Three Essential Tools for Developing Wisdom
Category: Buddhist Path
The 3 wisdoms of attentive listening, contemplating and meditating
Have you ever read or heard something you found fascinating, eye-opening and potentially life-changing, only to forget about it the next day? As you resumed your usual daily activities, that information went by the wayside, and it was back to old habits for you, despite your best intentions. Buddhism has a solution, and it’s called the three wisdom tools of listening, contemplation and meditation.
Of all the things we could learn in this life, that which has the power to deliver us from our pain and suffering is of the highest importance. But even Buddhist wisdom can go in one ear and out the other if not mindfully processed. The three wisdoms of attentive listening, contemplating and meditating help us get the most out of the teachings.
Mindful listening helps minimize distractions and keeps us focused on the information at hand. With contemplation, we then chew on what we’ve just heard and make it our own. Meditation can perhaps be viewed as digesting what we’ve learned. It’s through this 3-step process that information travels from the cognitive mind deep into the heart, becoming an embodied experience we’ll never forget.
We have access to infinite information, much of which is competing for our attention. Even if we can discern what is deserving of our attention, it’s not always easy to stay focused.
Listening meditatively, mindfully, attentively, and intentionally begins with the realization that what we’re hearing is worthy. This brings qualities of joy, desire and urgency to our listening, which keep us engaged in what we’re hearing, reading or studying.
Although meditative listening is in part, outwardly focused, our engagement triggers a process of internalizing the teachings. Attentive listening and contemplation are connected. Having listened with great care and interest, we naturally turn to contemplation.
The Buddha famously instructed us not to agree with the teachings because he taught them or because they seem logical, but to experience them for ourselves to see if they indeed lead to happiness. Contemplation serves as a bridge between conceptual and ineffable understanding.
By reflecting on, or contemplating the teachings, we begin to internalize what we’ve heard. We ask questions, entertain our doubts, try things on and taste test. In the listening stage there was separation between me and what I heard. In the contemplation stage, we begin to close this gap.
As we go deeper into a contemplative practice using analytical or awareness meditation, we transcend the conceptual, thinking mind and experience the teachings directly. Once insight arises, meditation allows us to rest in that experience and become even more familiar with it.
Buddhist contemplation naturally leads us to deep meditation. When an ah-ha moment takes place, we’re invited to let go of our thoughts about it and relax into the spaciousness of it instead. As we rest in meditation, we go beyond the cognitive, intellectual experience and simply soak in the embodied experience of truth.
There is no longer any separation between me and what I heard, or me and what I think. There is just knowing. This non-dualistic experience of knowledge is the ultimate wisdom, or prajna.
When deep in awareness meditation, we may have had glimpses of this experience of wisdom. But this type of wisdom is fleeting and when the meditation has ended, so does the experience. Here, meditation leads us not to an experience, but to a realization. The wisdom of realization is unchanging.
How To Develop Wisdom
Each of the three wisdoms (listening, contemplating, meditating) is dependent on the practice of mindfulness meditation. Without first establishing a relatively calm and stable state of mind, we’ll find it difficult to listen without becoming distracted. And without mindfulness meditation as a foundation, we’ll find it near impossible to contemplate, or practice awareness meditation.
The development of wisdom may seem like an advanced practice, but it begins with just noticing and relaxing. We cultivate a stable, spacious and relaxed mind by encouraging non-judgmental observation of the present moment. Do this, and you’ll naturally become a better listener, gifted with the ability to integrate what’s worth remembering.
The wisdom that arises out of the practice of paying attention introduces us to self-compassion, the ever-present happiness and ease that’s available within.