Becoming wise

One is not wise
Only because one speaks a lot.
One who is peaceful, without hate, and fearless
Is said to be wise.

Not by silence
Does an ignorant fool become a sage.
The wise person, who,
As if holding a set of scales,
Selects what’s good and avoids what’s evil
Is, for that reason, a sage.
Whoever can weight these two sides of the world
Is, for that reason, called “a sage”.

v. 258 and v. 268-269, translated by Gil Fronsdal

How much a person talks is no indicator of her wisdom. Some very wise people talk a lot, and others are silent. Some very silly, venal people talk a lot and some are silent. To discover a person’s wisdom, and to develop our own, we have to look more deeply.

“Who can weigh two sides of the world” is the poetic statement of a very simple activity. In the Buddha’s texts, when he says “the world”, he doesn’t usually mean the cosmos in the scientific sense. He means one’s own perception of the world – the world that can be known and understood within one body/mind. No matter what we know intellectually, our world is made up of an incessant flow of direct experiences. Attending to these experiences with wisdom is “weighing the world”, or living mindfully. When we experience seeing, we know seeing, and we see its cause and its effect. The same with hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling, and also with mindstates such as joy, sadness, curiosity, disgust, dreaminess, etc.

It’s a simplification, but the Buddha is talking about understanding causes and effects in our own experience. This is the experiment, this is the work. By knowing wholesome and unwholesome actions and their effects, we “weigh the world” and become wiser. In this way, eventually, we can become peaceful, compassionate and fearless.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dhammapada

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s