Reflections On Wisdom

The Nature of Wisdom

Wisdom joins together the questions:

  1. What is real, really real, or ultimately true?
  2. What is good?
  3. What do I know?

Wisdom is the knowledge of how the real courses through while activating the good. To put that definition in a different form: wisdom is virtuous conduct flowing directly, immediately, and intuitively from the most complete understanding of reality.

Yet another way of putting it: wisdom joins together all these questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Who are you?
  3. What are we?
  4. What, essentially, is so, is the case, is real?

Wisdom is the synthesis of self-knowledge, other-knowledge, and we-knowledge, all of which are grounded in knowledge of the real.

Put most pithily, wisdom is a ‘special’ yet universally available kind of knowledge. Wisdom is acting knowingly by being what one knows. 

The Quietness of Wisdom

Wisdom may be demonstrated in a steady gaze, a single word, a certain gesture, a kind of composure, a loving embrace, or just in silence. Of course, wisdom can also be ‘longwinded,’ but usually it ‘leaves no trace’ (The Daodejing).

Discovering Wisdom

To discover wisdom is to ‘come upon,’ as if by accident but not without intent, a kind of deep, intuitive, articulate or unarticulated knowing. It says without saying, ‘I am here. We are here. And this I know, this we know.’ The hereness, the true sense of presence, is entirely at one with the knowingness. 

It’s not that there is no doubt when wisdom is here. It’s that there can be no doubt; no such doubt can arise. Wisdom is that quiet.

I wouldn’t say that wisdom is propositional knowledge, technical knowledge (how to), or participatory knowledge per se. Of course, to come to wisdom requires ongoing participation, yet wisdom goes beyond participation while also partaking of it. It’s the knowledge of being (most emphatically so) and of acting (quietly so) on one’s own, in two’s, and in a commons. Ramana Maharshi often says, “Just be still.” In stillness, one may discover wisdom. The Greeks said, “Just be in dialogue.” Wisdom may also come through truth power.

Probably, wisdom will need to arise through deep silence (the Christian theologian Raimon Panikkar speaks of ‘interior silence’ as the propitious condition for ‘an experience of God) and through truth power.

Discovering a Wisdom Commons

Each has an aspiration or dedication to another being’s and to other beings’ becoming wise. This is a noble aspiration, and this, surely, is the truth of philia (caring for you for your own sake). Philosophia is the loving (truly loving) inquiry into the way of leading a wise life. Philia is the friendly love of ‘the others.’ A wise communitas would yoke together philosophia with philia.

Mystery: One Condition

One condition for the possibility of wisdom is mystery. It is the prima facie opacity of reality, of myself, of This, and of the other. In the midst of this, I am dumbfounded yet not blinded.

Clearly, this is one compelling reason why sages have told us that the path of wisdom begins with wonderment, astonishment, or amazeness. (Cf. “The fear of the Lord [to wit, awe and humility] is the beginning of Wisdom.”)

Yet mystery is not only a condition; it is also the endpoint. For the truest, fullest knowledge of being and of acting is also the greatest ignorance. This convergence, though cast in the form of paradox, couldn’t be more apt: since the path of wisdom “empties one out” (as Christians would say: it is kenosis, or self-emptying), the special kind of knowledge we call wisdom–knowing by virtue of being and acting by virtue of knowing being–is immediately a kind of ignorantia, a stupefaction, a beautiful light wherein God appears by not ever fully appearing. True wisdom humbly encounters the awe–and remains, unstintingly, steadily there. 

In the beginning and in the end is mystery. The wise one knows this by being it fully.

Wisdom is loving embrace of It All.