Wisdom and Compassion
In the Tibetan or Vajrayana traditions it is common to see the symbolism of the Bell and Dorje. You may well have seen these on Tibetan shrines or, commonly, for sale in Nepalese market stalls. If you are not familiar with them the Bell is a small hand-bell and the Dorje is a double-ended dumbbell-like object. The Dorje represents a lightning bolt or jewel (both of which are commonly known by their Sanskrit name 'vajra').
The objects are always treated as a pair. The bell represents wisdom (I have had it explained to me as the sound coming from the emptiness of the bell), while the dorje represents compassion (or compassionate action). The pair also represent feminine and masculine aspects, with the bell representing the feminine and the dorje masculine.
What is useful about these symbols is that they are designed to be contemplated together - wisdom and compassion, compassion and wisdom. They represent how the insight and understanding we develop goes hand in hand with the emotion of compassion that we cultivate. Wisdom and compassion together can be powerful drivers of growth for ourselves and those around us. Compassionate action without wisdom can be unskillful ('akusala') while wisdom without compassion can be cold or merely intelectual.
In his essay 'Head & Heart Together - Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas' Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu teaches:
If we think of the heart as the side of the mind that wants happiness, the head is the side that understands how cause and effect actually work. If your head and heart can learn to cooperate — that is, if your head can give priority to finding the causes for true happiness, and your heart can learn to embrace those causes — then the training of the mind can go far.
...if you get your head and your heart to respect each other, they can take each other far. Your heart needs the help of your head to generate and act on more skillful emotions. Your head needs your heart to remind you that what's really important in life is putting an end to suffering. When they learn how to work together, they can make your human mind into an unlimited brahma-mind. And more: They can master the causes of happiness to the point where they transcend themselves, touching an uncaused dimension that the head can't encompass, and a happiness so true that the heart has no further need for desire.
I think this is an important teaching - that as we cultivate compassion and lovingkindness we should also develop wisdom. It is wisdom that allows us to move beyond the emotion of compassion to actual compassionate action.
As you go through your week I would like to encourage you to contemplate what it means for wisdom and compassion to go hand in hand. If you come across someone who is suffering, or if you are experiencing suffering yourself, then practice both wisdom and compassion together. For example, there is a lot of homelessness around us at the moment. Many people are reacting with fear and anger. Even if we move beyond these negative emotions it is sometimes easy to feel just pity - the distancing emotion that is the 'near enemy' of compassion. Or we can ask ourselves 'what does it mean to have both compassion and wisdom here?' Compassion sees the person as a person, and acknowledges their suffering. Wisdom recognizes that the situation is an outcome, not a cause - that the situation says more about us as a society than it does about the individual. I'm not saying that this realization alone can 'solve' anything, but it can be the foundation for true compassionate action. Meeting suffering with both wisdom and compassion changes our relationship with the world.
I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on the Bell and the Dorje, and how they can remind us to cultivate both compassion and wisdom together.
"Head & Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 17 April 2011, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/headandheart.html .