Knowledge vs. wisdom

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As I continue to study the Diamond Sutra, I encounter references to “wisdom” quite often in the commentary. Of course this makes a lot of sense if you know that the Diamond Sutra is also called “The Perfection of Wisdom.” This sutra is the pithy condensed version, by most accounts — we also have the “Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines” and even longer versions, about two dozen in all, according to the Buddhist scholar Red Pine. The Diamond Sutra is complete in only 300 lines.

At the excellent blog thinkBuddha, author Will Buckingham recently considered the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. He was mulling over a politician’s lament that kids nowadays do not know some of the important dates and events in their national history.

Given the innumerability of the objects of knowledge, establishing if there are things that are worth knowing for everyone, and establishing what these things are is a difficult process … Nevertheless, just for the time being, I want to leave this question to the educationalists and policy makers, and to ask another question, a question that I think is often overlooked: the question of what exactly we do with the things that we deem worth knowing.

Here, I think, things become more interesting, because this question forces us to deal with the ethics of our relationship with those things that we know, or that we claim to know. Because it seems to me to be more important, in the long run, that we should treat each other well, than that we should know any particular facts about battles, commandments or laws of nature. [Source]

In other words, all that knowledge in your head, or my head (and they are the same thing, are they not?), is not good for anything at all unless we use it for good.

There’s a line in the Temple Rules of the Kwan Um School of Zen that often floats up into my thinking:

If a snake drinks water, the water becomes venom. If a cow drinks water, the water becomes milk.

Breathe.

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3 responses

  1. “If a snake drinks water, the water becomes venom. If a cow drinks water, the water becomes milk.”

    Hahhaa, great one, thank you for sharing! 🙂

    Be well, Dharmafriend.