On the Buddhist path there are two key qualities that a person develops: compassion and wisdom. Compassion represents love, benevolence, kindness, tolerance, solidarity, altruism, that is, the qualities of the heart or of an emotional nature. Wisdom represents discernment, deep understanding, reasoning, self-examination, diligence, self-control, that is, the qualities of the mind or of an intellectual nature.
A balanced development of compassion and wisdom makes sense, for too much compassion and too little wisdom leads to idiotic goodness and dependency. And too much wisdom and too little compassion leads to coldness and alienation. Neither extreme is ideal for the benefit of oneself or others.
Wisdom in its deepest sense is understanding the true nature of reality and the way the mind works. The authentic nature of things or phenomena and people is that of emptiness of independent identity, non-duality.
Wisdom helps us to know ourselves, to understand how our mind operates and to train and transform it for the better. With it we can relate in the best way to two important parts of our nervous system: the instinctive or survival, and the emotional. The optimal way is one that employs self-control (renouncing the most immediate versus the most important), serenity, and perspective. It is self mastery.
Through Buddhism it is possible to reach nirvana, which is the liberation of negative emotions and therefore of suffering, through reason, sometimes accompanied by conviction or trust. Faith and devotion always help.
With wisdom one sees things as they are, that is, impermanent, conditioned and with no intrinsic nature. Both people and things, or phenomenon in general, in a deep sense, lack an independent intrinsic identity. Our idea of I and things are constructions of the mind, although they serve to function in normal life. However, blind attachment to the illusion or appearance of things, considered independent and permanent, leads to suffering.
Through the different types of meditation –concentration (samatha) and insight (vipassana) –, one comes to understand the ultimate nature of things and to experience it. With insight, there are different degrees of emphasis between analysis or contemplation. In Tibetan Buddhism in order to grasp ultimate nature, analysis is emphasized, while in other traditions such as Zen it is contemplative experience of the impermanence and futility of phenomena.
With wisdom one reaches the middle way between the two extremes of considering things as permanent (reification) or deep down non-existent and futile (nihilism). On the middle way two realities are contemplated, the conventional and the absolute or ultimate. Conventional reality is used for normal day-to-day life, and to advance on the path of understanding the ultimate reality. Wisdom, understanding the two realities, and recognizing the interdependence and ultimate non-duality of everything, leads to compassion.