July 13, 2011

On Intellect and Compassionate Wisdom.

Photo: maristmy575.com

Often when we think of intellect, we think of the scholarly accumulation of knowledge, but in the buddhadharma intellect is the critical intelligence that cuts through conceptual mind to innate wisdom.

Looking carefully at the Tibetan forms of these terms, the meaning becomes explicit: she rab in Tibetan literally means knowing best, best knowing. And ye, primordial plus she, knowing, means knowing from the beginning.

Although accumulating knowledge can be valuable, and the buddhadharma does have a very scholarly component, Trungpa Rinpoche emphasized the practice of meditation so that his Western students would relax their conceptual minds and have the direct experiences of wisdom.

Photo: Ana Felix Garjan

Through mindfulness-awareness, which continues post-meditation, the blind spot of ego is illuminated and gradually eliminated. This is insightful intellect at work. As ego is seen through, compassion arises, for there is no longer the barrier created by clinging to a fictional ego separating oneself from others.

This is in contrast to most modern forms of higher education, which so often fail to connect intellect with heart. Of course there are always exceptional teachers, who are friendly mentors as well as brilliant instructors and they are the ones who magnetize students to their courses regardless of the subject matter. But it would be so much more educational if all forms of education were contemplative—fostering the development of the whole person, including interpersonal skills, such as empathy and emotional sanity, as well as the academic skills. Contemplative education offers a nourishing and supportive way to meet this rapidly changing world with heartfelt, informed intelligence motivated by the power of compassionate wisdom instead of by mere profit or personal aggrandizement.

Because meditation unlocks insightful intellect, we develop friendliness, warmth, and humor toward ourselves and, simultaneously toward everyone we encounter. And as we become more curious, inquisitive, and open, we encounter an ever-expanding world.

Photo: Nathan Hayag

This is in contrast to modern higher education in particular, where intellectual and scientific traditions remain somewhat divorced from the heart, and thus often do not foster the altruistic motivation to benefit beyond self. Instead, individualism, competition, and individuation are heightened, so that a graduate is most often saddled not only with a college debt, but also with a reinforced sense of “me-first.”

It is the practice of meditation that makes an education contemplative. Meditation combines direct experience with inquiry. Meditative intelligence is awake but still, not speeding along trying to reach a quick or clever conclusion.

Post-meditation intelligence manifests in the form of inquiry, but the questions arise not just to clarify, challenge, or discover, but to understand another’s point of view, to remain open and ready to learn a new approach and to try to listen and understand because one genuinely cares both about the speaker and what the speaker has to say. Thus the questioning isn’t so much of a competitive challenge as it is an expression of compassion.

One may have an entirely different point of view, but be open to listening and questioning and the result may be the capacity to entertain several different possibilities. We become more flexible and resourceful, and there is a tendency to feel inspired to live a life of benefiting others.

When we meditate wakefully this openness and compassion arise together and begin to permeate our lives, revealing innate wisdom. This wisdom is non-conceptual and needs no confirmation. As we continue to practice, more frequent glimpses of this non-referential state occur. Eventually, with the death of stubbornly clinging ego, complete wisdom dawns.

In the case of Trungpa Rinpoche, one could see this wisdom manifest from the smallest to some of his greatest acts—from how he set a glass or tea cup down silently to his fearless and playful attitude addressing hundreds of hippies at the inception of the Naropa Institute in the summer of 1974.

When compassion and intellect manifest together, we act skillfully with decorum. Decorum often sets off alarm bells, but the original meaning is related to decency, to doing what is appropriate to the situation at hand. So when compassion and intellect work together, which takes training and practice, the wisdom shines through.

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