What is Wisdom?
Articles By Cyril Upton
It is probably the oldest question on Earth, upon the answer to which men have ferociously disagreed since the dawn of thought, and by which an evolving universal consciousness, if such a phenomenon exists, may well, itself, be tormented. Yet with the immense documentation of human thought and intuition, during successive civilisations, which we have now accumulated and translated, together with the manifold expression of the world's art, and the prodigious advance in scientific research, we are, perhaps, in a better position to-day to pose the question without prejudice, and in a more balanced approach, than when, even up to very recent times, ignorance and unabashed superstition were all too often at the helm. For what we have attained is not so much a greater knowledge of what is true, as a greater certainty of what is manifestly false. We have, so to speak, weeded the garden of the imagination to quite a considerable extent, leaving the soil richer for those blooms which were for so long stifled and which now can be studied more objectively. Whereas with the dawn of Aristotelian science it was impossible to render mysticism compatible with universal phenomena as we then conceived them, we can now perceive a harmonious cosmos whose laws reinforce, rather than contradict, our intuitive aspirations.
Of the thousands of pompous definitions of wisdom scattered by Philomath's throughout the ages, the simple aphorism of Hung Wu, the Chinese Haroun Al Rachid, who founded the Ming Dynasty, seems to ring the truest to our contemporary moderation, "All wisdom consists in this, not to think that we know what we do not know."
It is no longer pardonable, since the science of semantics has helped to light the way, to employ a word, especially when writing a book, without making sure that it conveys the identical meaning to the reader that it holds for the writer. The semantic discipline has revealed no less than that the greater part of human misunderstanding, suffering, and folly, is due to the confusion caused by the careless use of words, to the different meaning attached to words by the uneducated and semi-educated of all classes of society, to the frequent difficulty in the translation of words from one language to another, and to the ever-present temptation to mistake words for realities. Philosophers, with their systems, which are all more or less attempts to arrive at a knowledge of the unknowable by juggling with concepts, believe in the reality of the very words which lead them to doubt the reality of their own personal existence. Such people derive immense reassurance from a concept like Descartes' cogito ergo sum.
Since wisdom is a perennial example of a word that has ever conveyed different meanings to different men, to different races, and to different epochs, it is the first modest endeavour of this book to pin down, as it were, the meaning of this word, mutually to be agreed upon between writer and reader. Thus, and thus only, can we attempt to follow in the footsteps of the sages without perpetually floundering in the byways of random thought. This may be less difficult than would, at first, appear possible, if the reader will permit frequent quotation of extracts of poetry rather than from philosophical disquisitions which tend to become nebulous and oppressive. As Croce said, "poetry is 'lyrical intuition' apprehending the pure throb of life in its ideality".
Fear of the unknown, and horror of the known,
Had led him to the lute, for in its tone
He heard the music of an inner life
Rising above the dissonance and strife
His soul had long outgrown.
And from the never-ending wrong he turned
To newfound purposes, new values learned,
And, cloistered from the world of random thought,
Found in humility the light he sought
As the taper downward burned.
And thus and thus serenity drew nigh;
His heart an instrument, and life a sigh
That, like an errant breeze, caressed its string,
And daydreams, wakened into song, took wing
As the years went drifting by.
Should the reader doubt the utility of writing at all upon so fragile a theme as wisdom, let him remember that with the development of nuclear physics, mankind is within the immediate possibility of perpetrating its greatest folly, besides which all previous follies pale into insignificance.
Now when we approach even the threshold of the subject of wisdom, it must be accepted a priori that ideas which lose their validity with the march of time, which cannot be sustained, cannot be regarded as in the realm of absolute wisdom, one would be compelled to complete an encyclopaedia of the cloud-cuckoo-land of credulity and illusion. Of that which changes we can have nothing more than opinion; real knowledge is of the changeless. Although this was already acknowledged in Indian thought, it was Plato, in the West, who first ascribed reality in a full sense only that which is eternal. Thus all political, social, and what we may call everyday domestic wisdom is purely relative to changing circumstances.
"The One remains, the many changes and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines. Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of Eternity."
Surely the path towards wisdom begins with a man's capacity to identify himself with, and perpetually adapt himself to, the greater realities. Beside the mystery of man and the universe, the preposterous pettiness of hostile religious sects and philosophical "schools" cannot exist for the wise. Before the enormous problems of racial distribution and economic adjustment, intense nationalism, racialism, and hemispherism become absurd. Even before the stresses and strains of internal of internal domestic politics, party rigidity, class prejudices and bumbledom are but the symbols of limited comprehension. Wisdom is the faculty of seeing things always as part of something bigger on and on progressively to the eternal. The discoveries of science and of comparative religion reduces a vast mass of that which has been hailed as wisdom in the past to utter nonsense. Learning, which is fluctuating, is not necessarily wisdom, though it may lead to thereto, for abiding wisdom is, as we shall submit later, more a question of intuition than of intellectual achievement. If the epitome of wisdom is attainable, it must be a spiritual comprehension of eternal truths. Hence a man may acquire an immense erudition and yet posses little or no wisdom. Another may be a paragon of virtue and yet extremely stupid. Erudition and virtue are, if you will, natural corollaries of wisdom but are not a part thereof, for the obvious reason that both vary with social progress and regress; but wisdom remains poised as an abstraction over and above the flux.
"Knowledge and Wisdom, far from being one, Have oft-times no connection. Knowledge dwells In head replete with thoughts of other men; Wisdom in minds attentive to their own."Cowper
Keywords: What is Wisdom, universal consciousness, radiance of Eternity, Cyril Upton, Spiritual, Intuition, Intuitive, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town,