If our faith is not developed through open thinking and reasoning, then
we are just following what others lead us to believe. A blind religious
faith becomes fanatical when it is carried away by wild enthusiasm and
the deprecation of wisdom. Buddhist faith develops through the
cultivation of wisdom. Since it espouses a faith wedded to wisdom,
Buddhism avoids the viciousness of that religious fanaticism which
espouses faith devoid of deeper understanding and divorced from wisdom.
The development of Buddhist faith involves several stages. The evolving
faith displayed by some Buddhists does not therefore necessarily reveal
the true, ultimate meaning of faith in the Buddha Dharma.

The most outstanding characteristic of wisdom is free thought and its
operative functions include understanding and cognition. The wisdom of
humanity extends through space to the farthest reaches of the Universe.
Our knowledge is continuously changing, improving and progressing.
Therefore traditions may not necessarily be reliable. This is due to
the fact that when humans develop knowledge acquired through their own
perceptions of the external world, much unreliable information is
accumulated in the process. Such empirical knowledge is vitiated
because the pieces of information from which it is derived are in turn
derived from sensory perceptions of the external world, and both the
ordinary mind and the external world are comprised of, and compromised
by, a certain degree of illusion. For example, when we are perceiving
the external world we cannot know our minds at the same moment.
Therefore, we are tempted by the external world and our minds are
controlled by the material world. Since we lose control of our minds,
greed, hatred and ignorance arise. In Buddhism it is acknowledged that
the knowledge gained by human beings is far superior to that gained by
other beings. We humans almost try to know everything, yet we do not
know ourselves. This is a cognitive bias of ours. When we try to
understand the external world we lack the ability to have a complete
overview of it. Everything in the phenomenal world is impermanent and
constantly changing, but we are always subjectively inferring about the
nature of objects that this is their absolute existence and that they
will be as they are forever. As a result, human knowledge generally
harbors many illusions.

Some people think that Truth lies outside the mind, and they therefore
seek it in the external world. Others consider that there is an
external metaphysical entity which properly serves as their religious
ideal, and the focus of their faith. In fact, all the external worlds
are like mirages, unreal and constantly changing. The wisdom which
Buddhism teaches starts with self-contemplation and an experience of
insight. Truth cannot be simplistically derived from observation of the
external world. Rather, Truth requires us to understand ourselves and
to grasp our inner nature. Just as a person who has sharp senses and a
bright and discerning mind does not need to seek help from others in
order to clearly comprehend Truth, we should develop from the inside
out so that we can project this luminous understanding and
contemplation of ourselves into the dimness of the external world. This
is the only way to unify wisdom and faith.

In fact, wisdom and faith are not really in opposition to one another.
Conflict will only arise if we practice prejudice against either wisdom
or faith. Wisdom without faith is biased towards that which is
material. This positivistic emphasis is inimical to religion. Faith
without wisdom is biased towards a sentimental faith which is inimical
to reason. Buddha Dharma is a unification of wisdom and faith; a faith
which is grounded in wisdom, and a wisdom which emphasizes human life
and self-effort. Faith is thereby kept away from illusion. Wisdom and
faith are mutually grounded. If we can understand, experience and
practice this path, life will be filled with infinite brightness and

The Cultivation of Faith and Wisdom

The cultivation of faith involves several stages. Although the depth of
practice involved in each stage is different, the common purpose of all
the various stages is ultimately the unification of faith and wisdom.
These stages include:

1. Faith without prejudice - This is faith based on understanding
devoid of any prejudice. Such an open faith is important because if one
has a prejudiced mind it will make it difficult to understand others'
views, or to accept the Truth. For a simple example, suppose A and B
did not get along well. If B makes some mistakes and A then gives B
some honest advice, not only will B reject A's advice but he will
further misconstrue it as malicious slander against him. Conversely, if
A and B do not have any prejudice against each other, or if their
relationship is very close, B will be willing to follow any of A's
advice even if A uses strong language in expressing it to him.
Therefore, one can only learn and have faith in the Truth if one first
frees oneself from prejudice. This is the way to develop and to purify
confidence and faith. (This is consistent with the first of the three
ways that Buddhism teaches that one may acquire wisdom i.e. by
listening and learning (s. srutamayiprajna).)

