When it comes to wisdom, our newly connected world gives us click-button access to more than we know what to do with. If you do a little searching around you can find a wealth of wisdom from just about every time period and all across the globe.
The only problem is, these various sages and their traditions at large spoke different languages, had different backgrounds and lived at all different times throughout the history of humankind.
But if you look closely, through the guise of language, culture, and time, you can see very much the same wisdom being echoed across virtually every spiritual tradition that has existed. Some you need to dig a little deeper, and in some, it's still right out in the open in pristine condition. But in either case- they all have it.
Because these sages echo the same principles, it can often seem like you're following an invisible trail laid out by these sages of the past.
These are your, and my, "spiritual ancestors". By that I mean these people have gone through the same journey to wisdom which you're going through now, and in that you can connect with them and feel their guidance.
10 Pieces of Wisdom from 10 Enlightened Sages
This list is just touching on the wealth of wisdom that now exists at your fingertips with the advent of the internet. No matter who you are, what religious (or non-religious) or spiritual background you come from you can find someone whom you identify with that can show you the path to wisdom within your own tradition (or non-tradition).
It's not always clean, it can be messy searching for the truth. But it's there, you just have to do the work and look not only at the various teachings closely but also at yourself.
Use this information to begin the "journey to yourself" so to speak. Because when it comes down to it, that's what the journey to wisdom is- the journey to discovering your true self.
1. You are your own best friend - Chogyam Trungpa
Chogyam Trungpa is someone who has greatly inspired me, so much so that one of the modules of Journey to the Present Moment is not only named, but built, in honor of his teachings ("The Warrior's Path").
Chogyam Trungpa was a Tibetan Buddhist monk trained traditionally in Tibet just before the Chinese invasion. After being in the West for some time, building countless meditation centers all throughout the West, he eventually created his own set of teachings which he called "Shambhala Training", named after the legendary enlightened kingdom and with his vision of helping create an enlightened society in mind.
One of the simplest and most practical of those being that the first and most important aspect of spiritual practice, or the journey to greater wisdom, which is to make friends with yourself.
You know everything about yourself.
No one knows better the incredible light that exists within you and no one else knows your deepest and darkest secrets like you do either. We're either our own best friends or our own worst enemies (usually, a combination of both).
The reality is, most of us are not the greatest friends with ourselves. We criticize ourselves and mistreat our bodies and minds in numerous ways. We know we were meant for something greater, but life has beat us down so much that we've stopped believing.
By closely and honestly analyzing ourselves with mindfulness and various forms of meditation, developing greater self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-love, we can find the only friend we've ever needed- ourselves.
This, to me, is one of the most important teachings of all. The path to greater wisdom, which I'll mention in proceeding points, is very much about releasing the ego and coming into a greater or "larger" existence.
It's often the ego which is the very reason we're so hard on ourselves, constantly trying to get us to "fit" into some specific mold which we think we're supposed to fit into in order to fill the feeling of "something" missing, when the reality is we were already beautiful and whole to begin with. If we can make friends with ourselves, nothing can stop us.
Our greatest obstacles don't exist outside- in the guns, bombs, name calling, corruption, and aggression of the world. Our greatest obstacle is ourself, from which anger and fear spawn each and every one of those things.
Making friends with ourselves allows us to face our anger, fear, and imperfection wholly and stop being critical of ourselves and the world around us. This is nothing less than a revolution from within.
2. Study the self - Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi was a great Hindu teacher who resided on the holy Arunachala Hill in India for essentially the entirety of his adult life, from the time he was 18 until his death in 1950 (never leaving even once).
Through the course of his life, he attracted swarms of devotees, including many Westerners, some of whom would eventually write books based on his life and teachings and gain Sri Ramana considerable attention.
Sri Ramana's most integral teaching was of the absolute self. Not the self as in you or I, but what he referred to as (in what little words he did speak) the non-personal, all-inclusive awareness.
His teachings, as well as the Buddha's and many other sage's teachings, centered around dissolving the illusion of the ego-self and realizing the true self- the permanent, omnipresent awareness or consciousness which we all arises from.
"Who am I?" is a set of questions put together by Sri Ramana in order to guide a seeker of wisdom to a deeper level of understanding and self-awareness. Each question leads into the next, starting with the most important question of all, who am I?
