Guy E. Dubois

The Buddha on Wisdom and Consciousness

The Buddha on Wisdom and Consciousness

A kalyānamitta (a good companion, a spiritual friend) recently asked me how many people manage to experience insight into reality as it really is (yathā bhūta ñāṇa dassana). Inherent doubt seems to float like a black cloud over this indirect question. I read the question mainly as: can this path be realized? Is this a realistic task? Or is it just a hypothetical dream?

A pertinent question requires a clear response.

Here is my personal answer. An answer born of experience. Carried by practice and experience. An answer that does not come from ‘hearsay’ (anītiha). A response straight from my heart.

My answer as to whether this path (magga) can be realized is resolute and unequivocal: ‘yes’. And also the result (the ‘fruit’ – phala) is manifest: liberation from dukkha and inner peace. Not in a distant future. But in this life. In this moment. More: only in this moment.

Such insight presupposes the ‘seeing’ of all ‘things’ (phenomena) in relation to their three characteristics (tilakkhaṇa), namely as impermanent (anicca), as unsatisfactory (dukkha) and as selfless (anattā). As well as the equanimous acceptance (upekkhā) of it.

How? By following the path of morality, through concentration towards wisdom: sīla samādhi paññā. It is sufficient that the dhammanuvatti (the follower who lives according to the Dhamma) develops wisdom (paññā) through continuous practice. And from wisdom comes insight and liberation (vimutti) from dukkha.

Liberation is a personal task. And consequently a personal achievement. No Buddha can set you free. The Buddha is ‘just’ a tool. Admittedly a skilled and powerful tool, but still ‘only’ a tool. An upāya. The Buddha can only point the direction in which you should look. And provide you with the technique to achieve this insight. Ultimately, however, it comes down to you whether or not you come to insight. If you yourself do not create the conditions for liberation, nothing will come of it.

The Buddha has given us different techniques in the suttas. But of one of these techniques, the Buddha says that it is “a direct, an unparalleled way” (ekayana magga), where all other techniques congruent. This technique is satipaṭṭhāna ( → sati + upaṭṭhāna: sati = attention;  upaṭṭhāna = settling). This technique is described extensively in the Pali Canon, namely in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

The four key words of the chorus of this sutta are: ātāpī, satimā, sampajañña, vineyya loke abhijjhadomanassa. These are the milestones through which the dhammanuvatti can orientate him/herself.

Insight and liberation depend on the degree of practice and development of his/her personal zeal (ātāpī); on his/her penetrating attention (satimā); on his/her clear awareness and deep understanding of the transience of things (sampajañña); without clinging to anything in the world (vineyya loke abhijjha-domanassa).

By cultivating this technique, the practitioner achieves direct experiential insight (paccanubhoti) and frees himself/herself from dukkha. Insight (wisdom) leads the practitioner to realize the Four Noble Truths within himself in his three rotations and twelve aspects. [1] Broadly speaking, this means that every aspect of the Four Noble Truths is intellectually known and accepted (pariyatti); that this theory is then put into practice in depth (paṭipatti) and finally that the dhammanuvatti fully realizes its result in him/herself (paṭivedha).

The Buddha says it this way in the Maha-Vedala Sutta, Majjhima-Nikaya 43:

“A person who possesses wisdom understands what dukkha is, lets go of the cause of dukkha, realizes the termination of dukkha, and cultivates the way that leads to the termination of dukkha.

A person who does not possess wisdom does not understand what dukkha is, does not let go of the cause of dukkha, does not realize the termination of dukkha, and does not cultivate the way that leads to the termination of dukkha.

The purpose of wisdom is direct experiential insight (paccanubhoti). The purpose is penetrating insight. The purpose is to triumph, to reach the Other Shore (free yourself from dukkha).

The two mental states of wisdom and consciousness are interrelated. They are inseparable.

What one sees (understands), one is aware of (experiences). Of which one is aware (what one experiences), that one sees (understands).

The difference between the two mental states is that wisdom must be developed and consciousness must be contemplated.”


[1] The three rotations are: theory (pariyatti), practice (paṭipatti) and realisation/result (paṭivedha).  The twelve aspects are derived from this triple rotation. In this way, twelve states (or combinations) arise. F.e.: For the First Truth, this means: – Theory (pariyatti): ‘This is suffering’ – Practice (paṭipatti): ‘Suffering must be understood’ – Result (paṭivedha): ‘Suffering is understood’.


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About Guy E. Dubois

Guy E. Dubois (1947) has translated various parts of the early Buddhist texts into Dutch, provided them with commentary and makes them available for free on SuttaCentral. He is also the author of several works on the teachings of the Buddha. These can be read online, for those who prefer to hold a real book in their hands, they can be ordered at bol.com.

The author himself wants to remain true to his initial objective: he does not wish to earn anything from Dhamma. Guy: "Whenever any 'profit' is generated it will go to dana." As a yogi, he is completely unbound with respect to any Buddhist tradition. Thus, he interprets the Dhamma in a free-spirited manner. As such, he is - in the literal sense of the word - a "homeless person," a bhikkhu, a mendicant, who gives his dhutanga (practice) substance in a very personal way. In his books he combines a virulently liberal attitude to life with a great affection for the deep insights of the Buddha.

You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the way

Buddha, Dhp 276
Buddho.org