The only place any person can discover wisdom is in themselves. So when anyone claims to have wisdom, it’s their wisdom. And when you hear it, it activates YOUR wisdom.
Anything that sounds wise, or has the appearance of wisdom, is a reflection of your wisdom. The power that exists in wise-sounding words has nothing to do with the words, and everything to do with YOU. The power of those words is whatever feeling they enliven, or space they awaken, in YOU.
Wise-sounding words can facilitate insight in us. They can come in the right place at the right time. And they work because they point you to wisdom you have inside of you.
Most of us have experienced this: you hear a truism time and time again, and think yeah yeah, I know that. It sounds like any of the other advice that is available to us all day, every day. But then, when the conditions are just right, you hear it in a new way, and it clicks like it never had before. You feel it in your gut, and your soul, and you know that you understand it now.
The advice was equally “true” each time you heard it. The difference is that you were in a place of openness to receive its message.
The source of the good feelings that wisdom brings is in us, not the words.
True wisdom can never be spoken. Even if a teacher you know and trust says something wise, don’t accept or believe it. See if it is true for yourself. If you resonate with their words, then you know it has struck a chord of truth in you. That way, you’re living your own wisdom instead of someone else’s.
Zen masters know that words are just signposts to the truth. This explains their highly idiosyncratic methods of awakening students to their enlightenment.
For example, a Zen student comes to a master, dreamy-eyed, and says, “Master, I understand! I know that the body and the ego are not real. I know that my essence is neither.”
Then the master whacks the student in the forehead with a stick of bamboo and says, “Was that real?”
Or, since they know that wise words and stupid words are equally untrue, they deliberately tell their students falsehoods. Their intention is not to mislead the students but to intensify the illusions under which they operate, so they can more quickly be shattered.
The master brings the student in to his quarters. They both sit cross-legged from each other. The master tells the student she must do something spontaneous.
This is a nonsense request. She must do something spontaneous… but not do it because she was told to…? How? It is a double bind–you can’t try to be spontaneous. The student wrestles with this challenge not just in that meeting but throughout her Zen training.
Eventually she reaches a point where she realizes the point of contention in that challenge is the “her” caught between following instruction and being spontaneous. She sees that there’s no way she can’t be spontaneous, even in her dead-end struggle of trying to be spontaneous. She was spontaneously struggling. Freed from the illusion of a self separate from her experience, separate from itself, she is out of her own way, and has an enlightening insight.
It’s also why Alan Watts, in his classes, would go on for a long time talking about reality, and then say, “nothing I can possibly say about reality is correct. Reality is–” and then ring a gong.
It’s why the Buddha gave a sermon that consisted of him holding up a flower to a crowd of monks. All of them sat there confused–all except one, named Mahakasyapa, who smiled. The Buddha saw this and named him as his successor.
Each of these stories indicate that the truth and wisdom we seekers are seeking is unaffiliated with words.
More than just wisdom
Wisdom is something each of us has within.
We access it when the mind gets a bit quieter. It can come to us in an epiphany or in the form of ordinary common sense.
Wisdom isn’t the only thing we’ve got in us though.
Wisdom is part of the overall package we have as our default gifts. And the other things–they’re not bad either. They’re also accessed when we allow the mind to settle down a bit.
I’m glad you asked.
The best way to answer what else we have is by asking you: what do you want?
Because literally whatever you want, you already have.
As an innate gift.
A basic default setting of the soul.
Chances are, this sounds a bit counterintuitive.
We are taught, first of all, that things bring feelings. And last time I checked I didn’t have an Tesla Model S Sedan as an innate gift inside me, and I don’t feel like a boss like I would with the Tesla so…. I do need the thing.
But we never experience the Tesla itself. We experience whatever we think about it. When you first get it, you think, holy crap, I have a Tesla, this is sick! But soon that will wear off, and it’ll just feel like your car. The good news, though, is that whatever it is you’re really looking for by having the Tesla, you already have. And that won’t fade with time.
We are taught that wanting things is right, and it’s what everyone does. It’s the way to have feelings we want, like happiness.
But it’s not.
Here’s another example.
Some people want to be famous. Often, that wish expresses a desire for validation and admiration.
Related to that is a desire for lots and lots of money.
We are shown, taught, and encouraged to believe that having a certain amount of money will make us feel good. Life will be easier, we’ll be more relaxed, we can eat at luxurious restaurants, take luxurious vacations, hang out with other rich, intriguing people. We’ll be glamorous and life will be awesome.
Well, examples abound that THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENS. How many celebrities can you name right now that have breakdowns in the public eye? They’re not happy.
South of me is one of the richest counties in the country, and people there are just as unhappy as people in the county north of me, which is poorer than average.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, being famous, or owning a Tesla. I’m not against them.
But those things are insidious if riches, fame, and environmentally-safe cars were supposed to be your magic bullets that were going to finally make you feel fulfilled.
(It happens on a smaller scale too. Some of us are humble. We think, I just want to have a stable income, enough for a fancy dinner every often, and not have to stress about bills or expenses. Once I get there–then I can relax.)
The truth is that (and don’t believe me, explore it for yourself!) we can have all of those feelings without any of those things. You can feel luxurious sitting outside on a spring evening with a microwave dinner as the sun sets.
You can feel ease and relaxation whether you make $20,000 or $200,000 a year.
You can give yourself the admiration and validation that will always be fickle if you depend on the outside world to give them to you.
The secret is knowing that they come from inside you, and exist regardless of circumstance.
And ironically, it can be easier to achieve those lofty material goals when you’re coming from the knowing that whether or not you achieve them, you’re blessed, you’ll be fine. Then it’s like we’re playing with the house’s money. Then we can be fearless and not care if we fail. Then we’re playing with the universal wind in our sails.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m going to give another example, because it’s extremely common in our culture.
The magical fairy tale romance/marriage.
It’s a myth peddled by Hollywood and perpetuated by our imaginations.
We love to imagine a special person coming along and making our lives marvelous. They’ll bring security, wellbeing, excitement. They’ll make you feel cherished and loved.
Yet, as common and cliche as it is, we have to first love ourselves, feel secure in ourselves, and produce our own wellbeing, before we can coexist happily with a partner. Then we avoid putting all kinds of expectations on them like being our source of wellbeing and happiness. We have to first marry ourselves before we marry another.
If you’re looking for wisdom, for happiness, for ease, for peace, turn your attention inwards. Save yourself the struggle and suffering of a false path.
There are no rules.
As long as you don’t forget where your wellbeing comes from, you can pursue whatever you want within the world of form. The material world is, after all here for our enjoyment! I’m definitely not recommending that we all drop our earthly pursuits to meditate and chant all day.
I hope to convey that whatever those earthly pursuits are, you can pursue them with a bit more lightness, a bit more jazz, a bit more peace and contentment, by shifting your focus slightly.
Well actually, 180 degrees. From the outside to the inside.
PS — I know I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling I need a certain amount of savings or monthly income before I can feel secure and stable. Has this, or anything similar, happened to you? Let me know in the comments section!