Monday, September 8, 2014

Symptoms of Wisdom

"Waking Up"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

From ancient times human beings have been engaged in the pursuit of wisdom. In fact. at their core, all religions and every spiritual path is essentially a "way" of wisdom. Every single day I talk about wisdom, I write about it, I read about it. The problem is that "wisdom" is such an amorphous concept that it's hard to actually grasp what the word really means. 

At some level I know what wisdom is "not." I know that wisdom is different from intelligence and not the same as knowledge.  I know plenty of really smart people with advanced degrees and lots of titles who I would never think as being wise. And wisdom isn't necessarily something you acquire with age. I know plenty of older people who, at times, don't even come close to being wise.  

The more I think about it, wisdom is not something you can "pin down," define or analyze. Wisdom is something that you simply "recognize" when you see it manifested in wise people. So I've been thinking about what it is I see in people that makes me think they are "wise." 

As I see it, these are the "symptoms of wisdom:"   

- Wise people embrace failure along with success and aren't afraid of making mistakes. They understand that imperfection is part of our human condition and that at times, failure is often a great teacher.

- Wise people are kind and compassionate. The gaze of their life is not focused inward, on self-gratification, but outward toward others. They see the world from the perspective of others and are genuinely concerned about the needs of others. Wise people understand that in order to be happy you must be kind. 

-Wise people are comfortable with ambiguity. They don't rigidly cling to their ideas and beliefs. They don't see the world in terms of "black and white," but look always for the shades of grey. They often have more questions than they have answers.

-Wise people live simply. They don't particularly "shun" comfort but they do avoid excess. They aren't always craving for more, newer, bigger and better. 

They tell a story about the Buddha. Many sought him out because of his reputation for possessing such great wisdom.  

One of his students asked Buddha,  
Are you a god? No, answered Buddha.
Then are you a healer?  No, Buddha replied.
Then are you a teacher?  the student persisted. 
No I am not a teacher!
Then what are you? asked the student, exasperated.
I am awake! Buddha replied.

Maybe this is the greatest of all the "symptoms of wisdom." 

-Wise people are awake. 


  1. Yes. I was reminded of the Dalai Lama's statement that his philosophy, his religion was kindness. I was also reminded of the Buddha's statements of the wiseman and the fool. They can hang around together for a long time and will have as much effect on each other as a spoon and the food being eaten.

    Thanks again Paul for great thoughts to think on.