The Wisdom in the Pages

Although I have a read a good portion of the Bible, I have spent little time reading the holy books of other religions.  I have read a bit of the Bhagavad Gita as for some reason it was sitting around in my doctor’s office waiting room for awhile.  It’s actually kind of an interesting book.  I science fiction book I had recently read made several references to the Upanisads and the Dhammapada and so I’ve been perusing those books.  It has been interesting reading how other ancient cultures viewed the world.  When you read things from the point of view of somebody from those times, when so very little was known about the world, you can appreciate the contents even though from the perspective of today much of it is nonsense.  There is wisdom to be found there as well, and I found many similarities between the Bible and the Upanisads in terms of the moral lessons it was trying to teach.  There are many possible stories that can teach the same lesson, and it seems pretty clear that even when you suspect they are trying to be literally true, it still represents a best guess, and that what they were really trying to do is find a way of communicating impressions and feelings about the universe even if their literal attempt of an explanation was incomplete.

Recently I was in my local coffee shop working and a group of women sat at the table next to me and they were having a Bible study together.  Although I’d say more than half of the time they were just giggling and talking about things unrelated to the Bible, they did focus on their planned lesson.  Of course this is typical of many Christians in which they have some guide that hand selects of few important verses to focus on so that the entirety of the narrative is not read by the follower.  Like the Upanisads, I expect many church leaders recognize the irrelevance of much of the Bible and would rather not have discussions about many of the passages in the Old testament especially.  Anyway, what was interesting is that when they contemplated the words of a specific verse they would often relate it to experiences in their own life.  As I could not help but overhear, it was fascinating to me how the verses containing some wisdom seemed to be already known by the women, because life lessons had already taught them it was true.  Nevertheless they didn’t seem cognitively aware and put the cart before the horse.  “Look at the wisdom of this book, it is telling me something I already know…genius!”  I think if you are led to believe in the inspiration and greatness of the word of God, it’s hard to think of it as anything but that.  If the wisdom in the pages matches your own experience then this will only give you more respect for the book.

Now it’s not to say that people don’t discover wisdom from holy books.  I am listening to a podcast right now where they are discussing some of the main problems in the field of social psychology in terms of how the work is performed.  One of the main critiques of social psychology is that a field it has actually become too obsessed with the creation of little experiments for the purpose of following the scientific method and almost forcefully trying to demonstrate it’s scientific rigor.  Social psychology is the study of the individual in a societal context and so they ask, why all these experiments, when none of these controlled situations are actually found in a social context?  It’s a valid point.  The hosts of the podcasts were arguing that what is missing from social psychology as compared to other scientific disciplines is scores of observations.  They use the example of Tycho Brahe the famous Dutch astronomer, who really didn’t come up with anything novel on his own, but what he did have was mounds and mounds of careful observations of the stars and planets.  Johannes Kepler was his student and came along and came up with his 3 laws of planetary motion.  It is Kepler’s genius that is recognized today, but he certainly could not have come up his laws without all those observations.  Just as Darwin could not have come up with the theory of evolution without all his observations on the Galapagos.

Astronomy is one of the oldest disciplines because there is little to do at night but look at the stars.  It occurred to me that once you had civilizations and had a certain portion of the population doing the farming, a few who could afford to live a life of leisure had little to do during the day but observe humans.  It seems no surprise to me that wisdom would be found in ancient texts based on many years of observations of people.  Many of us figure things out on our own simply by paying attention to life and taking time to reflect and introspect.  There was no formal scientific method back then, and we certainly aren’t using it in our everyday lives when we come to a conclusion like “Hey, maybe I’m spending too much time worrying about things that are out of my control.  I would be happier if I focused on the moment.”  This is the kind of good stuff we come up with through our experiences, and it seems to me that many of the scholars who wrote religious books were simply story tellers, weaving important moral and ethical lessons into the stories based on their observations of how people behaved and what consequences or rewards befell them.  Whether they were joyful, fulfilled, empty, or anxious.  Most of them I think were simply people who were observing constantly and coming to some conclusions about how to live a better life.

Pay attention, look inward, and talk to others for their stories.  There is wisdom to be found in holy books, but the good news is that you also have a decent chance of figuring it out on your own.

31 thoughts on “The Wisdom in the Pages

  1. It seems history’s parlors of (patriarchal) intellectual discussions — with cigars and brandy or hookahs and tea liberally consumed — have become today’s coffee shops and cafes of trendy chit-chats, huh Swarn?

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the post. I totally concur with its (your) suggestions. You already know I am very fond of history and the sciences so you’ll need to excuse me for repeating myself with two of my favorite quotes I’m sure I’ve shared with you Sir:

    To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history? —-Marcus Tullius Cicero

    Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. —-Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

    Both of these gems go to and corroborate the wisdom in your post I think. The second one, Mark Twain’s, especially so!

    Pay attention, look inward, and talk to others for their stories.

