Sunday, March 1, 2015

Recognizing Wisdom

"The Way of Wisdom"
- in my meditation garden -

It is virtually impossible to read an article or a book about spirituality nowadays without coming across the word "wisdom."  I often myself using this word - the title of my weekly podcast is Desert Wisdom, and in fact I think that the very essence of following a spiritual path is to walk a "way" to deeper wisdom. 

The problem is that, although the word is often used, the concept of "wisdom" is kind of slippery - pretty hard to pin down or define. I have come to believe that the only way I can even begin to have some understanding of what "wisdom" means is by recognizing it when I see it manifested in myself or in others.  In some sense we only know wisdom by its symptoms, we recognize it when we see the fruits of wisdom blossoming in our own lives.

I've always liked what Socrates had to say:

The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.

For me, this insight is very similar to what the Zen masters teach about the value of a "Beginner's Mind" on the path of wisdom:

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.
In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities
but in the expert's mind there are few.

Whenever I find myself or others so filled up with answers, pontificating about what is right or wrong, true or false, I know I am not on a path of wisdom, and this kind of "pontificating" happens a lot in the area of religion and spirituality. 

Theologians with advanced degrees become "experts" using their vast knowledge to offer complicated explanations about "God" - descriptions of a mystery that cannot be described. When I see that happening I know it is not wisdom.  There are also lots of religious people who fall into the trap of being sure that they have found the right (and only) way; and when I see that, I know it is not wisdom. Atheists also often turn into "experts" about how "not"  to believe in God, sure that they have found the "true" path of unbelief; and when I see that, I also know I am not recognizing the fruits or the symptoms of wisdom.

I recognize wisdom when I see myself or others being able to live with and even welcome ambiguity, relishing the fact that you can't ever "pin down" truth,  secure in personal beliefs but never asserting that "my" path is the true and only way.  In fact I recognize wisdom when I see an openness to learn from the different paths others choose in life. 

I recognize wisdom when I see myself or others enjoying success but not being afraid of making mistakes and not fearing failure. Human beings are imperfect and sometimes failure is the very best of teachers. When I recognize my own failures, I am far more willing to accept the failures of others - this is the way of wisdom. 

Finally I recognize wisdom when I see myself or others acting with compassion and kindness toward others. The path of wisdom teaches us that we all belong together and so showing compassion is a manifestation that wisdom is abiding and bearing fruit.

The Buddha put it this way:

One is not wise merely because he talks much.
But he who is calm, free from hatred and fear, 
is verily called a wise man.

I guess that pretty much says it all. 

We may not be able to define wisdom but we sure are able to see its fruits in our everyday living.  

The spiritual path is indeed a path to deeper wisdom. 




















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