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Lama Surya Das Headshot

Wisdom: An Endangered Natural Resource

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Can you tell me What is Wisdom while standing on one leg? This was the challenge put to a rabbi of old.

King Solomon said that wisdom was the knowledge and judgment to know right from wrong. He received his vaunted wisdom from God in a dream; would that we too had such dreams!

"Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,
for he is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold."

-- Proverbs 3:13

The Talmud says that the wisest among men is he who learns from all. My father's view on the subject was that it would be wise if I did what he said and didn't say what he did. Wisdom is as wisdom does.

Wisdom is an endangered natural resource today in our Over-Information Age, where knowledge is rising and genuine sagacity increasingly rare. If we wish to become wiser and more sane, we'd do well exploit and develop our own innate natural resources for a change while furthering the sustainability of our planet and civilization. For example, time too is a natural resource; though we seem to live in a time-starved era, I personally believe that it's not time we lack but focus and prioritization. This is an inside job. The evergreen subject of how to live our lives is the very purview of wisdom and the necessary cultivation of self-knowledge and awareness. Perspicacious wisdom is the highest form of sanity.

There was a time when wisdom, as the pinnacle of human insight and understanding, was prized above anything else. Knowledge looks around, wisdom sees deeper. Wisdom is available within each and every one of us, a combination of clear vision--seeing things as they are, not as we might like them to be--combined with understanding how things are interconnected and function. Truth or reality is things as they are, just as they are--stripped of concepts, preconceptions and judgment -- and not as we are, heavily conditioned by projections and interpretations.

MetaWisdom is that overarching, underlying, timeless yet timely discriminating awareness which sees clearly and acts accordingly, in tune with how things are and need to be. It is transconceptual, intuitive knowing which groks the essence of things in their essential true nature as well as clearly comprehending how they fit together, work and function. Ignorance giving rise to the illusions of separation and egotism is the root of all evil; nonsectarian wisdom is the panacea and antidote to what ails us. This is why my thought leader colleague, the change agent Kevin Buck, and I are launching our metaWisdom initiative, metaWisdom Dialogues and mW website, a place for people to come together and collaborate wisely in co-creating a better world and better life.

The task of radically transforming what exists today into the sustainable, equitable, and integral world of tomorrow is a daunting one, and is likely to be accomplished only through actions that arise from wisdom. What seems to be called for is profound understanding. Wisdom themes include self-knowledge, discernment, detachment, cooperation, integration and transcendence.

To know the world, and others, is knowledge. To know oneself is wisdom. Self-knowledge gained through introspection and self-observation is the key to life wisdom. When I right my ship, the whole world comes aright. Awakening myself helps awaken the world. When I am awake, everything becomes clearer; I don't necessarily see different things, but I definitely see everything differently.

An old Tibetan lama I knew once said: "The whole problem with Westerners is that you think your happiness and difficulties come from outside, from circumstances and conditions. True happiness is not found there." This is Buddhist wisdom, in a nutshell.

Let me share something very personal with you. Over the last four decades of my quest, I have heard, talked with, studied and sat at the feet of many of the wisest gurus, sages, saints, masters, experts and leaders of this world. I now have the audacity to feel that I can go to my inner guru and my own meditation for the answers I need. You too could do this. We may feel far from truth, god and reality--whatever you call it, it's still as sweet-- but let me assure you that it is never far from us.

Knowledge comes from acquiring and grasping facts. Wisdom comes from reflecting on and digesting experiences, learning their lessons, gaining insights and developing guiding life-principles: reflection, meditation and skillful action. I find that those who are wise have a good sense about things, and their inner wisdom manifests as an uncommon common sense. Wisdom is like truth, hard to define but recognizable. Truth without love is barren, sterile, cold; love without truth or wisdom is crippled and blind.

The Bhagavad Gita says:
"Humility, unostentatiousness, noninjuring,
Forgiveness, simplicity, purity, steadfastness,
Self-control; this is wisdom,
Which is opposed to ignorance."

If we look around with a discerning eye and sincere interest we might find wise mentors and exemplars we can learn from and even apprentice ourselves to in the pursuit of deepest wisdom.

Would you like to rub shoulders with some of the greatest sages and mighty spiritual minds of our world, and imbibe some of what they have to offer? Read and ponder some of the wisest thoughts and maxims. Take up and ponder as daily homework a little of Lao Tsu's classic Tao te Ching, the Third Zen Patriarch's "Trust in Heart" long poem, or Ecclesiastes in the Good Book. Wisdom can be caught more than taught, and rubbing shoulders with those who embody it remains among the very best methods for catching this healthy perennial bug. The wise student of truth and reality reads both books and life itself.

Wisdom is not merely a matter of belief, doctrine, dogma, scripture, or received knowledge from previous generations. Nor is it necessarily the result of old age. Age is no guarantor of wisdom; we must strive to become wise elders rather than jaded old fools, through reflecting upon and extracting the essence of our experiences as we go through life rather than just stumbling forward on the treadmill of events without reflecting and learning very much. We can and even must develop body wisdom, emotional wisdom, intuition, relational awareness, spiritual sensitivity, equanimity, balance and other inner intelligences beyond mere mental knowledge if we wish to get the most out of metaWisdom's ageing and sage-ing process.

What is wisdom, and how to acquire it? Who has wisdom today? Where is wisdom to found, except within the treasure trove of our own spiritual consciousness and innately radiant nature of mind? I think it's incumbent upon each of us, as wise and responsible adults and stewards of society and this planet, to gather what we can of the wisdom of experience and pass it on to the future generations, for the ongoing benefit of one and all.

Wise leaders of the world, awaken and unite! Throw off your conceptual chains, your prejudices and opinions and join us in helping usher in a new, ever-arising day ... The dawn of divine wisdom, that life-giving sun of awakened awareness which never sets.

Are you still balancing on one leg? You can relax now. Wisdom-knowledge is above all a great relief. For it is thru wisdom that we can discern the real from the unreal, the true from the false, gold from mere brass. To me, wisdom is knowing how to live and flourish, alone and with others. This includes both practical wisdom and discernment now, and also that transcendental wisdom, self-realization and divine knowledge good for both now and later.

Knowledge comes from acquiring and grasping facts. Wisdom comes from reflecting on and digesting experiences, learning their lessons, gaining insights and developing guiding life-principles. The 11th century poet and Jewish philosopher Ibn Gabriol says: "In seeking wisdom, the first step is silence, the second listening, the third remembering, the fourth practicing, the fifth -- teaching others."

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