What is Wisdom?

Humanity is too clever to survive without wisdom. — E.F Schumacher

What is wisdom? We hear the word a lot these days—the need for wisdom, the wisdom traditions, wisdom schools. We each would like to have more wisdom. And for others to have it as well. Too much human hurt and suffering comes from lack of wisdom. But what is this quality that we hold in such high regard?

Most of us are familiar with the progression from data to information to knowledge:

  • Data are the raw facts; the letters on a page, for example.
  • Information comes from the patterns and structure of the data. Random letters provide little Information; but if they spell words and the words create sentences, they carry information and meaning.
  • Knowledge comes from generalizations in the information. We build up understandings about the world, ourselves, and other people.

Wisdom concerns how we use our knowledge. Its essence is discernment. Discernment of right from wrong. Helpful from harmful. Truth from delusion.

We may, for example, come to understand that deep down each of us wants to be loved and appreciated. But do we then use that knowledge to manipulate others for our own ends? Or do we use it for the benefit of all, considering how to respond to a situation in ways that are truly caring?

At present, humanity has vast amounts of knowledge, but still very little wisdom. Buckminster Fuller called this time our final evolutionary exam. Is our species fit to survive? Do we have the wisdom that will allow us to use our prodigious powers for our own good, and for that of many generations to come?

It is a common perception that wisdom comes with age. The wise ones have learned from experience that there is more to life than acquiring wealth and fame. They know that love and friendship count for more than what others think of them. They are generally kind, content in themselves. able to discern their true self-interest.

But why wait until old age? In an ideal world we would finish school not only with sufficient knowledge for the life ahead, but also with the wisdom of how to use that knowledge.

The question then naturally arises: How can we develop wisdom? It turns out that the wisdom we seek is already there, at the heart of our being. Deep inside, we know right from wrong; this discernment is an intrinsic part of being human. But the quiet voice of this inner knowing is usually obscured by our busy thinking minds, forever trying to help us get the things we believe will bring us peace and happiness and avoid those that will bring pain and suffering.

So the real question is: How can we allow the inner light of our innate wisdom to shine through into daily awareness and guide is in our decisions? And that, as many have discovered time and again, comes not from doing more, but from doing less.

See also: Letting Go of Doing  |  There is No Such Thing as Ego  |  The Path of No Path

3 Replies to “What is Wisdom?”

  1. The state of this pure conciousness (all knowing, ever present, pure bliss) is the source of wisdom. It is the “energy” that propels what we call day to day knowledge and wisdom. As you mentioned – this source is only experienced in state when its effects are quitened – the mind is quiet, the senses are quiet, and all that remians is the source. Very nice article.

  2. Wisdom is the art of alternating between the left and the right brainhalfe,
    using our corpus callosum.

    My son has autism. It is my belief that autists (a know this is of cours to generally speaking) have very low interaction between the two, that is bad functioning or underdeveloped connections in the callosum.
    Therefore in a given rational situation, they succeed very badly in feedbacking with the intuitive in order to correct the situation at hand.
    This of course is also a quality of what we call a wise man.
    Therefore i believe that the developement of the callosum, third brain a call it, is the true next step in human evolution.
    I am convinced that some of us are evolved further than others (earlier Gandi, Dalai Lama etc), but that the spiritual awakening that is talked of these days, has it’s physical equivalent in this third brain developement.
    This ‘tri-brain man’ is the protagonist in my ‘book’ i am working on.

    A funny image i came up with on that subject : We all seem to have the same visual idea of what an alien looks like, did you notice how big his forehead is ? > A tri-brainman if i ever saw one…with much more wisdom than us underdeveloped human beings.

    There’s my view on wisdom.

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