Sharing Wisdom

In this newsletter
1. Release of New Volume
2. Summer School and Leadership Institute
3. Sharing Wisdom

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1. Release of our latest volume

Elijah is proud to announce the release of another book in our series of Interreligious Reflections, published by Lexington Press.

This volume is entitled, Sharing Wisdom: Benefits and Boundaries of Interreli-gious Learning. It is edited by Alon Goshen Gottstein and contributors from the Elijah Academy are Pal Ahluwalia (Sikh), Timothy Gianotti (Muslim), Sallie B. King (Buddhist), Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu), Meir Sendor (Jewish) And Miroslav Volf (Christian).

As Lexington says in its synopsis:
… In a globalized age, when food, music, and dress are shared freely, how should religions go about sharing their wisdom? The essays.. explore what wisdom means .. why it should be shared—internally and externally—and how it should be shared. … Authors reflect on specific wisdoms their tradition has or should share, as well as what it has to receive from other faiths. Special emphasis is placed on the themes of love and forgiveness and how these illustrate the principles of common sharing. Love and humility emerge as strong motivators for sharing wisdom and for doing so in a way that respects the tradition from which the wisdom comes as well as the recipient. This book offers a theory that can enrich ongoing encounters between members of faith traditions by suggesting a tradition-based practice of sharing the wisdom of traditions, while preserving the integrity of the teaching and respecting the identity of the one with whom wisdom is shared.

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In his introduction, “Finding a Common Voice and Sharing Wisdom: A Personal Project Synthesis,” Alon Goshen-Gottstein as the question, “How is ‘Sharing Wisdom’ similar to or different from interreligious dialogue and collaboration? What is the uniqueness of our emphasis upon “Sharing Wisdom?”

My own answer would be that sharing wisdom is the heart of interreligious dialogue. Interreligious dialogue as practiced often brings members of different faith communities together in a show of similarity, or even of difference, that highlights the goodwill and desire for harmony and positive contribution to society that are the driving force behind coming together in the first instance. All too often, the coming together lacks reflectivity and does not draw in meaningful ways from the wellsprings of the traditions themselves. Without detracting from the social and political significance of such coming together, from the religious perspective it is found lacking inasmuch as it does not engage the religious traditions deeply in their own language. One expression of this lack is the double talk and the discrepancy found between statements made to members of one’s own faith community and statements made when facing outwards. Meaningful engagement with the religious other is at the same time also an opportunity for deeper engagement with oneself. It is here that we enter wisdom’s domain.

In this way, he describes the work of the other authors, all of whom are scholars deeply committed not just to knowledge about but also practice of their particular religious tradition.

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Miroslav Volf introduces the reader to the Christian understanding of what Wisdom is. He says, “Christians have [also] understood wisdom as something far more particular than a whole way of life, namely, as concrete pieces of advice about to how to flourish.”

When we read in the Proverbs, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing personal opinion” (18:2), when Jesus says, “Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38), when the Apostle Paul says, “Do not worry about anything” (Philippians 4:6), or when we read in the letter to the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32), we are presented with wise advice, with what one may call “nuggets” of wisdom. Properly understood, these nuggets are components of wisdom as a way of life. Human beings are wise in this sense if they follow wise advice.

Wisdom is an integrated mode of being. Miroslav Volf and other authors in the volume draw a link between wisdom and integration – the integration of heart and mind, thought and action, individual and community, body and spirit. What threatens our traditions is the breakdown of this integrity and the loss of comprehensiveness of meaning that religion seeks to offer. The wisdom of religious traditions is appreciated precisely as a testimony to the wholeness of life. This has implications for sharing wisdom. The sharing of wisdom must thus find the middle path between the desire to extend wisdom beyond its original home and the need to preserve that very sense of wholeness and integrity that allow us to recognize it as wisdom in the first instance.

He also spells out some of the problems with extracting pieces of wisdom, nuggets of wisdom as he calls them, from their context and inserting them into new structures of meaning. Totality and wholeness are essential to the wisdom of the way of life that religion offers. Striking at that very totality is a way of undermining the integrity, hence the wisdom, of the specific religious way. This is a struggle that all our religions face; it is highlighted in this volume in the case of Christianity.

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Anantanand Rambachan
quotes the Hindu sacred texts to distinguish between a wise person and one who might have acquired information. He tells us that the Bhagavadgita (2:42), speaks critically of those who delight merely in the words of the sacred text (vedavadaratah).

The same text, in a series of verses (55-72), characterizes wisdom as an integrated mode of being. Wisdom is present when knowing and being coincides. Wisdom is identified with freedom from greed and with delight and contentment in God. It is equated with liberation from fear and anger. Most importantly, wisdom is the ability to identify with others in happiness and in suffering.

