It’s like a recipe for a cannibal’s main course: the poet’s eye, the philosopher’s tongue, the farmer’s nose, the warrior’s spirit, and the healer’s heart.
When all of these traits appear together, then this body is the Buddha.
The Poet’s Eye
The poet’s eye spots the relationship between things. It can follow words back to their meaning. and follow meaning out toward words. For the poet eye, everything is a teaching, everything’s a Sutra. The practice involves paying attention to what’s going on right now and then trying to spot one of the teachings in action.
Let’s look at a shadow cast by a post. The shadow moves throughout the day, so it teaches impermanence. The shadow depends on the post, the sun, and the ground so it teaches dependent arising. There’s no perception of a shadow without the mind, so it teaches mind-only. Without the post, there’s no shadow and the light falls naturally unobstructed to the ground, so the shadow teaches Buddha-nature. We could call that the Shadow Sutra.
If we stop and look, we see that everything teaches the Dharma. There’s the Waking Up In The Morning Sutra, the Eating Breakfast Sutra, and the Brushing Our Teeth Sutra. The poet’s eye sees all of this and is able to share it with others in intuitive, emotive ways.
The Philosopher’s Tongue
The philosopher’s tongue asks questions. The aim here isn’t to understand or accumulate new knowledge, but to brush aside the misunderstandings and groundless views that we might have. Internal Q&A is a great method for this, especially when we use a Buddhist teaching.
The Four Noble Truths are Buddhism 101, and it’s easy to see why they’re accurate. The First Noble Truth is that birth, sickness, old age, death, losing what we enjoy, and encountering what we don’t enjoy are all suffering. Since life is full of this, life is suffering. The Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by clinging and craving impermanent things.
If we crave the pleasant, we suffer when it disappears or if we get something unpleasant. If we crave life, we suffer when we die. If we crave health, we suffer when we’re sick.
That seems totally reasonable at first glance, but let’s ask some questions. Is birth suffering? It sure seems like it. The infant comes out screaming, the mother screams when she gives birth. From that moment on, the couple’s lives have changed forever. Birth is what sets the wheels spinning, it’s what kicks off the lifelong ping-pong of gain and loss.
But is birth only suffering? Birth can also be a joyous experience. We’re witnessing the miracle of life, we get to hold our child in our arms. The infant gets to feel comforted, cradled, and warm. The medical staff and developmental psychologists get to earn livelihoods. So, birth isn’t just suffering.
Then there’s sickness. Feeling ill is fucking terrible, but our sickness provides a livelihood for everyone in the medical industry. Researchers get to live their passion by investigating illnesses and coming up with new treatments. Also, the pathogens in our bodies are thriving when we’re sick. So, sickness isn’t just suffering either.
We can go through all of these Eventualities and ask, “Is this really just suffering?” and find another viewpoint that negates the absoluteness of the First Noble Truth. Even loss isn’t just loss. If I lose my job, that opens the door for someone else to gain it. If I’m hired, that prevents others (some of whom might even be more qualified than me, or need the job more) from getting it. Our gain is always something else’s loss, and our loss something else’s gain.
Ironically, questioning the First Noble Truth in this way actually helps us to introduce the antidote to the Second Truth: clinging and craving. Loss isn’t absolutely suffering, and gain isn’t absolutely joy. If we stop treating them like they are, then we’re going to start unraveling the Second Noble Truth.
This is just one example. We can even question each word a teaching uses. “Life is suffering.” “What is life? What is suffering?” We sell ourselves short when we take the teachings at face value.
After each Q&A, I recommend forgetting about the whole thing. There’s no need to carry it around, it’s already made an impact on a subconscious level. Start each inquiry fresh, even if you’re investigating the same subject.
The Farmer’s Nose
What does a farmer’s nose smell? Manure. It’s helpful to always be on the lookout for BS as we practice. We won’t score any Buddha points by being gullible or by cow-towing to a teacher just so they’ll like us. Keep in mind, just because something smells like bullshit, that doesn’t mean it is; it could be that our noses are stuffed up at the moment, but they might clear out after a good sneeze.
The Warrior’s Spirit
The warrior’s spirit is our dedication to practice, our single-minded drive to breakthrough our own delusions and be free of suffering. Siddhartha went from teacher to teacher for several years trying to find a Path. He didn’t give up, even when he’d exhausted all avenues. At that moment, he sat under a tree and relied on himself and his commitment to truth.
The warrior’s spirit doesn’t settle for half-measures or partial truths. Putting a dent in the iron ox isn’t enough, we need to pierce it with a feather and keep at it until we do.
The Healer’s Heart
Buddha called himself a physician. His mission was to cure the illness of suffering. A healer doesn’t discriminate between who deserves help and who doesn’t. A healer doesn’t turn anyone away and always adjusts the treatment to the patient’s needs. The healer’s heart keeps all of this in perspective. Without it, it’s easy to wander off into the weeds and forget why we started practicing to begin with.
The poet’s eye is clarity; the philosopher’s tongue is curiosity; the farmer’s nose is doubt; the warrior’s spirit is diligence; the healer’s heart is compassion. All of these together are wisdom.
Everyone has these capacities. Anyone with eyes can see the truth, anyone with a tongue can ask questions, anyone with a nose can smell bullshit, anyone with the will to get out of bed in the morning can overcome unhealthy habits, anyone with a heart can heal.
It’s not easy, of course not. But it can be done. Then, when it’s done, we see that it was actually ridiculously easy.
We can find all of these traits in the Seven Factors for Enlightenment, the Six Perfections, and/or the Four Immeasurables.