Buddhism is often said to have two wings: Compassion and wisdom. Wisdom can be found in a quote attributed to a 9th Century Chinese Zen monk. When asked by his followers why a lifetime of practice, he replied, “to have the appropriate answer.” I have also heard it translated as the appropriate response. Either way, it speaks to wisdom. It speaks to knowing, at not only a conceptual level but a cellular one as well, what the appropriate response or answer should be in all situations. Yes, a lifetime practice, but one that gets easier with time.
Besides knowing conceptual what the appropriate response should be, one has to be able to act on it. This is not always easy, especially if there is historical trauma. Unless and until all our historical baggage has been cleared away, discharged, grieved and worked out, many of our reactions (or responses) to things will be not be appropriate for the stimulus. When something in the present that maybe should irrirate us at the level of a 1 or 2 on a scale of 10, and we react with the intensity of 6 or more, it is the past being triggered. So part of our work is to clear out the emotional baggage of the past.
Having the appropriate response also means getting to know what the appropriate response should be. Expecting that just because we live on the planet for some number of years we may know what the appropriate response should be is unrealistic in nearly every mortal’s case. This is why it makes sense to have gurus and teachers and to study the great teachings and philosophies of life. When there is so much known about how to be compassionate in the world, how to be wise, how to be happier, the least wise thing we can do is to pretend we know better. We must start with a beginner’s mind.