My thesis is that there are three higher paths available to us today:
- The Path of Awakening
- The Path of Wisdom
- The Path of Love
Each is a response to either a perennial concern or to a historical predicament. Or both.
A brief objection: couldn’t all three paths be reduced to one? Possibly, but I’m not inclined to do so. Yes, those who are greatly enlightened may be wise and loving. Yes, those who are absolutely wise may be awake and loving. Yes, those who love all must (?) be awake and wise. In any case, perhaps.
But it seems to me more generous and generative to see that those with different dispositions will resonate more with awakening, wisdom, or love. Spiritual seekers may incline to the first, philosophers to the second, and artists to the third.
Why would waking up be of the utmost importance to some? The reason is quite simple: life is filled with immense amounts of suffering.
What is hard to overemphasize is the seemingly endless, inexorable nature of human suffering. Contrary to what those of a political persuasion believe, diminishing political, economic, or ecological injustice, while a start, does not get to the root of dis-ease. What the Buddha taught is what the Buddha saw: the source of all suffering is epistemic and metaphysical–epistemic in that our minds are operating in error and illusion; metaphysical in that our understandings are not fundamentally aligned with the way that things actually unfold.
Given the pervasiveness of suffering, it can be asked, “Is there an absolute end of suffering, or are there only brief caesuras, moments of temporary relief?”
There is an end of suffering. The name of the path we give to those who seek to end all suffering is the path of awakening.
Leading a wise life is a response to a very different predicament. It is that one feels in one’s bones that one is clueless about how to live one’s life. Utterly clueless, if one is being so honest.
In modernity, it turns out, many are clueless about how to lead a good life, a life that makes sense, a life that is most worth leading.
Well, there is a word traditionally reserved for the kind of life that is on the opposite side of cluelessness. That word is wisdom.
Wisdom, I suggest, means knowing how to live and living that knowing consciously. Said differently, wisdom is the highest conduct flowing immediately from the clearest understanding of the cosmos and of our place in the cosmos.
The reason that many don’t embark on the path of wisdom is not just that they don’t know that, since the Classical Greeks, such a path has been available to us. It’s that the greatest vice of modernity is hubris, or pride. I don’t mean just that John or Jane is pride, though I mean that as well. I mean that modernity is itself the Time of Pride. And it is pride that is precisely what precludes the humble opening to the cluelessness and helplessness at the heart of one’s basic confusion.
Humble openness, then, is the beginning of wisdom.
3. A Closed Heart
Theodor Adorno once wrote that the modern world is marked by “coldness,” a certain rational coldness at that. It doesn’t help that our bureaucratic modern institutions are cold, clinical, and closed. Nor does it help that we are educating knowledge workers tasked with using their intellects to create more digital products.
What must be seen is the stony heart, the cold stone right here as you turn away from your brother, your neighbor, a stranger. Sadly, due to our misguided miseducation, many of us have learned to treat almost everyone as a stranger.
Beautifully, though, the path of love can open up right underfoot or right in the midst of experience. Poignancy, heart ache, intuitive sensitivity can all be cultivated. And what is the most open heart but the heart exuding love of and for all beings? A heart made to serve and give.
“My cup runneth over” is the statement of a heart open to all. “God is love” is the metaphysic that must surely guide one on the path of love. God is love, all beings are love, all is pulsating with love, and therefore all thoughts, words, and deeds may be penetrated and saturated by love.
In response to suffering, Wake Up!
In response to cluelessness, Wise Up!
In response to a cold heart, Love All!