The Theosophical Forum – November 1946

KNOWLEDGE WISDOM AND EXPERIENCE — J. Croiset van Uchelen

Socrates in Phaedo said: "To use words wrongly and indefinitely is not merely an error in itself, it also creates an evil in the soul." It not only makes exact thought and therefore knowledge impossible, it also creates careless and slovenly habits of mind. In this article let us discuss just three words: Knowledge, Wisdom and Experience, and try to define these. A dictionary will not help us much, stating as it does, that "Knowledge is that which we know!", or "Knowledge is the apprehension of truth" (which it is not). Then again it says: "Knowledge is the conviction that mental apprehension corresponds with reality." But what is truth, reality? In the philosophy of Kant we may find four different kinds of reality. Lastly I quote: "Knowledge includes intuition." "All knowledge must ultimately repose on propositions unproved and unprovable." By this time I had decided, without the further use of books, to find more universal definitions for these very words we use so often; this by a process of quiet contemplation. When I finally wrote down the result of this effort, it seemed so simple, as if it had been said a hundred times before — which no doubt it has! But at any rate, the mental gymnastics had proved refreshing, for is it not far more fascinating to contact what has been said, in thought, through the mind, rather than through the spoken word or written pages? Knowledge then, is the accumulation of data, no more, no less. Wisdom is a state of being, being wise. We are not knowledge, we possess and accumulate it.

Wisdom we cannot take into our possession; we are, or are not wise.

Knowledge is learning. Wisdom is.

Knowledge makes the savant, Wisdom the Sages.

We acquire knowledge. Wisdom must be attained.

Knowledge deals with phenomena in space and time.

Wisdom is beyond the manifested; spaceless, timeless.

Knowledge can be passed on to others. Wisdom must be found.

Knowledge changes forever. Wisdom forever remains.

We may well pray for Wisdom. For knowledge we don't have to pray; we go to school!

He who speaks from knowledge is a teacher, however great, and must repeat: thus have I heard.

Only the Master can proclaim: "I say unto you . . . for I and the Father are One."

Now it must be realized that every time we say "I know," we really merely think we know: "to believe in, as though true," the dictionary has it. To be informed might be the better expression. As one writer stated: "The relation of knowing is the most mysterious thing in the world." How true! It is when we say "I am" that we know, but cannot answer why or what, until the I is lost in Being, and Wisdom supervenes.

Knowledge forever changes. How could anything be permanent in an ever-changing world of Maya, whose existence is but a fleeting image perceived through the unfolding senses; nay more, in which as The Secret Doctrine says: "the cognizer itself is but a reflection." (Vol. I, p. 39)

Now, as for the word Experience, what is it but "to undergo." Yet here again one might make a distinction between outer experience, resulting from sense perceptions, and inner experience which is a state, although the Mandukyopanishad repudiates such a distinction as found in Western philosophies. Experience alone can translate Wisdom; then words are inadequate. For even the most exalted words uttered by a saint or sage, who seeks to speak of this illumination in retrospect, can give but a faint reflection of the indescribable. What can be invoked, is a resonance in the hearts of men, for the Kingdom of Heaven is within. A teacher may endeavor to stimulate our search, may suggest a code of ethics and point a way; all else remains with the individual.

It might be said: "Why, if man must reach beyond the senses, nay even beyond the intellect, must he learn to think?" In order to become aware of the limitation of reasoning, which loomed so large that materialism was the inevitable outcome of its self-aggrandisement. Knowledge is valuable, as it gives mastery over environment, but is not wisdom. By learning to think, we learn to surmount thinking, and still the mind.

It has been said, that we must become like little children, seemingly closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. Children do not share our mental problems, nor rely on churches or philosophies. They have an inner faith; they are, and trust. We think we are wiser. We must learn to stop thinking; after, not before, we have mastered the intellect, and listen to the Voice of the Silence. We must learn to quiet the mind, in order to Experience.

It will be said: "But observe the things man's thinking and knowledge have accomplished!"

It might be asked: "What does remain?" Civilizations rise, to be lost under the sea, to be buried under the desert sands. Maya. These things the Sage did leave behind. Jesus did, and Buddha, and Krishna. Maybe these things are not as valuable as we think. And although, while in the body, we must justly deal with our physical environment, all this ends. Is our Search not for the Eternal? Theosophy encourages the search for Self. "Man know Thyself" remains the great command. For even though I know that "I am," where am I, what, and why? I am asleep or awake, here or there, I am sad or happy, hungry or fed; I am all this, yet am I none of these things — for before Abraham WAS, I AM, as said the Master.

Has it ever occurred to you, that all philosophies, however elaborately they may explain "how," forever fail to answer "why'? Why, is the first question of a child; it is the last of the intellect. . . .

'I am," in the manifested, in space and time; but there is the spaceless timeless, where the "I" is lost, yet remains in Being. Do we not ask to be lead from the unreal to the Real? Says The Secret Doctrine: "Nothing is permanent except . . . the noumena of all realities . . . the upward progress of the Ego is a series of progressive awakenings, each advance bringing with it the idea that now, at last, we have reached "reality'; but only when we shall have reached the absolute Consciousness, and blended our own with it, shall we be free from the delusions produced by Maya."

What is manifestation but differentiation in time and space; what is time but a measuring out of motion in space?

When we stop thinking, and the mind becomes a blank (not negatively so, yet without effort) then there is no such "thing" as time, nor space; for time and space are indivisible. That blank is stillness, timeless, spaceless, yet containing all.

Beyond the many "I's, we imagine the One all-encompassing Self, the Oversoul of which Emerson spoke; beyond the mind, my mind, your mind, all minds, the One Consciousness, shared with all in the Oneness of true Being.

We can but feel our way, while groping in the dark. Tat Twam Asi. Thou art That. What more can be said in human language?

And here let us conclude with a few lines of a recent translation from the Kathopanishad:

"This tree of a world, beginningless and endless, has its root on high, while its branches spread below. That root is Brahman. That is known as Immortal. All the worlds have their Being in That, and none can transcend That. That verily is the Self.

"If a man fails to attain Brahman before he puts off his body, he must again put on a body in the world of created things.

"When all the senses are stilled, together with the mind, and the intellect wavers not — that, the wise say, is the highest state.

"When all desires that linger in his heart cease, then the mortal becomes immortal. Verily does he attain Brahman even in this life if, while he lives on earth, all the knots of ignorance within his heart are loosened.

"This is the highest truth that is taught in the scriptures."

Here the quotation ends.

In the Silence rests the voiceless sound, where the soundless Voice may guide us.


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