2. Faith with profound understanding - After establishing faith without
prejudice, one is required to develop a profound understanding of the
valid grounds for faith, and by such reasonable means to acknowledge
its authenticity. The deeper the understanding of the valid grounds for
faith, the stronger the faith that will arise. The valid grounds for
faith are learnt and authenticated by listening, by seeing, and
deepened by incisive thought in order to gain a systematic
understanding. (This correlates with Buddhist teaching on the second of
the three ways to acquire wisdom i.e. by thinking (s.

3. Faith with endeavor - After exercising one's reasoning and coming to
understand the grounds for faith, one will make every endeavor to
achieve it. The process is analogous to oil mining. One must first
examine the ground and be very certain that petroleum can be found
under a certain spot. One then starts to drill an oil-well at that
spot, persevering until its riches are brought to the surface. (This
corresponds to the third of the three ways to acquire wisdom i.e. by
meditation and contemplation (s. bhavanamayi-prajna).)

4. Faith with realization - By continuous practice and contemplation,
one comes to realize that there is no difference between the ultimate
truth and what one believes in beginning. It is like a miner who
procures a large quantity of petroleum by virtue of his effort in
drilling oil wells. (This corresponds to the realization of prajna.)

In Buddhism, faith is not antagonistic towards wisdom, and conversely
wisdom is accomplished only in consort with faith and confidence. The
ultimate achievement is the unification of wisdom and faith. The
meaning of faith in Buddhism is thus very different from its meaning in
other religions.

Wisdom in Buddhism is attained through the mental culture of
self-contemplation. Since the main issue in the accumulation of true
knowledge is the quest to learn all about human nature, we can
consequently understand the Truth only by understanding our lives and
by grasping the wisdom of life. We may then clearly contemplate the
Universe and the phenomenal world, thereafter being able to penetrate
to the Truth. If one believes that wisdom is to be gained through the
external world, one can only arrive at a superficial knowledge of the
Truth and cannot dwell in the heart of Dharma.

In Buddhism, the cultivation of wisdom does not hinder faith. For
example, through His own exertions the Buddha realized that there are
infinite number of different planes of existence, and that the ranks of
sentient beings are likewise limitless. When science is not well
developed, people always doubt this. But in these modern times, by
using scientific instruments, we can prove that there are indeed an
infinite number of planets in this universe. As science further
develops, it may become even easier to prove the correctness of the
teachings of Buddha, which of course will help further reinforce faith.
On the other hand, the cultivation of faith does not hinder wisdom
either. We have faith in the teachings of the Buddha, and at the same
time we can easily be learning the reality of such profound teachings
as dependent origination, impermanence, non-self etc., and experiencing
the application of these Buddhist teachings in our daily lives. The
teaching of the unification of wisdom and faith is a distinctive
characteristic and an emphatic feature of Buddhism. When we make a
relevant comparison with other religions we can see that in this regard
Buddhism is unique.

The Union of Compassion and Wisdom

A common saying in Buddhism, "to develop and practise both compassion
and wisdom," indicates that compassion and wisdom are inseparable and
integral elements of the path of Buddha Dharma. The contents and
functions of 'loving kindness and compassion' are similar to those of
'benevolence' in Chinese thought, and of 'love' in Western philosophy.
However, loving kindness and compassion do not entirely and exclusively
consist of sympathy and caring. They must also move in parallel with
the Truth. Therefore, boundless compassion cannot be accomplished
without wisdom. Moralities originate from loving kindness and
compassion and they cannot be established without these two elements.
Their presence constitutes the main criterion for moral evaluation.
Whether or not an action is truly ethical depends on whether there are
elements of loving kindness and compassion present amongst the actor's

Compassion is having sympathy for someone. For example, when we know
that someone is facing difficulties, the feelings of care and concern
for them will arise naturally. This will help motivate us to make every
effort to assist and to comfort them. This is the practice of loving
kindness and compassion. However, most of us only direct our loving
kindness and compassion toward our loved ones, but do not extend loving
kindness and compassion to other beings lying outside the circle of our
affections. For instance, parents are normally very worried and anxious
when their children are sick, and they are willing to suffer for their
children. For most of us, this loving kindness and compassion is
directed only to our own children and cannot be extended to the
children of others. This is due to the fact that our love is reserved
for a small number of people and does not go beyond this limitation.
There is a saying in Confucianism,

"to take care of one's own aged parents first,
then extend the same care to aged people in general;
to take care of one's own young children,
then extend the same care to young people in general."

Buddha teaches us to cultivate perfect equanimity as the rightly
mediate state of mind in which we can further develop and extend our
loving kindness and compassion.

