To Know Yourself: Why It Matters
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on June 12, 2013
By Deepak Chopra
Wisdom has become a musty word even though it described the highest vision of life for many centuries. In a previous post I described what the wisdom principle is. But the only real test must come in daily life. Someone who makes wise choices in life should wind up happier and more successful than someone who doesn’t. This test depends on knowing what wise choices are and what they aren’t.
One can take a very broad view of wisdom – it was taught by Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Plato, and Muhammad, different as they were from one another. Because we classify these figures as either religious or philosophical, the application of wisdom to the hard realities of work, family, relationships, and so on has been largely ignored. That, I think, is a grave mistake. Wisdom is about skill in living, here and now.
In the earlier post I suggested that the first requirement for anyone who wants to be wise is a desire to know reality. The world’s wisdom traditions agree on this point. The desire to know reality implies many things. The first is that reality doesn’t exist right before your eyes. It is veiled by illusion, and illusion is born of the mind. Here is a list of illusory ideas that countless people live by, today, as much as they did two thousand years ago.
The illusion of inhabiting a separate body.
The illusion of having a separate mind.
The illusion that happiness comes from maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
The illusion that we are alone in the universe, cut off from a higher power or intelligence.
The illusion of death as a great ending.
The illusion that life isn’t fair, due to random chance and accidents.
The illusion that physical objects are the measure of what is real.
The last illusion is called materialism, and it’s not news that it holds sway in modern culture, with enormous validation from science. If you are a strict materialist, all the other illusions on the list will seem like reality instead. As Richard Dawkins and other scientific materialists are quick to argue, “of course” the universe is random, devoid of higher intelligence, and purely physical. “Of course” God is absurd; we are utterly alone, and the best life consists of having the courage to live with this aloneness until death makes its inevitable claim and you are extinguished forever.
Wisdom doesn’t consist in turning materialism on its head and saying no to Dawkins and company (although that might be a good start). Wisdom consists in taking seriously that reality might be different from the daily spectacle that greets our eyes, and then taking the time to seriously investigate the validity of each illusion. Skeptics protest that the whole “perennial philosophy” that espouses wisdom amounts to wishful thinking and empty promises. I think they have it upside down – materialism has promised far more that it can deliver, as witnessed by the epidemic of depression and anxiety in our culture, the rise of chronic stress, and the emptiness that comes from endless consumerism and the pursuit of distractions to fill the hole inside.
The motivation to find a better way existed thousands of years ago under much harsher conditions for the average person, but it hasn’t been extinguished by gaining more creature comforts. the journey to wisdom also happens to be fascinating, because it involves exploring your own consciousness, finding connections to the soul, tapping into the source of cosmic intelligence, and mastering many skills in awareness that are unknown to those who feel satisfied with life on the surface.
“Know thyself” wasn’t wise advice because it told people to learn about their likes and dislikes, to follow the impulses of ego, and to constantly look out for number one. “Know thyself” was wise for telling people to look beyond those things, to find their true selves beneath the distractions and demands of I, me, and mine. In the next post, we’ll examine the rewards of the true self and how they can be achieved.
(To be cont.)