True Wisdom

He takes no delight in being shown respect. If he is slighted, he shows no anger. His wisdom is like an ocean. These are the hallmarks of the truly wise.

— Sutra on the Principles of the Six Paramitas

Taking No Delight in Being Shown Respect

Buddhists often say that there are three basic worldly attachments that each one of us must overcome to be truly successful in our practice. The first is the attachment to fame. The second is the attachment to wealth and the third is the attachment to respect. For most people, the labor of overcoming their attachments to fame and wealth is much easier than the labor of overcoming their attachment to respect.

Our desire to be respected is a basic animal instinct. In recognizing this, we must also recognize that this desire lies very deep within us and that it is fundamentally animalistic.

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra describes the Buddha as follows:

No matter how much evil and calumny were heaped upon him, the Buddha remained without evil thoughts himself. No matter how much praise and respect he was given, the Buddha remained unmoved by pleasure or delight. He looked on everything with a magnificent compassion and saw friendship and enmity as one.

The desire to be respected is born, in part, from healthy social urges that are the motivating forces behind our learning, our friendships, our professions and even our desire to study the Dharma. Buddhism is a religion that is learned progressively and many of the truths it elucidates can only be understood by comprehending that truth itself comes in levels. There is no one, blanket rule that covers everything. Life is too complex for that. Our need to be respected should be understood as a need that has several different levels.

If we had no need for respect, we might not ever learn to speak and certainly would never learn basic manners. This is the first level of our desire to be respected and it produces mostly good results. The second level of our need to be respected begins to show when we start competing with others; first we want to be as good as them, but soon we want to be better. This level is a mixture of good and bad. The desire to compete can have good effects if it is well controlled and it can have disastrous effects if it is not.

The third level of respect is the beginning of wisdom. At this level we begin to understand what respect is and where our desires for it have come from. Having seen this we see as well that these desires are fundamentally empty. We progress at this level first by contemplating the past and then by contemplating the timeless joy of the Buddha within.

In contemplating the past we learn by considering times in our own lives when we have craved respect or done something evil to obtain it. Would we do the same thing now? If not, then we have gained a place from which to observe our present desire for respect. If we can see the emptiness of the past, we should be able to see the emptiness of the present as well. Once we are able to see the emptiness of our present desire for respect, then nothing can obstruct our power to contemplate the perfection of the Buddha within. One glimpse of this perfection will clear away all remaining defilements.

Having No Anger If You Are Insulted

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra says:

Ordinary people become angry if they are intruded upon and they become happy if they are given some benefit. If they are in a frightening place, they become scared. If you want to be a bodhisattva, you must not be like that. Even though you have not broken all of the fetters which hold you to this world, still you must learn to control yourself by practicing patience under insult, not becoming angry when harmed or bothered, not becoming delighted when shown respect, and not becoming frightened by the sufferings and trials of this world.

As we progress in Buddhism, the ideal behavior of the bodhisattva becomes clearer in our minds. We may still feel the strains and hardships of this world, but with our knowledge of the ideal, we learn to create some distance between those strains and ourselves. We learn to compare ourselves to something higher than what we always have been and we learn to change for the better. Even one step on this path will bring immense rewards, and anyone who takes two or three steps will never turn back again.

When the means lead to higher awareness, we learn that the means and the goal are one.

The Diamond Sutra says:

Good men and good women who persevere in chanting and reading this Sutra: realize that if you can bear insults in this life without becoming angry or upset, then any bad karma you may have remaining from past incarnations will be eradicated and you will soon attain anuttarasamyaksambodhi [the highest enlightenment].

No one in this world can possibly avoid being insulted. The conditions of our time and place are often turbulent, violent and humiliating. Rather than permit these basic conditions to weaken our resolve to improve ourselves, we should use them as opportunities to strengthen our practice of Buddhism. The Buddha never asked us to flee this world; he taught us to understand it and deal with it. If you are insulted, understand the conditions which produced the insult and deal with them compassionately. This is the way to grow.

Wisdom As Vast As the Sea

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra says:

When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy. Pride leads to violence and evil. The truly good gaze upon everything with love and understanding.

It takes great wisdom to understand that the entire world springs from the mind.

The Saddharma Smrty Upasthana Sutra says, “Wisdom is the sweetest dew, the most peaceful refuge, the best friend and the greatest treasure.”

Wisdom allows us to continue our learning through all manner of hardship. It takes faith to become a Buddhist, but it takes wisdom to become a Buddha.

The Avatamsaka Sutra says, “Take refuge in the Dharma, vow to save all sentient beings, study the sutras deeply and you will attain wisdom as vast as the ocean.”

Wisdom is achieved through study of the Dharma and contemplation on the inherent purity of the Buddha who lies within you.

All monks and all others progress through studying the Dharma. Whether sitting or walking, they read and chant this Sutra. Even if they are in a forest seated under a tree and concentrating in deep meditation, those who uphold this Sutra will sense a fragrance in the air and know that the Tathagata is near.

— Lotus Sutra