Transforming Ignorance to Wisdom

Thich Hai Tri,

Buddhism is about transforming ignorance into wisdom for ourselves and others.

The Buddha saw the world suffering and sought a way out of that suffering for all beings. The word often translated as "suffering" from the Pali texts is "dukkha," but I prefer the translation "stress."

The Buddha said life is full of stress, and if he had stopped there, Buddhism would be very pessimistic. However, the Buddha said if we eliminate the cause of stress, then stress itself will end.

So what causes stress? The main cause of stress is ignorance, or literally not knowing how the world actually is; we fail to experience things as they really are.

The true nature of existence is that all things are impermanent, and all things rely on other things for their existence; all things are interdependent.

Now we know intellectually that all things are impermanent -- we know our bodies won't be here in 100 years. Society as we view it will be gone in 100 years. Many physical things around us will be changed -- but we don't know this experientially.

As a human being, I am a result of many different causes and conditions that we call interdependence. My body was provided by my parents.

From my birth, the air, the water and the food I take in have been responsible for my existence. All the food I receive comes from the Earth and the labor of others. For example, let's say I eat an apple. The apple consists of the wind, rain, sun and soil. If any of these things is not present, the apple ceases to come into being, and I cannot nourish myself. Therefore, I should be very careful not to poison any of the things that become part of the apple, because I will, in turn, be poisoning myself. Buddhists recognize, as Native Peoples have, that whatever we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

Also, for me to have an apple, the farmer had to grow it. For that to happen, someone had to give birth to the farmer. The apple needs to get from the orchard to the grocery store, and that requires a truck. This means someone had to have an idea of a truck with an engine and tires. This means that someone had to harvest the rubber for the tires and the metal for the engine, and someone had to give birth to all those people who did the work. If any of these elements are missing, then I don't get the apple.In fact, if I follow this logic, I can see that there isn't a single being since the beginning of time that in some way has not been involved in my having an apple right now.

For Buddhists, globalization is not a new idea -- it is a perennial reality.

So ignorance of impermanence and interdependence is what leads us to misunderstanding. We see things as divided and separate, where they are actually constantly co-producing each other. Because of this divided mind, we start generating greed and aversion to all the things of the world, including other people, when in fact we are all interdependent...

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Photo courtest of Shutterstock/KK-Foto.

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