Wisdom (Sanskrit: jnana or vidya or prajna) has several facets according to the Tantric paradigm. One presentation pertains to the five primordial wisdoms that are intrinsic to consciousness but are fully unleashed only in an awakened being. Another pertains to wisdom that emerges upon the stripping bare of our usual delusions and afflictions into their fundamental naked essence.
Leaving aside the first, I want to say a bit about the second presentation. Our everyday mind is afflicted and deluded. The culprits are greed (attachment to persons and phenomena), hatred (aversion to persons and phenomena), and delusion (misperceiving and misconceiving persons and phenomena). These three poisons saturate and underpin our moment-to-moment and lifelong experience of afflictive suffering. They are us, as samsaric beings, in a sense.
Conventional spirituality takes a gradual approach of either replacing these unwholesome states with wholesome alternatives (which at best is a band-aid solution as states have seeds and imprints impervious to mere emotional substitution); or progressively destroying them through cultivating concentration (shamatha) and insight (vipassana). This gradual paradigm of spiritual purification is found in the foundational teachings of the Buddha. Parallels in other spiritual traditions can be found.
In Tantra, however, there are two other alternative strategies: transmutation and self-liberation. These two can actually go hand in hand, blissfully together.
Transmutation is the conscious harnessing of the energies of greed/desire, hatred/hostility, and delusion/ignorance to skilfully transmute them into their virtuous opposites. This is akin to the principle of conservation of energy in the psychospiritual realm. Obviously, this requires impeccable mindfulness, insight, and open awareness and is practiced in the context of highest yoga tantric meditations of generation and completion. I enjoy this wonderful practice.
Self-liberation is based on direct immediate recognition of the reality of experience, be it afflictive or non-afflictive. Recognising reality means knowing and seeing both the nature and essence of experience. The nature of experience however deluded is luminous and aware—experience appears and this appearance is known or cognised, naturally lucid. The essence of experience is self-less and empty of inherent entity—experience arises and dissolves as a flux and is thus impermanent, connected not isolated, and dependent on a multitude of other factors. Taken together, each moment of experience is experienced as lucid, cognizant, and nakedly space-like.
Now, when greed/desire is denuded or stripped bare of its concoction into its naked essence, it is revealed as sheer bliss. When hatred/hostility is denuded or stripped bare into its primordial nakedness, it is revealed as sheer luminosity. When delusion is denuded or stripped bare into the same, it is revealed as sheer non-conceptuality of emptiness.
Bliss, luminosity, and empty non-conceptuality are not dividedly three but singularly unified in the primordial awareness of buddhahood. Here, there is absolutely no conception or perception of dualistic self and other, phenomena and emptiness, being and non-being. In its fullness, blissful luminous non-conceptual empty awareness is devoid of any trace of suffering and its seeds, free of ignorance and its imprints. If awareness still bears any echo of “am-ness” or “is-ness” or whatever-ness, however faint, it is still not free or awakened.
Such fresh wakeful cognizance free of stains evinces a luminosity that is vibrant and empowered, ceaselessly responsive. Tantra calls this ferocious wisdom or wrathful compassion. For it is none other than the denuded essence of hatred or hostility. Anger at its sheer naked quintessential root is luminosity.
Hence, an awakened being is not a sissy and subservient pushover. They are upright, bold, and sometimes ferocious. Of course, they are placid and tranquil; wise and compassionate; gentle and kind. But make no mistake, awakening is not withdrawn or cowardly. Awakened beings are engaged and courageous.
Gotama Buddha was never silent about Brahminical pride and ritualistic superstition; nor was he ever going to be complicit with casteism. Jesus Christ was not shy about rebuking legalistic Pharisees who behaved with religious hypocrisy. In fact, Jesus reserved some of his harshest words for religious hypocrites. It seems He was most aghast at such moralistic hypocrisy and status fixation disguised as pompous religiosity.
As a student of the Buddha and a disciple of Christ, I too seek to embody values of wisdom and compassion and uphold virtues of faith, hope, and love. But in doing so, I do not aim to placate the powerful and please the proud. I speak out when necessary and challenge authority when need be, even at great personal costs. When vibrations of truth are rushing to jump out of your bones, you cannot help but utter words that can sometimes ruffle feathers and rattle cages. What other choice is there if you are to live with yourself in integrity?
Wisdom is not merely pacifying and serene. Wisdom is ferocious and unafraid to speak truth to power in love. And love can be tender and tough. Ferocity is here to stay. Get used to it.