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Knowledge and Wisdom

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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by Zuio H. Inagaki


 Amida dispels the darkness of ignorance;
Hence, we call him the 'Buddha of the Light of Wisdom.'
All Buddhas and sages of the Three Vehicles
Together praise him. (Jodo Wasan 9)

Knowledge and wisdom have different meanings in Buddhism as in ordinary usage. A knowledgeable person is not always wise, and a person of little knowledge can be quicker in understanding Buddhism than one who has much learning and a higher intelligence. Knowledge is useful when directed by wisdom, but mere accumulation of knowledge does more harm than good in Shin Buddhism as it often does in secular matters.

The whole range of the Buddhist endeavour can be graded according to different stages of the development of wisdom. Although wisdom is, by and large, an innate quality, it can be cultivated to a higher level of development until one becomes a Buddha. The Eightfold Noble Path and the Six Paramitas are the systems of practice designed for the cultivation of wisdom leading to Buddhahood.

The first group of sages are called shravakas, they practice according to the Buddha's teaching, seeking to relinquish their hold on their own selves and attain the wisdom of non-self. The second, pratyekabuddhas, represent a higher stage of wisdom, for they are able to practice without a teacher. These two groups of sages are called 'the two vehicles' - 'vehicle' signifying 'teaching'. The third, bodhisattvas, have already removed self-attachment; having been awakened to the reality of 'universal inter-relatedness', they feel boundless compassion towards all living beings. Their wisdom, even at the outset of their career as a 'bodhi-being', is incomparably deep and subtle.

As compared with these sages, we - bombu - have but little wisdom. Though we may be intelligent and knowledgeable, we still have deep-seated inverted views and ignorance and so our judgements and decisions never bring us nearer to the Buddha's Wisdom.

All Buddhas have the same transcendent wisdom surpassing that of shravakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas, but each Buddha has a different method of approach to enlighten other beings as indicated by his vows. Amida's Wisdom being the most efficacious and thorough in delivering us from the delusions and sufferings of Samsara, other Buddhas praise it and exhort us to take refuge in him.

Although totally lacking in wisdom to save ourselves, we are led to partake of Amida's supreme wisdom through being awakened by his Light of Wisdom. The moment we see our real selves - the stark reality of our being full of blind passions and inverted views - is the very moment in which our basic ignorance is gone forever. The Light of Wisdom brings us the realization that Amida's Infinite Life completely embraces our lives, however defiled.