What It Means to Rely on Wisdom in Buddhism

From a letter to a friend

I may have told you in a previous message how my interest in the teachings on what are called the two truths, the relative and ultimate truth…


I was thinking of someone I cared for who was paranoid, and imagining things, but was very difficult to convince of the need to see things differently or to listen to those who knew her and cared about her.

Sounds familiar right? to the point of it being universal, I do believe.

In any case, I did have this ‘aha’ moment this week, looking, looking, and not finding, but best of all, recognizing that I hadn’t found what I was looking for in terms of something that felt like a deeper understanding of what is needed.

I just finished another of Khenpo Palden Sherab’s books, called The Sword of Wisdom – which is on the Nyingma understanding of the two truths. It’s a commentary on a text by Mipham Rinpoche. Maybe this has been the most challenging book, since it was probably intended for a monastic curriculum, and not so much for the average reader. I’m glad I stayed with it though.

Towards the end there’s a section on the four reliances – and right away I remembered what those were about, and felt something break open, you know the feeling.

I’ve been having this sense that I couldn’t answer the question we are asking, about how to engage others, to encourage them, because the terms are wrong, or not sufficient for the result we want.

The Four Reliances, you may know, are

Don’t rely on the teacher, rely on the teaching;

Don’t rely on the words, rely on the meaning;

Don’t rely on the provisional, rely on the definitive;


Don’t rely on ordinary awareness, rely on wisdom.

It’s this last one that feels like it is the Way here.

I had this image the last couple of weeks of being caught, ‘like a fly in a bottle’ – going up and down and back and forth, banging into the glass, but not getting any further, for all his efforts. This was on account of staying in just this one framework, when something else entirely is needed.

Perhaps you can relate it to those who hallucinate, or imagine things that aren’t there – it’s the same with ordinary consciousness, that believes so fully in its own view. Something qualitatively different is needed, and knowing this saves so much energy, of struggle, or speaking when it’s not effective to do so.

They make and interesting point in those same teachings, that the purpose of the conventional view, and all the practices related to that, are just so we can gradually engage and understand what transcends this point of view.

Don’t rely on ordinary consciousness, rely on wisdom…

May we all together realize liberation.