    And the more diverse people/cultures you engage (past or present!), all the better! The larger the number and the more diverse the better!!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Scholars have always been people with more leisure time…for better or for worse. So it makes sense that there were scholars who had time to observe, travel, have long conversations and debate, and have the time to write all these things down. And if course if people are religious, not surprisingly this will also be incorporated into their observations. It’s also not clear that scholars of the past necessarily would find even a lot of value in recording facts and creating narratives that were literally true. They were probably gatherers of stories and attempted to created one master story out of it, or take the moral lessons of stories and retell it according to their own narratives. I am sure that much of this work was impressive to people since most people did not have the time to collect stories and tell their own. GIven how little humans have changed evolutionary we shouldn’t be surprised that human behavior isn’t all that different, yet people think the wisdom in the pages of holy books is surprisingly applicable to life today. Of course, once again we have lots of wisdom that can be ignored. Like going to see your local priest when you get a bad rash as it suggests in Leviticus. And of course people do ignore such things today, and just pick and choose some of the more useless bits whenever they need to justify hate against another group. Or at least that’s the way it seems.

      Thanks for your comments professor!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very welcome Swarn. 🙂

        Like going to see your local priest when you get a bad rash as it suggests in Leviticus. And of course people do ignore such things today, and just pick and choose some of the more useless bits whenever they need to justify hate against another group. Or at least that’s the way it seems.

        Funny you suggest (via inference) that if you are a 6th century BCE thru 4th century CE Jew (Second Temple Period) and get a bad rash, the book of Leviticus directs you to the local Chazzan/priest… I was just writing in my latest blog-post about that very convention, specifically the common Hellenistic convention of cherry-picking. Please bear with me a moment while I elaborate on the historical context of your “pick and choose” truism.

        By the end of the 1st century CE, Hellenic culture, or Greco-Roman pagans/Gentiles loyal to worshiping and giving tributes to their various gods/goddesses as proper Romans constantly dabbled/tinkered with, modified, overhauled, and cherry-picked from new, intriguing foreign cults, practices, and literature to fit or make their own, BUT with a distinctly Hellenic-Roman flavor/preference. This editing habit was especially popular among Rome’s elite, officials, and aristocracy. Controversially, this Hellenic absorption was happening also to Judaism’s Overseas communities (Diaspora) and many Jewish sects in and around Jerusalem were increasingly upset my Hellenism’s and Rome’s intrusions/infections into sacred Torah-Judaism. This lead to increasingly more fraction and disputes between Hellenist (Overseas) Jews and Palestinian Jews (non-Diaspora).

        Therefore, by the time of the 3rd- and 4th-centuries — the beginning and end of debate and selection of the biblical Canon — with most all hardline Palestinian Jews either exterminated, silenced, or gone as refugees, Greco-Roman Archbishops in conjunction with the Emperor’s cherry-picked what they liked from Jewish Messianism, changed what they didn’t or that would not have aligned with a Greco-Roman style of religion, and finally made a completely distinct and entirely different new religion called Christianity. It was nothing at all resembling Yeshua bar Yosef’s (Jesus’) Torah-Judaism, his associations with the Essenes, Ebionites, and Nasara/Nasoraeans/Nazarenes. No, Rome’s Hellenism, Emperors, and Archbishops had successfully hijacked Second Temple Judaism/Messianism and turned it into a completely new, albeit illegitimate, non-Messianic Christology.

        Voilà!! You have the Roman Catholic Church. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Indeed….of course it makes sense that even the assembly of the bible, and the assembly of the parts of each book of the bible were picked from other sources. I had read some of all that from Bart Ehrmann’s book Interrupting Jesus, but it seems like there is even far more cherry picking than just the biblical canon.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Hahahahaha!!! 😄 Oh, it’s not just cherry-picking from 1 or 2 trees Swarn, it is damn near a plantation orchard!!! There are AT LEAST 45+ non-Canonical — Jewish, Judeo-Christian, Hellenic, and Gnostic to name 4 ideologies — gospels, testimonies, epistles, revelations, hymns, and commentaries on Jesus, his nature, his reform teachings, all the Jewish ascetic, rural sects he was certainly associated with, e.g. the Nasoraeans, that the early Apostolic/Patristic Church Fathers loyal to Rome cherry-picked over 400-years!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Swarn, how are you doing? It’s been a while. Thanks for the read. The only thing I can contribute to your fine article is that in (damn, I loathe this word) ‘spiritual’ seeking, most sincere seekers need a teacher to act as a mirror to themselves. We all have blind spots, and the egocentric mind is so good at creating them. Think of all the evil (religious) do-gooders, for example. Then there’s literature, which teaches us so much about human nature, of course — e.g. Richard Rorty.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. most sincere seekers need a teacher to act as a mirror to themselves.

