Discovering Wisdom Through Practice
“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we must come at last to regard the world.” – Marcel Proust
During this past weekend I had the supreme pleasure of enjoying a four day Scottish Rite Reunion in Guthrie, Oklahoma. For those that aren’t familiar with the Scottish Rite, it is a Masonic organization that confers the 4th through the 33rd degrees of the Masonic system. The degrees of the Scottish Rite basically provide a collegiate level course on comparative religion, philosophical and moral thought, ethics, and most importantly (for me at least) inner development.
I am supremely fortunate to be a member of the Guthrie Valley, which not only boasts one of the world’s most beautiful buildings (in my opinion, and in the opinion of many who have been fortunate to visit it), but it is composed of members who truly care about not only their own spiritual path, but facilitating the spiritual paths of others. During the Reunions there are group meditation and education courses, as well as ample opportunities to spend one-on-one time with individual seekers, teachers, and facilitators from almost every spiritual tradition ranging from mainstream Christianity, Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Islam-Sufism, Neo-Paganism, etc., so it is truly a spiritual melting pot that provides a smorgasbord for the spiritual seeker. It also provides people from all spiritual backgrounds, and levels of interest or development with a platform to advance and learn from one another, which unfortunately is a very rare opportunity.
The above quote by Marcel Proust has been stuck in my head for the last month or so, and during this last weekend it really hit home; because, one of the central teachings of the Rite is that its members should actively go out in the world and practice what they have learned in order to take up the struggle against tyranny, oppression, ignorance, and human suffering of all kinds.
Too often people are merely content with “receiving” wisdom, which is passive, and merely becomes an intellectual exercise, or people are constantly searching for just the right place of worship, teacher, or practice, so they easily fall into a rut, which prevents any real progress. While I firmly believe that every spiritual tradition provides the keys (knowledge) to living a happy and fulfilled life in this realm, and in the next, we must make an effort to discover true wisdom, which can only be had by journeying down the path towards it. The journey towards wisdom not only requires learning (knowledge), but it requires real effort, and actually putting your knowledge into practice.
“Few among men are they who cross over to the further shore. The others merely run up and down the bank on this side.” – The Dhammapada
To discover wisdom and become “wise”, means really internalizing the teachings of your spiritual tradition(s), in order to make “you” a better person, and also applying them to your every day life, in order to make the world around you a better place. After all, it doesn’t do you any good to constantly go to a church, mosque, of dharma center, if you aren’t reflecting those teachings into every aspect of your life. From a Buddhist’s perspective it doesn’t do me any good to know about the noble truth of suffering, and the need to end the suffering of all sentient beings, and then turn a blind eye to suffering. From a Christian’s perspective it doesn’t do any good to know about Christ’s compassionate and loving nature, and then turn away from helping someone because “they don’t deserve it”, or “they haven’t earned it like I have”, or condemn someone just because you don’t personally agree with all of their actions, choices, or lifestyle.
I really enjoy it when a teacher, preacher, or spiritual leader tells their followers to get off of the meditation pillow, out of the pews, or off of their knees in order to actually go out and put the teachings into practice. I firmly believe that getting out into the world, and actually practicing what you have learned facilitates dramatic growth and progress because you are not only reflecting what you have learned into the physical world, but the friction and conflicts that arise in the world, will highlight areas that you still need to work on. Also, the inherent friction of the world can allow you to break out of your current stage or shell in order to experience your full potential, just like a majestic cedar tree began by sprouting from a tiny seed.
Practical Tip: A truly wise person is one who not only has obtained knowledge, but has actually put that knowledge into real practice. Therefore, strive to not only seek out knowledge, but strive to put that knowledge into practice. Also, if you fail or stumble, allow that to be a lesson rather than a distraction.
In relation to the practical tip, I will give one quick personal example of one of my failings, and how I have tried to use that in a positive manner. During July 2011, I had the pleasure of visiting Washington, D.C., for 10 days of dharma talks and Kalachakra initiation by H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama. So, for 10 days I was totally immersed in dharma talks by The Dalai Lama about our true nature, the causes of suffering, the need to end suffering, etc. Now then, on my way home I was sitting in the Baltimore airport reading a book, when I looked up and saw a blind man start to veer off of the walking path in the terminal, a few seconds later I received a text message. Instead of getting up to help the blind man, I checked the text message, so at that instance helping a blind person was less important than the text message (not very good for me). By the time I looked back up and decided to help the blind man, someone else (thankfully) had taken it upon themselves to escort the man to his gate. Now then, while only 10-15 seconds had passed between my noticing the blind man in need, my checking of a text message, and the man actually receiving help, it was a lesson for me to be more in-tune with those who are in need around me and to take action.
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