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How “Wisdom” Can Get It Wrong

How wisdom can get it wrong - pencil erasing line graphic

Smiling, Lord Krishna says an unexpected thing to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita in response to his fervent disquisition on how he both should not and could not engage in battle on the field of Kurukshetra:

“You have mourned those that should not be mourned, and you speak words as if with wisdom; the wise do not mourn for the dead or for the living” (2:11).

Three examples of wrong logic

When I was a novice in a Greek Orthodox monastery which placed great emphasis on the mystical approach to Christianity and on meditation (Hesychia) particularly, one of the prime inspirations was Saint Gregory Palamas, a great mystic and author on the subject of interior prayer. When looking through the original Greek texts of the collection of spiritual writings known as the Philokalia, I came across a writing of Saint Gregory that had some diagrams. Not knowing any but the most elementary Greek (little more than the alphabet) I took the volume to a Greek-speaking monk and asked what the article as about.

flat earthTo my amazement he told me that it was an explanation of how the world was flat and how completely irrational and baseless it was to say the world was spherical! (Why such a subject would be treated in a collection of mystical writings was not explained to me.) Now, Saint Gregory possessed a brilliant intellect and his arguments were thoroughly logical–but he was wrong.

Sneezing and mystical writings

where do sneezes come from?Later on I decided to read the complete writings of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, one of the greatest mystics of the early Christian Church. I was not disappointed, for his words are truly inspired and his insights invaluable. But then I came up against a real surprise. His brother, Saint Basil the Great, gave a series of discourses on the days of creation, but died before he could give the final sermon. So Saint Gregory decided to complete the work by writing an article on the final day of creation.

In the article he discusses the human anatomy and for some reason presents a lengthy and complicated explanation of why and how human beings sneeze. The explanation is ingenious–and equally erroneous, not to say genuinely funny. Again, the words were very logical, quite reasonable, but utterly mistaken to the point of silliness. And in both instances both Gregories’ sincerity and conviction counted for absolutely nothing. Wrong is wrong.

Hurdy-gurdies caused the plague?

hurdy gurdyOne of the funniest “wrongs” of a spiritual figure was the outlawing of hurdy-gurdies by one of the Popes in the Middle Ages. This was based on the fact that the hurdy-gurdy was the instrument played by wandering beggars, and wherever the beggars went the plague broke out. Not knowing about germs, the Pope concluded that hurdy-gurdy music caused the plague! Reason led to folly.

How Arjuna “got it wrong”

Millennia before the Gregories, Arjuna looked out at the battlefield, and seeing those he loved and even revered was overwhelmed with the enormity of killing them, and expressed his feelings to Krishna, as we have just seen in a recent post (Five Reasons for the Smile of Krishna).

Krishna’s reaction to this impassioned speech was to smile and say: “Your words are wise, Arjuna, but you are wrong.” He then explained very fully just why Arjuna’s conclusions were mistaken, and we will be looking at his explanations later, but for now it will be beneficial for us to pursue this matter of being wrong even when we seem to be right–which is the usual situation in religion.

The fundamental problem is the character of the mind itself. It is intended as a link between the witness-consciousness that is our pure spirit and the outer world that is really only a dream in the mind of God and our minds, for we are co-dreamers with God, dreamers in the Great Dream of creation and evolution.

God and his creation are a bit like Moliere and his plays. Backstage he wrote out in large script the basics of the plot and the actors went onstage and improvised their lines and actions within Moliere’s parameters. After many performances the words were written down and Moliere has received all the credit for centuries.

In the same way God has set the boundaries and the basic scenario of evolution in consciousness. We then ad-lib our way through the whole thing until we develop the good sense to listen to those who have already trodden the way and given instructions on the Right Way To Go About It. Part of this good sense is the awareness that we rarely know what we are doing or see anything correctly or fully–for that is the nature of the mind: distortion and incompleteness.

How to “get it right”

Yet the mind is part of our equipment for evolution, so what shall we do? Clarify and correct it–yes, put Humpty Dumpty together. And that can be done by meditation. For Krishna is going to tell Arjuna: “The sage who is disciplined in yoga [meditation] quickly attains Brahman,” and “He should practice yoga for the purpose of self-purification” (5:6; 6:12).

In the purity of mind produced by meditation, intuition comes to the fore, replacing discursive (and consequently tangled) thought, thus making the mind an instrument of perception rather than interference in perception. For our thoughts are mostly static and distortion. In time through the effect of meditation we no longer think–we know. Therefore: “With a mind disciplined by the practice of yoga, which does not turn to anything else, to the divine supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on Him” (8:8). [Find out how to meditate here.]

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