Chapter 3, Part 1
“Wisdom, the Great Redeemer”
Like the word ‘love’, the words ‘wise’ and ‘wisdom’ have also been debased and degraded. We hear of people who are spoken of as wise or possessing wisdom of the world. To some falling in this category, wisdom means not flying into a temper immediately as someone abuses or insults them, for experience has shown that in the long run, keeping one’s calm is more rewarding for success in the world. To some others, wisdom means how to deal cleverly with different kinds of people in order to serve their own personal ends. Another type that is more ambitious is not too much bothered about scruples, and carefully calculates whom to befriend, flatter, even oblige and whom to ignore, snub or rebuke to be able to climb the ladder of success; licking above and kicking below is the guiding principle. Some others believe that the end is the only thing that matters in this world, not the means, howsoever immoral or even criminal these may be. They live luxurious lives, throw lavish dinners, develop the right contacts, pay nothing or little by way of taxes to the state exchequer and seem to be very pleased with themselves and with their own small world of make-believe. Seeing them, some people say, though fortunately not all, that these are really the wise people. But this has certainly not been spoken of as wisdom by the great benefactors of mankind over the ages, for abiding happiness does not lie that way!
As one looks at the root meaning of the word ‘wise’ in a dictionary, one finds that it connotes a person who can ‘see’ or has ‘vision’; and pondering over this root-meaning one recalls the verse in the Bhagavadgitaequally in all beings, the Supreme Lord, imperishing within the perishing—he who thus seeth, he seeth. (XIII,28) . This verse reminds us about our true nature, which is intrinsically divine, unitive and imperishing or eternal. Seeing it as such is wisdom. Annie Besant put the same truth in the following beautiful words in one of her Convention lectures while speaking about wisdom: “It is the identity in nature of the Universal and the particular Self: tat tvam asi. That thou art. Nothing less than that is the wisdom of the Upanishads; nothing more than that—for more than that there is not.”
Wisdom is therefore referred to Atma-Vidya, Self–knowledge. As we know, the answer which the Delphic Oracle used to give to all who came seeking after wisdom—and repeated and stressed time and again by Socrates—was “Man, know thyself”
The reason why stress has been laid on wisdom or Self-knowledge is that wisdom redeems — it saves, reclaims, makes for freedom and for abiding happiness. In the Proverbs in the Bible, there occurs a statement which says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding”. When we seeclearly, we act rightly and live joyously. which declares: Seated
This sublime seeing, vision or perception of our real or true nature is not through a light without us, hanging from the shoulders like a lantern to guide us through darkness. The light of wisdom is always within us and is holy. Wisdom has been referred to as the unveiling of the divine consciousness within. It cannot, therefore, come through the accumulation of knowledge or learning from sources outside. Wisdom dawns within as we try to rise in consciousness beyond identification with our bodies. Such disidentification gives a sense of detachment from the narrow cravings and desires of the bodies with which we have been so far identifying ourselves. Sankaracharya says:
|Fire does not touch wet fuel even exceptionally, but only fuel that has been dried in the sun. So, too, the fire of wisdom does not touch the mind that is wet with attachment, although it has acquired merit by the performance of prescribed duties….but only the mind that is dried by non-attachment.|
Non-attachment comes through observation, through looking intently at ourselves. As a sage once asked: “The ‘I’ is assuredly the perceiver and the body the perceived, as is evident from the expression ‘this body is mine’. How then can the body be the self?” The same applies to the mind as well. Do we not say, my mind is clear, or your mind is prejudiced?
Non-attachment also arises through carefully observing and watching the passing phenomena and gradually beginning to realize that sense-objects and things are limited and impermanent in their nature and therefore attachment to them can never be a source of abiding joy. Lord Buddha, for that reason, once warned that pursuing desires born of attachment was like running against the wind with a burning torch in one’s hand; the hand was bound to get scorched. In our ignorance we run after things which seem to be the means of providing lasting pleasure, but we soon find that they cannot do so.
Detachment also comes gradually as we begin to perceive the oneness of all life; every living thing being a projection of that one Supreme Energy. When all is one, where is the question of self-centered attraction and repulsion which have been causing so much misery to us?
These perceptions, even though dim, help to change our attitudes in life and reduce feelings of disappointment, unhappiness and sorrow. Things which used to disturb us earlier do not disturb us any more or disturb us less now and we are able to soon regain our composure. Gradually, an abiding sense of calmness, peace and serenity begins to prevail, for our vision has widened in its sweep. Immensity is bliss, it has been said, littleness or restriction is the negation of bliss.
Let it, however, be pointed out here that detachment and desirelessness do not mean a state of indifference, of inaction, of unmindfulness, torpor or lassitude. On the other hand, it is a state of greater life, greater vibrance which is yet peaceable and joyous. It has been called a state of emancipation, and emancipation is certainly not extinction. In the Mahabharata at one place this state of emancipation or wisdom has been cogently explained thus: As small rivers falling into larger ones lose their forms and names, and larger ones, (thus enlarged) rolling into the ocean, lose their forms and names too, after the same manner occurs that form of change called emancipation. It is a state of sublimation and illumination and not of elimination. Life is lived in greater depth and vitality, in warm-heartedness and therefore in joyousness.
Wisdom also leads naturally to right and responsible relationships, with persons, with things and with nature.
Have I been inconsiderate and possessive about my wife, husband, children or daughter-in-law, if there is one? Do I think that they belong to me, are meant for my comfort and happiness and should always obey me? Have I helped — when help was needed — only persons of my caste, religion, language and community and been cold and callous even when I saw others also suffering? Have I felt and acted as though my wealth is meant to be used and enjoyed only by me because my father left it to me or because I myself have earned, and have for that reason been totally unmindful of the needs even of my wife, children or poor relatives? Have I been treating my clients, patients and customers only as a means for earning and accumulating more money? Have I, without a prick of conscience, raised prices of food articles most needed by the poor, when there was a shortage of goods in the market? Have I been callous about the contamination I have been causing to the river that flows close to my factory, discharging all the effluents into it? Am I polluting, even poisoning, the atmosphere by releasing clouds of smoke or harmful gases into it from my industrial plant, when I could have avoided, doing this damage by making some changes or adopting alternate technology, even if it meant slightly reduced profits?
Acting thus, over the years, have I always felt happy, peaceful within? Have not fears about losing what I have and anxiety about a trouble-free future not been haunting me from time to time?
As we ponder over these questions, something deeper within us begins to stir us and we feebly start groping for the right approach, the right answer. The right answer has been given clearly and unequivocally by the wise ones of all faiths, and that answer is – live in love or wholeness — (for love and wholeness go together) — and then do what you like, or as a devotee may put it, live in God and do what you like. Life then begins to change and becomes increasingly a blessing to oneself and a blessing to others. This is living in deeper understanding and in responsible relationships.