In order to cultivate boundless compassion we need to deepen our
understanding of the true meaning of life by applying the wisdom
attained through contemplation. For instance, all-encompassing
compassion has its own lucid logic when we see the facts of our lives
from the luminous perspective of the Buddhist teaching of dependent
origination. Consider how we human beings gregariously live together,
and how the necessities to support our individual lives are provided
through the efforts of other people in all areas of society, such as
scholars, farmers, workers and merchants. Our lives and properties are
protected by our governments and their laws. The feeling of sympathy
for someone will of course arise when we properly understand that we
are mutually dependent, and complementary to each other. Furthermore,
in view of the continuum of endless rebirths, in past lives we have had
an infinite number of parents and relatives who have now been reborn
and who surround us in our present lives. Therefore, we should requite
the debt of love we owe our parents in this life as well as the debt we
owe our parents from former lives. According to the Sutra,

"All men are my fathers; all women are my mothers."

Our loving kindness and compassion should therefore not be limited to
only one family, one particular race, one country, or just one species
(viz. mankind), but should extend to all sentient beings in the
Universe. This is the main reason why Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes
vegetarianism and abstention from killing. In Buddhism, loving kindness
and compassion are not purely and simply expressions of humane
generosity. They also justly requite our very real indebtedness to
others. The union of wisdom and compassion thus coincides with the
Truth exemplified in the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination
with its grand vision of universal interdependence and

Even though most religions do emphasize universal love devoid of
discrimination and prejudice, the content of that love still tends to
be skewed toward egocentricity. For example, the sectarian slogans

"Long live the believers; down with the unbelievers."


"He who believes
will have life everlasting and
he who does not believe
will be cast into the lake of fire forever"

both exhibit a fiercely monopolistic exclusiveness. All outsiders have
to be destroyed. Behind this inbred, partisan 'love' one can see that
there lies a culture of cruelty and hatred! Compassion in Buddhism is
extended equally to both enemies and loved ones. Although we may not at
the moment be able to give the Dharma to our enemies, or to those who
do not believe and will not accept it, we may be able to help them
later when favorable karmic conditions for presenting the gift have

According to the universal Law of Cause and Effect, we reap what we
sow, and there is no higher authority who wilfully rewards deeds that
are good and punishes those that are evil. It is a similar situation to
a person walking up a staircase, who may fall down if he is not careful
enough, and thus will be responsible for any painful outcome. According
to Buddhism, wholesome deeds naturally produce pleasant results and
unwholesome actions naturally produce unpleasant consequences. Those
who do not understand the working of this natural Law of Cause and
Effect may think that the teaching regarding it is mere utilitarianism.
In fact, the fundamental criterion in Buddhism for distinguishing
wholesome from unwholesome actions, by reasonable means, is the
character of their impact upon human relationships. Those actions which
are in accord with the law of morality, and which will generate good
results, are regarded as wholesome. Those actions that are unreasonable
and harmful to ourselves and to others, and which sow seeds for a
bitterly fruitful harvest of suffering, are regarded as unwholesome.
This is not mere utilitarianism, but is the natural law by which our
society necessarily abides. Such natural law can motivate and encourage
people to act positively and to promote the life we truly share,
honoring the morality which truly serves our common life.

Most religions in general lack wisdom, and therefore the love they
preach is limited. In Buddhism, wisdom is the core of the teaching, and
compassion is the core of the practice. Boundless compassion can only
be found amongst those who have attained ultimate wisdom. As the saying
in the Sutra,

"The heart of Buddha
is boundless loving kindness and compassion."

Since Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the characteristics of the Buddha's
land and helping of all sentient beings, these practices of the Dharma
cannot be accomplished if one lacks great compassion.

Human beings are of differing habitual characteristics. Those who
emphasize wisdom tend to be eccentric and usually are not keen to
associate with other people. Those who are sentimental tend to be more
egocentric. Both of these personality types cannot be regarded as the
ideal models for approaching life. In Buddhism, the right purpose for
life is grounded upon the unification of wisdom and faith, and upon the
union of compassion and wisdom. Faith, wisdom and compassion constitute
the three core teachings in Mahayana Buddhism. By cultivating these
three components in a balanced way and by following a proper sequence
in our practices we may ennoble ourselves and progress from our
original state of limited personhood to the final achievement of
supreme Buddhahood.

Our life span is only a few short decades. We should make good use of
our precious time, and seize the opportunity life represents. Making
this Dharma our ideal, and our perfect template for living, hence
dignify our lives whilst ascending the pinnacle of their potential.