Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Friday, 06 April 2007
Saturday, 07 April 2007 05:57

Wisdom, Knowledge and Power

Francis Bacon is often quoted as saying “knowledge is power.” If I have knowledge that you don’t have, then I have an advantage over you. If I have vital information that I can use I am empowered. If I am left in ignorance about the dangers in my position or about the evil intentions of my enemies, then I may be powerless to counter them. If on the other hand I am acquainted with all the facts that are pertinent, then I have in my power information, tools and weapons I can use to protect myself and advance my position.

Just what is “knowledge”?

My “knowledge” is essentially the sum of all that I know. It is all the information I have about things. It embraces:

facts (all the things I see, hear, read, and experience in any way),

ideas (the data that I create in my mind while thinking about things),

opinions (all the judgments I make about what I know),

principles (all the generalizations about how things should be done, either formulated by myself or accepted from others),

and beliefs (all the information and facts and ideas and opinions and principles that I have not personally experienced or verified, but have learned from others and accept as true or at least as reliable enough to act upon).

Within my knowledge is a vast fund of facts and information that has accumulated over the years. It is one of my valuable assets. It is a treasury that grows every day and it decreases every day as things recede from my memory. But is all this knowledge reliable? Is everything I think I know actually true? Have I possibly been misinformed or made faulty judgments? Are my ideas and opinions sound? Have I sufficiently verified or investigated my principles of conduct and beliefs?

I am not just a depository for knowledge. I am continuously creating new knowledge every time I think about what I know. And I should be continuously evaluating and verifying what I learn and what I think, lest I pass on to others mistaken information or opinions or act to my detriment on data or beliefs that are erroneous.

Every day I am besieged with a deluge of information through conversation, activities, and an endless succession of sounds and sights and by what I read, hear and learn from the information media at my disposal. How much of this is worth adding to my fund of knowledge and how much should I reject as superfluous, frivolous or mistaken? Humans are knowing animals. The trick to being a wise human is knowing what to know and what not to know.

It would seem therefore that “wisdom” is better than “knowledge”, though without knowledge there will not be anything to be wise about.

So, what is “wisdom”?

In a nutshell, “wisdom” is just good judgment or common sense. It is the ability to discern what is true, but more than that, to determine what at any moment is the right and proper thing to do. Without wisdom, knowledge can confuse or mislead.
In the Christian Bible it is written: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). This is another way of saying “Wisdom is doing good, which wins God’s approval, and avoiding evil, which leads to God’s condemnation.”
Buddha has many meaningful injunctions about wisdom:
A wise person has good bodily conduct, verbal conduct and mental conduct. (Ankuttara Nikaya 3:2)
A wise person does not avoid unpleasant things that bring good results nor do pleasant things that bring bad results. (Ankuttara Nikaya 4:115)
Confucius taught that there are three ways of learning wisdom:
reflection, which is the noblest; imitation, which is the easiest; and experience, which is the bitterest.

Finally, what is “power”?
“Power” is having the means and the energy to act upon what one knows. It is more than just strength and ability, but also implies having control and influence over the power of others. It is good or bad depending on the wisdom and knowledge that motivate and guide it.
Wisdom, knowledge and power must go hand in hand. Wisdom without knowledge has nothing to say. Knowledge without wisdom has no direction or purpose. Power without wisdom and knowledge is chaos.

(Picture by Liang Zhun)

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