Verse 11: The fire of wisdom

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Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • A fire that burns everything completely
  • The gradual development of wisdom
  • Elimination of the afflictions

41 prayers of bodhisattvas: Verse 11 (download)

The eleventh gātha says,

“May all beings cause the fire of wisdom to blaze.”
This is the prayer of the Bodhisattva when making a fire.

The previous gātha was on lighting the fire and that’s where we want to exhaust the fuel of the passions—of the defilements. Here you want not just to make the fire, but to blaze the fire, and so you think, “May the fire of wisdom blaze.”

The analogy of wisdom with fire—this comparison—is used because just as fire burns something very completely—at least most fires should—some leave some residue. But the fire of wisdom we want to be like the wood gasification we are looking at for the Abbey where it burns everything completely. There are no ashes, or residue, or anything remaining.

What the wisdom burns is the afflictive obscurations and also the cognitive obscurations. Wisdom is developed gradually, in stages, starting with the conceptual understanding and the inferential understanding. Then on the path of preparation you have the combination of samatha and vipassana—or serenity and special insight—on emptiness, but here it’s still the inference used. They’re still seeing emptiness with the veil of conceptuality. This emptiness does not appear directly at that point.

Then with path of seeing there’s direct non-conceptual perception of emptiness. Then you start removing—on that path—the acquired obscurations. And then on the path of meditation you remove—stage by stage—the innate obscurations. Then on the last path, the path of no more learning, you are free from the obscurations.

If you are on the Hearer or Solitary Realizer Vehicle then you’re eliminating the afflictive obscurations and becoming an arhat. If you’re on the Bodhisattva Vehicle you’re eliminating both the afflictive obscurations and also the cognitive obscurations and becoming a fully enlightened buddha.

It’s only wisdom that can eradicate the defilements in such a way that they never return. Even with full blown samatha and going up through the meditative stabilization—the jhanas—and even into the formless realm, even when you’re in very refined states of mind and samadhi all the time the gross afflictions are only being suppressed, they cannot manifest. They’re not being eradicated from the root. It’s only the wisdom which understands emptiness that can do that. That’s why so many teachings come back again, and again, and again to understanding emptiness correctly and realizing it correctly.

We want the fire of wisdom to blaze so that it can burn up all the defilements for the benefit of ourselves and other living beings. This is what we want to think when we’re making a fire blaze.

Maybe we don’t use fire so much for cooking nowadays, but maybe when your water’s boiling and you are cooking the rice, think that the fire’s blazing or whatever. In the winter it’s easier with the furnace, you can watch the fire blaze.

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