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Spiritual Disciplines

The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

wisdom-epigramYou don’t have to be Einstein to see that our society is big on knowledge but lean on wisdom. Speaking of Einstein, a man who you would likely think of as above all else a towering intellect; he himself attributes his greatest insights not to moments of intense intellectual gymnastics, but to moments of inspired brilliance flowing from a deep rooted intuition.  He said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  

Knowledge is accumulated, stored and processed by the intellect. The disciplines for this are the disciplines of logic, deduction, study and debate, and take place in the study and the classroom.  Wisdom on the other hand is accumulated, stored and ruminated upon by the spirit. The disciplines for this are contemplation, meditation, solitude and silence, and take place in the vast wilderness of the heart and untamed wild places of this world.  He who gives his life to the former things will become a great intellectual. He who gives his life to the latter things will become a great sage.

Someone once said that the disciplines that bring wisdom all involve the slow chewing of the stuff of life until it is properly digested.  For this reason it cannot be hurried, rushed or flat-packed.  It cannot be taken as modules, consumed in fast-food sound-bytes or dissected as a laboratory experiment.  Perhaps this is why ever since the first Christmas story we instinctively look to the East to find wise men and women, and to civilisations that traditionally places great value on the internal disciplines.  The ancient Chinese character for wisdom shows an arrow, a mouth and a character meaning “all day”.  Literally it defines wisdom as the ability to speak and do that which is insightful and needful all day long.  It is interesting that the modern western civilisations that gave us the atom bomb and are currently showing the world how to destroy planet through insane consumption are civilisations that have no place for solitude, silence and contemplation, and therefore have little appreciation of wisdom.  As the King Crimson rock group sang in the song “Epitaph”:

“Knowledge is a deadly friend,
If no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see,
Is in the hands of fools.”

Knowledge will help you earn a fortune; wisdom will help you be content with very little.  Knowledge will gain you followers but wisdom will nurture your friends.  Knowledge will teach you about life; but wisdom will make that life worth living…

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