According to the Dalai Lama, in an interview with him that I read recently, there are four faces of wisdom:
iii. Doing No Harm
iv. Being Joyful
I have often reflected on how much the choice to live simply, in mind, body and soul, serves me personally by creating the conditions that bring me peace. My mind is peaceful when it has less to process and my body remains healthy with simple nourishment and exercise. Simplifying life for my mind and body frees my time and energy – creates the space necessary – for contemplation and meditation.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that to avoid being sucked back into the millstream of drama, over-indulgence and pointless busywork takes a lot of self-discipline! Wisdom, for me, would be the point where I’d feel far less challenged by saying no to the mainstream and far more at home with doing what I know to be deeply authentic for me.
I like the idea of the Dalai Lama’s Four Faces of Wisdom because they are easy to remember as a way of bringing me back to myself when I feel challenged in this way. So I thought I’d explore, one by one, how they describe, in very straightforward terms, what it is to be wise in life.
Discrimination is the capacity to distinguish between what is helpful or hurtful, creative or destructive, honest or dishonest, real or illusory. How can we know whether our actions and communications are wholesome and serve life or unwholesome and life-negating?
We might think that the difficulty is in not knowing what the outcomes and consequences of our actions will be. We can maybe do our best in any situation, given the information that we have to hand. But where I know I am likely to fall down is not necessarily what I know but where I’m operating from. If I’m acting from my programming and past conditioning, on autopilot and behaving habitually, the chances are that I’m not even present in the situation I’m facing, let alone ready to make a conscious discrimination around what’s creative or destructive, for example.
So, for me, this points to a prerequisite for discrimination – to be wholly present at decision-making times and to be aware of the values and beliefs against which I’m internally judging what is life-affirming and what is life-negating. That simple word – discrimination – conjurs up all of that and more when I look more deeply with an intention to live more lightly.
As human beings, we have tremendous capacities compared to other sentient beings. At one end of the scale there’s the potential to commit atrocious acts of harm – murder, rape, stealing, destruction of the natural world on a massive scale. At the other end there’s the potential to carry out amazing acts of kindness, creativity, caring and growth. Each of us is capable of operating from either end of this spectrum and from many different points in between.
Discrimination might be said to be a conscious decision about how we use our gifts and what our personal ‘bottom line’ is. When our bottom line is fundamentally economically and materially based, it is unlikely that what we achieve through our decisions will have the welfare of humanity and the planet at its heart. That’s not what we’ve been focussed on. In this mode, we are operating primarily unconsciously from the conditioned habits and beliefs of our ego. There is the potential to change this and to improve our discrimination, but only if we’re ready and willing to question our beliefs and assumptions in any situation.
In contrast, when we commit to honing our gifts and using them in service to life itself, our focus shifts from trying to control outcomes to allowing what will be, knowing that we’ve already given the situation our absolute best. However much we think we see the consequences of our decisions and actions, in the bigger picture, we can never actually know what might ripple out from the outcomes of our behaviour. It’s no use trying to bargain with the Universe. ‘Will you just let me get away with this little vice, so long as I do this other ‘good thing’?’
Ultimately, wise discrimination depends on our conscious awareness and our ability to act in accordance with our highest values and carefully questioned beliefs.