The Bhagavadgita (6:32), he tells us, praises this empathetic way of being as the culmination of Yoga and commends the wise person (5:25; 12:4) (sarvabhutahite ratah). The wise is “One who hates no one, who is friendly and compassionate, non-possessive and unselfish, balanced in suffering and pleasure and forgiving.” One who sees the Supreme God existing equally in all beings, the Imperishable in the perishable, truly sees. (Bhaga-vadgita 13:27)

According to Rambachan, Hinduism believes that all our speech, thought and understanding of God are limited, inferior and unable to capture the divine in and of itself. The response to the limitations of our understanding is the recognition of how partial is the teaching of all traditions, in face of the absolute. This creates an openness to all traditions as potential carriers of valid insight concerning the divine. Rambachan goes as far as to suggest that this key insight can be exported from Hinduism to other traditions.

Anant Rambachan observes that meaningful sharing is founded upon the recognition that another tradition can be genuinely enriching. Such recognition is already a form of recognizing some aspect of validity within that tradition. Sharing thus emerges as a strategy for recognition.

The context for sharing wisdom has changed in today’s world. Rambachan highlights the classical context of teacher-disciple relations within which the sharing of wisdom has classically taken place. Today the imparting of wisdom takes place in a much broader context, both within each religion and beyond it. This new context also offers new ways of conceiving or reconfiguring the meaning of totality.

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Pal Ahluwalia
explains that in Sikhism, wisdom is also a call to action. Practice and service are two keys to the acquisition and expression of wisdom. He also clarifies that there is a significant difference between one who has acquired knowledge and one who is wise.

We know of people who are intellectually brilliant but who lack the capacity to engage beyond their particular area of specialisation. And yet, we know of people who are not renowned for their intellectual brilliance but who have an understanding and wisdom that seems beyond mere intellect. These individuals are often characterised as having character, virtue and insight. They are able to cut through to the core of complexity with elegant simplicity.

Ahluwalia makes explicit a spiritual fact found in all our traditions. Ego is the greatest obstacle to gaining wisdom. Overcoming ego and its consequences is a fundamental need of the spiritual life and it has real and immediate consequences to the project of sharing wisdom. Not only does sharing wisdom require putting aside the ego in an act of listening to the other and learning from her. Sharing wisdom may even be presented as a kind of spiritual exercise, by means of which one can be taken beyond one’s limitations and opened up to a higher wisdom. The opening is as much a consequence of what is learned as the attitudinal change, whereby the ego is placed aside, in the act of genuine listening. Seen in this light, sharing wisdom is not simply a remedy to issues in contemporary society and in particular to inter-group relations. Sharing wisdom can actually be an integral part of a core spiritual process, recognized by all our traditions – overcoming the ego, and the liberation and transformation that ensue.

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Timothy Gianotti, presenting the Muslim perspective, suggests that rather than thinking of ourselves as sharing “our” wisdom with others, we should conceive of our-selves as engaged in the common quest for wisdom.

From God’s perspective, the sharing of Wisdom is not a sharing between equals, each having a wisdom to share with the other; rather, it is the sharing between an all-knowing, all-powerful, solitary possessor of knowledge and Wisdom and a servant who has nothing to offer in return save his or her self. Individually, this one-way “sharing” of the Divine quality or attribute is believed to be possible when the servant struggles to make his or her way out of the trappings of self-delusion (self-importance, independence, pride, judgment, etc.) and shed all his/her ungodly attributes (ultimately even shedding personal will). As the heart gradually empties of these impediments, it is said to grow in its purified desire for true Wisdom and Knowledge and so embody the Qur’anic supplication, “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge!”

Wisdom can be the goal of the common quest that unites practitioners of different religions. The realization that wisdom provides the bridge from the human to the divine and from the particular to the universal makes this formulation particularly appealing. As we are all placed upon the axis between the human and the divine, or that of moving from human limitations to transcending them, the quest for wisdom is a common human quest. Gianotti’s call articulates a reality that we have all been living for thousands of years. We have all been seeking wisdom ever since our religions have come into being. Now, suggests Gianotti, is the time for us to do so together.

Timothy Gianotti suggests that outside of the teacher-student paradigm and in the context of the sharing of wisdom between religions we ought to think of how wisdom is mutually sought, pondered and cherished by believers of multiple faith traditions. Their sincerity and the unifying intention of seeking with open minds and hearts provide an alternative to the integrity of the original context of acquiring wisdom. Thus, the common quest is, for Gianotti, a new context that almost redefines the meaning of integrity and authenticity. Purity of mind and heart are what protect the common quest from some of the pitfalls that contemporary sharing of wisdom suffers from. Thus, integrity is reconstituted.

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Sallie King says that according to the Buddhist perspective, wisdom is a certain kind of character: negatively, it is freedom from craving, aversion and delusion; posi-tively, it is selflessness, compassion, loving-kindness, deep non-violence and spontane-ous morality.

The process of sharing wisdom must confront fundamental obstacles. One of them is the difficulty in communicating experience properly. As wisdom cannot be stated adequately, the Buddha decided to adjust his teachings in relation to the capacity of his audience to understand him. Thus, accommodation of the teaching may be the consequence of humility. The limitations of language and understanding also provide the roots for acceptance of the other. Thus, epistemological humility provides a basis for interreligious pluralism.

