mind should behave.
  3. The prajñā of absolute fundamental reality is when we encounter problems at work or in our life, through learning and trying, we finally solve the problems, and sort out something that worries us. This is called the prajñā of absolute fundamental reality.

Of course, prajñā has other ways of interpretation, as the Sixth Patriarch Huineng said, “Prajñā has no forms, it is the Bodhi mind.” As for how you like to comprehend and understand it, that depends on if you can get a good adviser to approve your interpretations; other cases are the same. “There are millions of ways to say it, but the principle is the same.” We should never attach to a certain point of view we know, and think that is the only truth: that is making the mistake of attachment. If we don’t know how to reflect and introspect, don’t know how to humbly ask for advice, it is very easy to fall into the war of words.

Wisdom and effort, or we can say wisdom and zeal, these are both the methods of Bodhisattva’s practices, their relationship is like eyes and feet. The ancients said, “If one has feet without eyes, it’s easy to fail. If one has eyes without feet, he won’t be able to achieve anything. If one has feet and eyes, he will reach to the other shore of the sea. If one has no feet and no eyes, he will be in great misery.” Therefore, whether it is about work or spiritual practice, we need to make effort with wisdom to be able to obtain some achievement.


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