Self-inquiry is at the heart of essentially all wisdom traditions, and arguably the most important aspect of most. Self-inquiry is the very key which allows us to completely transform how we see the world around us. Or most specifically, it allows us to gain clarity and finally see the world around us, including ourselves, for what it was all along.
3. Dissolve the ego - The Buddha
"Happy are those who have overcome their egos; happy are those who have attained peace; happy are those who have found the Truth."
The Buddha (among many other spiritual teachers) taught that the ego is the one and only hindrance to us realizing enlightenment and discovering our true selves.
The ego is the illusory "I" which permeates everything that we do. It makes us feel separate from those around us, creates hostility between people, makes us critical of ourselves and encourages us to resist against the natural flow of things, and is especially difficult to separate ourselves from.
This is why the Buddha, and the Hindu Yogi's before him, used meditation and various methods of self-inquiry in order to systematically dismantle the ego.
If you look closely in your own life, you'll see that the ego has affected you negatively as well. It may take time, but if you work diligently to reduce the hold the ego has on you, you'll realize a greater and greater sense of peace and unity with the world around you.
4. Love. Love yourself, love your neighbor, love your enemy, love all - Jesus Christ
"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Much of what Jesus spoke of parallels what the Buddha and countless other spiritual teachers before and after him spoke of as well.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to know what words were his and what words were simply attributed to him by previous editors of the Bible with less-than-pure intentions, but one thing is for certain: Jesus was a very loving and very enlightened teacher.
Probably his most iconic teachings are on love and equality. Jesus treated everyone equally, even if they were tax collectors and prostitutes. He understood that everyone shined with the same light, and treated them as such.
Much of the conflicts that arise in the world today come from people thinking that they're different from one another.
Naturally, that makes us feel uncomfortable. And sometimes, if anger and an inability to handle emotions skillfully is thrown into the mix, that can be a lethal combination.
By following the path of self-inquiry, seeking to dissolve the ego, and realizing your interbeing with all other living and non-living beings, you'll see that this isn't the way to peace and happiness.
The only way is love, and the way to cultivate that love is through understanding.
5. We are one (treat you as I and I as you) - Rumi
The Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, generally referred to as just "Rumi", has made a huge impact not only in the East but also in the West. Rumi not only brought people of many different nationalities and religious traditions together while he was alive but has continued to do so centuries after his death.
Rumi's teachings boil down to removing those blocks (namely: the ego) which keep you from realizing perfect love for God, primarily done through direct experience of ordinary activities like serving others.
It doesn't take a translator to see that the general idea of Sufi, and Rumi's, teachings sound an awful lot like the path to wisdom which the other sages and spiritual teachers I've mentioned thus far have followed and taught, only told from the point of view of a different language and culture, so naturally different words and points of view. Ultimately, these are all just different interpretations of the same one thing.
Rumi was known in his lifetime for promoting equality among people, whether of a different nationality or religious tradition. To this day, Rumi is the best-selling poet in the United States, and he wrote this on the subject:
Why think thus O men of piety
I have returned to sobriety
I am neither a Moslem nor a Hindu
I am not Christian, Zoroastrian, nor Jew
Rumi understood that we all come from the same source, and that makes us one great big family. To live in this way brings great joy, as opposed to living life thinking that even the next country over is some different breed of human, completely opposite of you with different beliefs and ideas contrary to your own.
To live in this way damages not just those whom you oppose, but yourself as well as everyone around you that you love. Anything that creates this sort of "friction" and negative energy needs to be understood as against the "natural way of things".
To live with love, understanding, and compassion for others, even those of different cultures and religious/spiritual traditions, is the way life should be lived.
Why do various traditions exist when we're all saying the same thing? Because diversity is the flavor of life. It makes things more enjoyable. And really, life is just one big play. To paraphrase Alan Watts: "It's trying to see how jazzed-up it can get."
6. Realize yourself as a reflection of the all (and live in a way that expresses that light) - Alan Watts
“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”
Alan Watts was one of just a handful of key figures in bringing the philosophies and spiritual traditions of the East to Western audiences, especially Zen Buddhism, and he's someone who's had a significant effect on me.
One of my favorite analogies is the analogy he uses to explain our place in the world or our "true nature". He says that we're like billions of tiny droplets of water (think water droplets hanging on a leaf), each and every one of us is a complete reflection of the ultimate (whatever you choose to call that).
