The Five Wisdoms

In this article Zeenat explains the Five Wisdoms of the Tantra Yoga meditation tradition, and explains how they can help us in very practical ways to be more fulfilled in our daily lives, and also to reach more awakened states of awareness and consciousness. 

The five wisdoms are the essence of a mind free from conflict, and a life lived skilfully, intelligently and impassionedly. If we are really sincere about living a life that is fulfilling, healthy and happy, and if we truly want to leave behind all of our miseries, indecisions and self-doubts, then we must cultivate the five wisdoms: equanimity, compassion, freedom in action, clarity, and all-encompassing intelligence. 

Equanimity is evenness of mind, our capacity to remain emotionally balanced and not be destabilised by whatever life throws at us. With equanimity come contentment, security, generosity, ease and tranquillity. 

Compassion is being able to understand our inter-relatedness with all other beings, and to feel for our own and for others’ suffering. With compassion comes engagement in life, interestedness and curiosity, as well as the capacity to be deeply loving, fiercely gentle, and fearlessly kind, to ourselves and to others. 

Freedom in Action is our ability to act in the world from a place of intelligence, trust and empowerment, rather than from the limited perspective of the fear-ridden mind. With freedom in action comes self-confidence, joy, accomplishment and spontaneity. Simply put, we know what to do in any given moment, as well as how and when to do it. 

Clarity is the capacity to see and understand clearly, without projecting our own ideas onto the people and situations in front of us and so distorting our perceptions of them. With clarity we are able to discern the truth behind events, so we stay responsive, open, and adaptable. 

With All-encompassing Intelligence, we are grounded in our own awareness and higher understanding, free to respond and to flow skilfully in each unfolding moment, never trapped, harassed or rigidified by the confines of our everyday thoughts and feelings. All-encompassing intelligence is the summation and container of all the other wisdoms. 

Over thousands of years the Tantric Yoga tradition has mapped the mental-emotional landscape of human consciousness, showing how we can integrate the five wisdoms, clear away the blocks to their expression, and skilfully navigate the territory of our own mind to fulfil our potential for happiness, love and awareness. The goal was not only that we blossom into the highest possible levels of consciousness, fully present, awake and aware; but also that we can take our higher insights and understandings and integrate them fluidly and skilfully into our everyday choices and movements. 

With this aim the yogis and yoginis developed very practical meditation methods, that are as applicable today as they were in ancient India five thousand years ago. Indeed perhaps we need these practices even more in our modern technological age, in which stress, competition, and dangerous levels of material consumption threaten not only our own sanity but the life of all living things on our planet. Being a holistic and integrative system, that views humans as reflections of a much larger whole, Tantra embraces as one of its values the wise stewardship of our living Earth. 

The Tantric yoga tradition gives many meditation methods, using for example inner enquiry, visualisation, or mantra, to directly cultivate the five wisdoms. It works from the inclusive view that as humans we already contain all of the wisdoms within us; even if we no longer remember it, all of us at one time will have felt and expressed them. We already have the capacity for compassion, intelligence and equanimity, and deep within us we all know how to act from a place of freedom and clarity. A part of us is always in blissful meditation, is already awake. What is needed is that we fully embody these qualities, and that we are brought into a close and stable relationship with them. Like plants, the wisdoms need to be tended and given light before they can fully bloom within us. 

So one way the Tantric meditations work is by going directly to the wisdoms latent within us, and bringing them out fully into our conscious mind. These methods also deal with all the old habits of mind, the everyday thoughts, emotions and hindrances, that obscure the wisdoms and stop us from connecting with them. The five wisdoms are therefore the antidote to all of the habitual states of mind we struggle with in life and on a path of meditation: our anxiety, insecurity, anger, pride, self-criticism, lack of confidence, fear, sadness, confusion or discontent.

In this way the whole process works very practically, and is very helpful if we want to learn how to manage our emotions and our thoughts. Yet the practices can do much more, not only helping us to cope with these old habits of mind, but actively transmuting their energies into the wisdoms, into liberated forces of consciousness. 

In working to realise the five wisdoms we do not make these so-called negative mind states the enemy. Indeed, crucial to dealing with them in a way that is respectful, accepting and non-judgemental, is the Tantric insight that no emotional or mental state is all-good or all-bad. Just as there are times when anger or sadness are appropriate and healthy responses (say when we lose a loved one, or hear of an unjust war), there are times when happiness or joy are not (such as in response to news that someone we dislike has endured misfortune). Problems arise when emotional states develop into ingrained habits of mind, becoming the usual way we react to events. Then they come to colour and distort our perceptions, disempowering us and trapping us in lives of quiet suffering and dissatisfaction. When we react out of an ingrained habit of mind, we are always reacting out of the past, never in response to the truth or fullness of a present situation; this is one reason why our habitual reactions lead to so much negativity. Because of the rigid and ingrained nature of such emotional patterns it is more accurate to call them obstructed or unskilful, rather than negative or morally bad, states of mind, and this is how the Tantric practices approach them. 

When we use our meditation practice to cultivate the five wisdoms, we start just where we are – with our restless, unsteady, grasping, critical minds. We start with our obstructions; neither judging them harshly nor indulging them, neither trying to get rid of them nor holding on to them. They are the stuff of our practice, the dirt and sediment from which the flowers of the wisdoms blossom. We work with them in ways which transform them, so that their energies are released and naturally evolve into the wisdoms. We allow them space, and give ourselves gentle permission to meet, feel and be with whatever is arising in the body-mind. We become an impartial, yet a loving, kind and engaged witness to our own experiencing. 

There is something tremendously empowering and freeing about resting our awareness on any experience, whether an emotion, sensation or thought, and letting it play out its course without becoming hooked into it. We learn to watch, rather than get caught up in, the events of our minds, and we gradually come to know that there is no thought or feeling that can destroy us. We come to know our own patterns, and to have the confidence to sit with them and to work with them. In this way the obstructions can pass through, often softened or released by the simple power of our awareness, and we begin to relate to them in the more loving and gentle way that is needed for their transformation. Right here, in meditation practice, being with our everyday chattering minds, equanimity, compassion, confidence, clarity and intelligence are naturally revealed. 

Want to learn more about the wisdom emotions and how to cultivate them? Check out our retreat Mandala of the Five Elements .