There is, however, a great distance between the fundamental obstacles to sharing wisdom, based on the difficulty in communicating experience properly, that Sallie King highlights, and the problems of boundaries and their appropriate maintenance (see Sendor). Different as these issues are, and different as their practical consequences in relation to actual sharing of wisdom are, there is one key issue that is common to them. Both express the concern for authenticity. And contemporary society only heightens the tension around authenticity, as the different traditions battle to preserve the integrity of their tradition in the face of multiple external forces.

The quest for authenticity carries with it dangers. These are manifest in some of the reactionary religious forms that are born of the attempt to recreate a lost authenticity. In a more philosophical vein, there is the danger of undoing the movement of growth a tradition has undergone, a growth which may itself be part of the divine design for its evolution. At the same time, letting go of the quest for authenticity is tantamount to deep betrayal of our own commitment to tradition.

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The concern for authenticity informs Meir Sendor’s entire presentation. Protection of the authentic teaching and approach to the divine constitutes the core narrative of Judaism’s sharing wisdom with other religions.

The more one emphasizes teaching, a natural by-product of revelation and the Scriptures that are born of it, the more the concern for authenticity increases. Sendor is accordingly concerned about inauthentic syncretism and generalization and the obscuring of important distinctions between the faiths. We note the choice of “inauthentic” to designate erroneous teaching or understanding. Misunderstanding is perhaps the greatest enemy and while the drive for sharing is upheld, Sendor provides us with a battery of precautions, all of which are meant to safeguard the authenticity of teaching.

Discussion of authenticity leads us to consider its relationship to identity. Loss of identity is the biggest fear that sharing wisdom could trigger. Receiving too much from the outside could feel like an unwelcome undoing of one’s very self. The history of Jewish wisdom sharing, as told by Sendor, provides an example of the concern and the struggle for maintaining the sense of self.

Both love of God and love of the other are recognized as driving the process of sharing wisdom. The distribution of wisdom among nations, says Rav Kook, is intended to lead to a loving sharing between them. Love is the driver for sharing wisdom. Love and wisdom are thus closely related. Wisdom leads to love and love leads to the sharing of wisdom.

As Alon Goshen Gottstein says in his introduction, “Seen in the context of transcending ego and self-centeredness, these words take on a completely different meaning than we might ascribe to them otherwise. The love that leads to sharing wisdom must be founded upon transcending the self and its limitations. Herein is the answer and the corrective to much that has gone wrong in the history of sharing wisdom and to many of the pitfalls that we seek to avoid. The test of love is in its selflessness. True love could not bolster individual or group ego. It is a movement of service and care, not of self aggrandizement. By definition it makes room for the other, which in turn opens up the reciprocal movement of sharing wisdom. This is very different from the one sided sharing that has been practiced at times and that remains a threat to effective sharing of wisdom. The key is thus selfless love, making room for the other, but above all making room for wisdom itself to reveal itself. We are at most wisdom’s instruments. As we grow in humility and love we become better instruments. As we become finer instruments, we are able to share more fully and with greater purity of intention. As our sharing is purified, wisdom and love increase. In this we all come together.”

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An appendix to the volume is the “Declaration on Sharing Wisdom,” the Statement of the Elijah Interfaith Academy.

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2. Elijah Interreligious Summer School and Leadership Training Institute
“Sharing Wisdom” is the theme of this year’s Summer School and Leadership Training Institute, to be held July 23rd to August 3rd at Ecce Homo, in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Week 1 is a seminar on how “Wisdom” is understood in six religious traditions and why and how it is shared with those from other faiths. What are the benefits and the dangers of sharing Wisdom? How can sharing Wisdom can help us experience the oneness of humanity and creation?

Week 2 is a training workshop for emerging religious and community leaders, with an emphasis on healing painful memories and building models of sharing Wisdom which respond to past divisions and answer contemporary challenges.

You can book for one week or two.

Click here for details and to register.

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3. Sharing Wisdom

In his chapter on “Sharing Wisdom” from the Hindu perspective, Anantanand Rambachan quotes Mahatma Gandhi:
“I believe in the truth of all religions of the world. And since my youth upward, it has been a humble but persistent effort on my part to understand the truth of all the religions of the world, and adopt and assimilate in my own thought, word, and deed all that I have found to be best in those religions. The faith that I profess not only permits me to do so but renders it obligatory for me to take the best from whatever source it may come.” “I hold it the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically the scriptures of the world. If we are to respect others’ religions as we would have them to respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.”

In her chapter, Sallie King brings the following Buddhist teaching, suggesting that there still needs to be a system for discerning which teachings are worthy of being followed:

[Villagers from Kalama in Kesaputta speak first; the Buddha replies] “Venerable sir, some ascetics and brahmins who come to Kesaputta explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk revile, and vilify the doctrines of others. But then some other ascetics and brahmins come to Kesaputta, and they too explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile, and vilify the doctrines of the others. For us, venerable sir, there is perplexity and doubt as to which of these good ascetics speak truth and which speak falsehood.”

“It is fitting for you to be perplexed, O Kalamas, it is fitting for you to be in doubt. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of texts, by logic, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them…[And] when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome; these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should engage in them.”

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