Today I want to jam on a concept central to Buddhism, which is the two wings of the bird of awakening: wisdom and compassion.
One of my teachers, Kamala Masters, said the suttas describes compassion without wisdom as a “likeable fool.”
And they describe wisdom without compassion as “ a lonely hermit in an ivory tower.”
Right – so neither scenario is ideal.
Compassion without wisdom leads to suffering because we have to know how to help others without harming ourselves – or others – in the process. We need discernment to be able to understand boundaries and how we can best be of benefit to others.
Wisdom without compassion leads to suffering because we are all interconnected, and without taking the suffering and wellbeing of others into account, we haven’t truly grasped the depth of the wisdom teachings.
Together, they do more than just balance each other out – they’re essential to the path of freedom and awakening. Without this balance, we can actually do more harm than good.
Another way to think of this would be to say that wisdom can be seen as internal work (the work we do within ourselves) and compassion is the work being externalized and applied to helping others.
Let’s take a second to remind ourselves what we mean by wisdom, because it’s not just intellectual understanding of deep concepts like emptiness or suffering. It’s also insight into our own minds and cultivating wisdom so we understand how our mind works: what triggers us, how we react, how we can skillfully lengthen the pause between perception and reaction.
The more we do this, the more we will naturally decrease incorrect perceptions and be able to see things as they actually are – reality as it IS, without delusions or stories, which helps to decrease suffering.
Through understanding these wisdom teachings, we also increase our understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence, and inevitably, we have no choice but to put ourselves out there to benefit others (cultivating compassion).
Compassion acts on interdependence – our deep connection to everyone and everything, cultivating an open heart to the suffering of all sentient beings – and the desire to alleviate it.
Together, they create a balance between two forces, like yin and yang; emptiness and fullness; stillness and movement. Inward seeking and outward giving.
Through our continued practice of meditation and mindfulness in daily life, we also see the ways we get hooked on a regular basis – by our emotions, old storires and traumas. We realize how personally we take the daily challenges of being human; how we resist change and wish things would just go the way we want.
And awareness precedes change.
So let’s take a moment to reflect on our own practice: Do we have a balance between both wisdom and compassion? Do we actively try to cultivate them both?
I remember going up to one of my teachers and asking him some complex question about how one school of Buddhism described this nuanced aspect of emptiness vs another, and he paused after my long-winded questions and said, “You know, these questions are not so important. It’s important to check you mind: Did I help someone today? How did I treat people? Was I kind? It’s important to reflect on compassion.”
We need to be honest with ourselves and make the necessary changes if we find we’re focusing too much on one or the other.
Let’s end with a quote from HH the Dalai Lama: “When we are motivated by compassion and wisdom, the results of our actions benefit everyone, not just our individual selves or some immediate convenience. When we are able to recognize and forgive ignorant actions of the past, we gain strength to constructively solve the problems of the present.”
You will learn:
// The importance of having both wisdom AND compassion in our lives
// What happens when we lack deep wisdom or cultivated compassion
// How we can cause more harm than good when these qualities are out of balance
// How wisdom helps us see the true reality of things
// The 3 characteristics of all phenomena
// Ways we can work to cultivate a balance of both wisdom and compassion
//To cultivate compassion, try this guided Tonglen Meditation audio (30min)
// Episode 28: Practical Emptiness
// Episode 51: Self-compassion
// Episode 106: Empathy vs Compassion
// If you want to dive into this level of healing with a small group of self-identified womyn, having plant medicine retreats in Alaska and Hawaii, adventures in nature and learning more about your mind and your deeper Soul Purpose, visit AdventureMastermind.com to get on the waitlist to be the first to hear about the next dates and locations. (P.S. If you’ve already done the mastermind, stay tuned for a special alumni retreat. We’ll pick up right where we left off and dive even deeper!)
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.
// Want something more self-paced with access to weekly group support and getting coached by yours truly? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out. Plus, we have entire months devoted to wisdom and compassion. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there!