To define wisdom, the best place to look is the Heart Sutra, the full name of which is “Heart of Perfected Wisdom.” Wisdom is coming to perceive that all five skandhas are empty of intrinsic existence, that they are all a product of the mind. Wisdom is thus perceiving the emptiness of the ego-mind, as it is composed of the five skandhas. (See the page on this website about the Heart Sutra.)
As the sutra says, when you abide in this wisdom, your mind has no fears or obstructions. Therefore you have no fears or obstructions, are free of confused illusion, and thus reach nirvana.
Wisdom is thus divorcing ourselves from the impact our life experiences have had on us, which is the ego-mind. It means divorcing ourselves from the paradigms that have governed how we view ourselves and the world around us.
This is to put it mildly a challenge for us. To help us, the complement to this basic wisdom is the wisdom that our ego-mind is not our true self. As the Buddha taught, if it causes you suffering, then it is not you, it is not yours, it is not yourself. Instead, your true self is your heart, your unborn Buddha mind.
When you sit with yourself and go deep within, you come to realize that your ego mind is not your true self. And that all emotions, judgments, attachments, and cravings flow from your ego mind and thus are also not your true self. Instead, they weaken you and cause you suffering. And so you let them go and instead go deep inside yourself to your heart for guidance.
One thing that often perplexes people as they start walking the Buddhist path, is that if we are all born essentially perfect, if we all have the Buddha nature inside us, then why do we suffer? Why is this wisdom buried so deep within ourselves?
The answer, as so many wise men have written, is that one must go through the darkness in order to find the light. One must choose light over darkness, that is what gives one strength and character, courage. If we from the moment of our birth were able to exercise the wisdom we were born with and not succumb to the challenges we face in life and the “protections” developed by the ego-mind, we would be a race of peaceful but flat, boring people because we would not have tasted the bitterness of life. And we would have no basis for compassion.
And so although we are born with the Buddha nature inside us, and it remains there throughout our lives, we go through this painful process of being enveloped in darkness so that we can find the light and choose to follow it. Unfortunately, most of humanity never finds the light and so remains enveloped in darkness.
It is thus the task of the boddhisatva, indeed of all Buddhists, to bring this wisdom to all. This is why I wrote my latest book, How to Find Inner Peace: A Handbook for People of All Faiths and Non-Believers.