We would not, if we could, go back to what are referred to as the nostalgic, good old days when the world was larger, time was longer, and there was a thing we called leisure — even though we may at moments 'dream" of them, we would not go back, hectic as our life of today appears to be. Surely we would not reverse or retard the calendar. We would not, and we cannot hold back the sunrise, the flood of light breaking into a new day, a new time, a new life. Yet knowing this, we hear, and even voice many complaints of the pressure and rush of this modern, whirlwind age, with its schedules and time limits, the complexity of its political and social economies, the inescapable impact of varying opinions, interests, creeds and isms. In the midst of it all, how is a mere man to choose wisely between the multiple and conflicting issues and policies that confront him on every hand? How can he know? How and when can he find even the time to measure the quality of his own ideals and convictions? How can he attain to even the modicum of wisdom required for living his own simple life? And what is wisdom?
Yet, life is life wherever and whenever we find it. Since the sun set upon that 'day' when God saw everything that be had made and beheld that it was good, I doubt not there have been pressure and urge, conflict and confusion, wonder and the inescapable necessity of choice.
From the moment of birth the urge of the senses leads the infant into the experiences of life, with ever-increasing impulse to follow the desire to know the nature of and reason for all that he contacts; the irresistible urge to rediscover the world into which he has come; the will to test his capacity for life. Through the years as consciousness expands, he manages to accomplish this by ways and means related to his desires and within his power of understanding, which power, it seems reasonable to assume, is innately his own, a power or faculty brought along with his tiny body through the gates of birth. He comes to know many things. He becomes increasingly and sometimes painfully aware of the world around him. According to his receptivity he acquires knowledge. To be of any value to him the knowledge must be applied to the affairs and things of life that concern him. That seems logical. It must be used. How and for what purpose it is used rests upon the desire of the one using it. The results stem from his own choice of action.
It is here that wisdom enters in. Wisdom seems almost a gift of the gods, and in a very real sense it may be, thought of as an illuminating ray from the divinity that animates and permeates the whole of creation. If knowledge must be individually acquired, doesn't it stand to reason that wisdom, which constitutes the right use of acquired knowledge, must be sought for, tested and individually attained by one who aspires to know the quality and use of that power which breathes through and soars beyond the skill acquired in the manipulation of things and affairs of our material world? Act we must. The known and the unknown forces of nature impel and demand action. There is not one flashing second of time but that some part of our constitution is in action. The knowledge that we have acquired should make this plausible.
It may not be easy in the unfolding drama to demonstrate to the actor that he, whether consciously or unconsciously, is responsible for his every action. In the matter of voluntary acts the equation is more simple. With our constantly increasing media of transmission we cannot escape news of action and the results of action on the part of the individual, the group and the nation. Much of it is disaster, tragedy and heartbreak. The consequences of action rise in lurid flames for all the world to see. These are the extremes, but they serve to illustrate the axiom that proportionate consequences follow the act as the furrow follows the plow. The influence and penetration of all actions are not so apparent as are the blatant effects revealed in and by the lives of the few, but the actions of the humble, be they good or ill, do not escape the law. The wise man knows the law and acts in harmony with it, thus escaping great risks and bestowing beneficence.
What, then, is the technique required for the attaining to wisdom? It is simple, yet profound, as most simple things are. If a half-hour, or even a few brief moments, for self-questioning and quiet, unprejudiced thought can be spared, an answer will doubtless come to the surface of the mind. First, we must desire wisdom. It requires more conscious will than the child's involuntary reaction to outer stimuli. We must be ready to surrender some of the acquisitive assurance of the knowledge we have acquired through the active brain mentality and the senses of the body. We must engender some spirit of sacrifice within ourselves, as the heavens sacrifice the gentle rain that nourishes the earth. We must bring ourselves to some reappraisal of things; those that are of value, and those that are, in the words of Ecclesiastes, the preacher son of David, "vanity of vanities." We must fortify the heart with an optimistic courage and unfaltering perseverance, and we must keep our eyes toward the light, avoiding shadows of our own making.
The Bhagavad-Gita is a dramatic episode of the ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, which has lived through the centuries of man's struggles and confusion, reaching to our day in various translations and expressions to become the inspiration of philosophers, and a handbook, spiritual and practical, for those who are questioning the mysteries of life and death and the impinging circumstances of the world about them. A number of years ago the Bhagavad-Gita was the subject for discussion on a radio program in which one scholar classed it as "one of the world's greatest poems, which begins with a battle and through a burst of rapture gives a picture of the kind of discipline necessary to attain knowledge." In this dialogue the god Krishna looks with compassion upon the warrior prince Arjuna who, at the shrill alarm of battle and survey of the contending forces, with friends and relatives on the opposing side, was overwhelmed by despondency and confusion. Putting aside his weapons be refused to fight, and questioned the god Krishna how he was to know, to understand, the truth of his divinely spoken words and admonition: "Arise with determination fixed for battle." How could he attain to wisdom in such matters of difficulty?
Among many formulas Krishna gave him is this:
"Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions and by humility."
Simple enough, we say. But what is service, and what humility? What constitutes strong search, and what shall be the nature or urgency of our questions? Even here we must search for the answers. A few elementary definitions may, hopefully, stimulate consideration of these basic words.
Service: that which is done for the benefit of another; a benefit or advantage conferred.
Strong Search: to explore thoroughly, as if to find something concealed or lost; to pursue with ardor and undaunted energy some hidden goal, as the search of the scientist, the explorer, the expedition, the rescue squad; and, as in the epics of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail, the divine reality.
Questions: inquiry of ourselves and of others into high, pure realms of thought and action that baffle the mind; into the mysteries concealed in common things; into the law of justice that governs all life. "The wise who see the truth will communicate it unto thee."
Humility: a true evaluation of oneself; a consciousness of the fundamental principle that all men are equal in spirit and destiny, all made in the image of God, the idea of separateness residing only in the mind and in the senses over which the Mind holds dominion. "He who hath his senses and organs in control possesseth spiritual knowledge."
As we begin to serve, to seek, to question and to hold ourselves in humility we shall begin to understand the spirit of these principles and shall by degrees come nearer to a realization of our own responsibility and strength. We shall begin to realize that the technique for their application to the problems of living is our job, our discipline, our field of battle and our final victory.
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)
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