Or in other words, all of life exists within us at once- each and every one of us. We're all a perfect image of the complete wonder of life itself. Most importantly, we should realize this and begin to live in a way that expresses this boundless light.
We spend so much of our time worried about small things, kicking ourselves over small mistakes and our imperfections, regretting the past, and worried about the future.
Most of us rarely, if ever, take a second to stop and just sit in the wonders of this moment, and to feel ourselves an inseparable part of that perfect moment. To live in a way that you strive to realize this in every moment brings a great sense of joy to every day of your life.
7. Wisdom is found in our everyday lives (lived deeply) - Meister Eckhart
“Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.”
Meister Eckhart is a Christian mystic who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries. Since his passing his popularity has spread throughout the West and the East, and many modern seekers credit Eckhart as being one of their major influences.
Eckhart Tolle, the great modern sage, was born Ulrich Leonard Tolle, and later changed his name in large part due to the influence Meister Eckhart had on him.
Meister Eckhart, like so many others especially in Buddhism (particularly Zen), discovered that a spiritual practice based on a more active, or "normal", life (everyday life) can be even greater than one based on the traditional reclusive and contemplative lifestyle many spiritual seekers believe they need to lead.
Meister Eckhart was one of many teachers to show us that, while solitary contemplation is important, wisdom and the sacred can and should be discovered right here in our normal, everyday life.
8. Life is Meditation (It all comes down to the right state of mind) - Huineng
Huineng is the 6th and last patriarch of Zen, and the person many consider to be the father of modern Zen. Virtually everything we know about Huineng comes from the Buddhist "Platform" Sutra, which is a collection of talks given by Huineng at a temple in Canton, China somewhere between the 8th and 13th centuries.
Huineng taught that meditation (Ch'an in Chinese) should be practiced at all times, not just during formal sitting (sound familiar?).
He stressed that it's the attitude of mind that's important, and not the physical posture or position because truth can be found while sitting, walking, standing, or lying down (the Buddha's Four Noble Postures).
What attitude of mind is that? Pure awareness. Living each moment mindfully aware of your thoughts, words, and actions and the deeper meaning and significance behind them (specifically, whether they arise from the ego or your true nature).
It's this state of mind which allows us to remove the barriers keeping us from greater levels of understanding. And this state of mind isn't just cultivated while sitting in meditation, we can live every moment of our lives in this way.
This really helps cut through to the essence of meditation and show it for what it is- adopting a specific attitude of mind, instead of some ritual with a specific posture and positioning.
Of course, this doesn't mean that life literally is meditation just as it is and that you don't have to do anything and you're somehow already living your meditation every day, but it does mean that we can make life into meditation by adopting the right state of mind while doing just about anything.
If evil flowers bloom in the mind-ground, Five blossoms flower from the stem. Together they will create the karma of ignorance; Now the mind-ground is blown by the winds of karma.
If correct flowers bloom in the mind ground, Five blossoms flower from the stem. Together they practice the prajna wisdom; In the future this will be the enlightenment of the Buddha.
Below are links hand-picked by me for the various sages referenced above. If you're interested in learning more about one or more of them I'd suggest starting with the links below:
- Chogyam Trungpa - Shambhala.org and Chogyam Trungpa Amazon Author Page (Like Watts, lots of great books here. I'd suggest Meditation in Action, Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior, and Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism)
- Sri Ramana Maharshi - SriRamanaMaharshi.org (My suggestion: navigate to Teachings > Instructions > then locate the small book image for "Who am I?" and click to download)
- Buddha - The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings (A clear and straightforward explanation of the Buddha's teachings from the words of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh himself)
- Jesus Christ - The Third Jesus, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, and Living Buddha, Living Christ (I'd suggest this one on audio. Not only does Ben Kingsley himself narrate it, but the bell sounding in between sections really helps deepen the experience of listening to the book on audio)
- Rumi - WhirlingDervishes.org - The Life of Rumi and The Essential Rumi
- Alan Watts - AlanWatts.com and Alan Watts Amazon Author Page (Lots of great books and audio. I'd suggest the Out of Your Mind audio collection and The Way of Zen)
- Meister Eckhart - The Eckhart Society
- Huineng - The Platform Suttra translation on Amazon.com