Last night, the Contrarian and I sat down to watch a documentary on the “lost years” of Jesus. As most of you know, nothing at all is known about the life of Jesus from age 12-30 or so. The bible is completely silent. There has been much theorizing of course, and there has been talk that he journeyed to the East, and India where he studied and lived in the Buddhist or Hindu monasteries.
The show turned out to be not very good, casting no real light on the subject at all. It ended up being nothing but innuendo and guessing, and somebody claims they saw, and stuff like that. At one point, at a Monastery in India a claim was made that the Dalai Lama had at one time seen the actual documents wherein Jesus time there was described.
The Dalai Lama disputed this fact, claiming no information whatsoever, but when on to talk about how all religions everywhere teach basic concepts of love, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, and so on. He went on to remark that we must be about the business of reconciling among ourselves because we have this basic structure in common.
To make a long story short, the Contrarian wondered, “The Dalai Lama is undoubtedly a very wise man, yet is there any way to inculcate wisdom? Surely they taught him well from childhood, but just as surely wisdom does not necessarily emanate from knowledge.”
For those of you who are a bit rusty, when a Dalai Lama dies, his replacement is sought, and is found normally within three years in a suitable infant, usually from Tibet. A number of tests are done to “insure” that this is the reincarnated Dalai Lama. If so, the child and parents are moved to a place where the child receives the necessary instruction to take on his new role.
Is it mere luck that this wonderful Dalai Lama is graced with wisdom? I am not sure, but I began to think about what might be the foundation of wisdom. Surely knowledge and education are most useful, but they are not required surely. Everyone has heard it said, that “he is wise beyond his years” and plenty of folks have met someone who is not educated, but still wise.
I turned to the bible for help, and in the Wisdom of Solomon, I found:
The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction. (6:17)
For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. (7:26)
and in Sirach,
All wisdom is from the Lord, and with him it remains forever. (1:1)
Wisdom comes from God, which certainly makes sense as we would all agree (at least all believers) that God is the most wise. And in being wise, we reflect God as in a spotless mirror.
But Solomon says that it involves the “desire” for knowledge, not actual knowledge, and that seems key to me.
Wisdom I believe comes to those who look beyond themselves to the greater world around them. They “desire” to understand the world. The look, listen, think. They watch. They examine. They compare and contrast. They are “present” in the world, experiencing it fully.
In doing so, they begin to see the patterns, how things fit together, how relationships are built and grow, how they wither and die. How to avoid pain, how to grow from it. How to teach and how to learn. They see, all this and more.
They are the folks who are not the life of the party but still totally engaged. They are delighted in the delight of others, sharing but also calculating what moves others forward or back, into intimacy or withdrawal. They draw the conclusions. They predate the experiments and psychological and sociological papers detailing the results of studies. They have already seen the results, because they pay attention.
Most of us are not wise, though some of us would like to be. I am not sure that most people wouldn’t rather be rich or famous or “learned” in some field. They are in a nutshell students of humanity. But not just humanity for they see beyond humanity to human relationships with things and other living things. They see the rhythms of life if you will, the give and take, the peace and violence, the tit for tat that makes up the mosaic we call life.
Plainly, they “get it.” We like to hear their wisdom, but frankly, I think we most often look for some personal advantage in what they say, rather than the beauty of the truth they expound. There isn’t much “money” in wisdom.
There is peace in wisdom I think. Plenty of us would desire that, but desire is as far as most of us get, because wisdom isn’t easy. It’s painstakingly hard I think. It means not being number one and front and center. It means lurking at the edges. It means plenty of solitude and internal work.
It seems tailor made for monks and such. No one will ever accuse Donald Trump with being wise. Jimmy Carter may be there, or nearly so.
I would like to be, in fact I would consider it just about the best compliment. But I’m not sure how wise people respond to compliments. Humility seems the cornerstone of wisdom too.
It’s a puzzling thought, wisdom. Elusive, elegant, wispy. But somehow, to me at least, it is something to strive for. Listen more, speak less, learn.