Wisdom is needed today, but what is it?

Guest writer

What is wisdom?In my previous article, I explored the path of knowledge leading to “moksha” or salvation as espoused in Hinduism, and the wisdom that one naturally accrues in this pursuit.  Let us now get an understanding of the attributes of a person imbued with wisdom.  This would enable us to recognize those with wisdom, and listen to them carefully so that we may follow them in their footsteps towards higher goals in life.  By being able to recognize those with wisdom, we also acquire the discernment that enables us to steer clear of the distractions (and outright deceptions) brought on by the many forces of the “lower nature” of human beings.

One of the first things we notice about the wise person is their humility.  The truly wise person has achieved self realization, and knows that his soul (“atman”) is at one with Brahman the Supreme Being.  He knows that his soul is at one with the universe and every living being in it, and that his soul is inseparable from “the other”.  Once the sense of separation has vanished, everyone is equal, and there is no place for superiority or inferiority.  The ego, which binds us to this human existence and is the root cause of conflict, is absent in the truly wise person.

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Every human being has three qualities (“gunas”) in different proportions.  These three qualities are: saatvik or pureness, taamasik or dark (negative) qualities, and raajasic or passionate (competitive) qualities.  As one acquires wisdom, it increases the saatvik quality of the person, and diminishes the taamasik and raajasic qualities.  The ultimate state is where the latter two are absent; the self realized person is completely saatvik or pure, and is able to perceive this material world through the absolute knowledge and understanding that he has acquired.

How can ego manifest in a saatvik person?  It can not.  That is the reason for the deep humility of the wise person who has attained self realization.

The second thing we notice about the wise person is that he never speaks in terms of “I” or “me”.  There is no separation of self from others.  There is no “us versus them”.  As explained by Hindu saints, the sense of individuality is absent in those that have reached self realization, because their consciousness is one with the pure consciousness of the universe.

Does the one who has achieved self realization dislike ordinary people who are inherently bad (or who have done bad deeds)?  Of course not.  The wise, self realized one does not distinguish between “good” and “bad” people.  He knows it is not up to him to judge either one; he knows that the Hindu law of karma takes care of everything in the end.

There is the story of a saint sitting under a tree, when a passerby stops to pay him respects.  The man watches as the saint picks up a scorpion nearby which was about to drown in a puddle, and the scorpion promptly stings the saint.  The scorpion is released, and it ends up in another puddle.  When this process of saint saving the drowning scorpion and the scorpion stinging the saint repeats a few times, the man says, “Holy guru, when you save the scorpion from drowning, all it does is sting you, instead of being happy.  Why?”  The saint replies, “But that (stinging) is the scorpion’s nature.”  The man persists, saying “But holy guru, why are you repeatedly saving the scorpion when you know it is going to sting you again and again?”  The saint smiles and replies, “But that (saving the creature) is my nature !”

We all have seen cartoons of the robed and wise saint sitting at the top of the mountain, and the seeker of truth climbing to this lofty place to beg the saint for an insight to achieving enlightenment.  This, and other misconceptions lead us to think that the enlightened person is somehow remote, detached, and reclusive.  Well, the truth is far from it.

The wise and enlightened person is not necessarily reclusive.  He interacts with everyone and everything.  But not all the time – for example, not when engaged in meditation or contemplation.  When he does interact with others, it is with complete empathy.  He sincerely weeps with those in pain.  He laughs in great mirth with those laughing harmlessly.  He sings or dances with abandon, with those who are singing or dancing joyously without worries.  He does all this with no reservation, no judgment, no hesitation.

The world is full of distractions.  But let us apply some discipline into our lives and strive towards acquiring the spiritual and philosophical knowledge and wisdom that leads us to a higher and higher plane of existence.

what is wisdom?Suresh Basrur practises the Hindu faith, participates in inter-faith activities in Victoria, and speaks to audiences about Hindu religion, philosophy and practices.

You can read more articles from on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE

Photo of dawn by Solaiman Hossen on Unsplash

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