We have always treasured a particular Buddhist teaching which profoundly describes the process of acquisition of knowledge and wisdom, making use of an enlightening and visual metaphor, a mountain. The choice of words in the teaching, from a pedagogical point of view, is brilliantly construed so that only after considered analysis (which is the point) does it convey the intended message.
The expression, generally stated is: “When you first see it, it is a mountain. Look again and you do not see a mountain. The next time you look, it is a mountain.” The words of the lesson may, upon initial consideration, appear to make little sense. The next time (after some enlightenment on the subject) you will then, once more, see the mountain, but now you will see it with some understanding of what a mountain is. The evident conclusion is that man’s knowledge of himself and his world depends upon his learned wisdom.
There exists a common misconception among many, that the youthful time of life is lacking in existential concern and mature responsibilities, and is accordingly , carefree and untroubled; such people have undoubtedly, or conveniently, forgotten their own past.
As children mature, they are imbued with the highest standards of morality and justice by well-meaning parents and teachers; they ingest rigid, settled and orthodox standards of rectitude. These teachings later, as a practical matter, prove to be inconsistent with actual experience, and to that extent, prove disorienting. The young person, at this stage, in reaction, may be inclined to rebel against parents and society with charges of hypocrisy and feelings of disappointment. Some engage in specific reactive behaviors, or by joining fringe groups with the known reputation of being opposed to mainstream society. At this stage, any experienced societal acceptance of anything less than the traditionally imbued standards, understandably, is reprehensible, disappointing and confusing.
The concept of “compromise,” to the inexperienced, represents the cowardly and unprincipled surrender of first principles, which rule sanctimoniously above all other considerations; pity, empathy, forgiveness, equity and sympathy. When the fog surrounding the mountain starts to lift, the young idealist is, for a time, ill- equipped to adjust, by reason of his idealistic ideation.
Before long, the dense fog of inflexible expectations lifts, and as it does, the maturing person begins to understand that in the practical course of life, ideals are the moral aspiration of good people; goals although striven for, are not always attainable, perhaps for understandable or forgivable reasons. The sincere quest for right principle is always the goal of the moral person but not always the final result of his action.
With acquired wisdom, one looks upon the mountain with a measure of empathy and understanding.