      You are truly wealth of wisdom Hariod! A Fort Knox of golden gems! What a PROFOUND observation you put there. Bravo Sir, bravo. 🙂

      And so true H’ about literature! Great classic literature! — e.g. John Steinbeck. 🙂

      Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won’t all be poor.

      How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.

      …and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. What little I have learned are merely the scant accumulations of interminable years a fellow obligate aerobe thus far plodded and suspirated throughout, Professor. And they only appear to me as worthwhile when I reflect on the massive ignorance of the first few decades, after which I spent thirty years looking in a mirror. And it was horrific.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. If it was your bathroom, ‘mate’, and the two of us were in there, I can tell you this much: my back would be flush to the mirror! o_O But yes, I feel ya Professor (not literally, I’ll keep my distance thank you — currently some 7,000 miles seems safe), we’re almost certainly twinned as ‘mates’ in having . . . no, worse, in consisiting in, horrific pasts.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s a good point and I agree with you. I guess I would say though that source might not always be one person…I’ve always felt that all people can be teachers…everyone has a different lesson to teach….whether they intend to or not. I’ve always felt that there is no one person who I can say is the entire reason for why I’ve grown as a human being. Perhaps there are teachers as you describe that are like one big mirror, and as I’ve never sought such a person I don’t know what I’m missing. I’m content though finding lots of small mirrors that reflect certain parts of myself back. 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by. Your voice is always appreciated!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you, Swarn. There are indeed such teachers, although (I would suggest) they won’t be appropriate for everyone, and they’re outnumbered 80:1 by charlatans, or by those who, whilst sincerely believing themselves to be capable of teaching, in fact have their own blind spots and are driven primarily by a desire for status and prestige, by a need to validate their own false self-assessments of self-knowledge. The problem (as I see it) is that anyone can say the right words, having read or heard them themselves, and with some salesmanship, a little dissembling . . . Yet when one meets a truly qualified teacher, and if the personal chemistry fits, then they really do act like a mirror, and do so with disarming ease and speed. We become as if transparent, whether we want to or not. I agree that we can learn about ourselves from our interactions in the world and with others (I’m essentially an advocate of Enactivism as a theory of consciousness), although it kind of depends on how long we’ve got to discover the truth about ourselves, about the tricks our minds play on us; because that’s a very slow path, and in my view one that most times (yourself and others excepted) leads not too far. Just look around those who you know — how many have fundamentally changed, transformed for the better, beyond the usual and anticipated natural maturations? But we live in an age of individualism, of reification of the personal self and its supposed agency to direct our lives in a free-willed sense. And who wouldn’t want to believe that?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you Hariod for explaining more in depth. I certainly agree that such people likely exist, but like you said, it’s sometimes hard to want to keep looking for real teachers when there are so many fakes. This is why I’ve adopted more of a “lessons happen when you aren’t looking for them” and “reflect on what each person has to offer” rather than think that any one person has all the answers. But what you describe I am quite certain is a real relationship, I’ve just figured that there is more than one way to skin cat…but maybe there isn’t! lol

          although it kind of depends on how long we’ve got to discover the truth about ourselves, about the tricks our minds play on us; because that’s a very slow path,

          It’s funny when you said this, it reminded of something I read in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna tells Arjun about enlightenment and says that some people can reach enlightenment through meditation because they are gifted in some way. For most people enlightenment is only possible by doing good work daily, and taking that slow proof to continual self-improvement. Maybe I simply don’t have it in me to make a large transformation and thus why I’ve never been a seeker of that kind of teacher.

          I have however always been drawn to people who make big transformations. It’s part of the reason why I follow so many people who are deconverts from fundamentalist Christianity. That might not be the kind of transformation you are talking about, but I do think it defies easy explanation in a certain way, because it is a difficult wall to breakthrough. Many people don’t, despite the fact that I think they share similar doubts.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a very special fondness for the Bacchae of Euripides fame, particularly his Bacchae Women! 😁

      But for him who has seen the chaos, there is no more hiding,
      because he knows that the bottom sways and knows what this swaying means.
      Carl Jung, The Red Book

      Liked by 2 people

    2. That’s very true John. Aesop should definitely be up there. I feel like in many ways we live in a society that really doesn’t appreciate stories. Conveying wisdom through stories was the main way we communicated for much of human history and Aesop was a master. Because he didn’t philosophize in the same way as the other great philosophers he doesn’t count I guess. I think there are a lot of great writers who could easily be considered great philosophers. Dostoevsky is one of my personal favorites.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Maybe the problem of social psychology is attempting to study the individual man. Such a creature is hard to come by. The study of man, in my view, must be done in society. So study men in society and you will come with a good enough picture.
    This is an excellent article.
    I think what most believers of holy books miss to account for is that their books don’t precede observations or human experience. They are human books about human affairs. A good place to look is the Koran where a new views abrogates an old one or where Mohammad is said to give justification for an act he had condemned earlier.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Well sociology exists as an academic field and that is the study of the group. Anthropology also tends to act on the group level, paying particular attention to cultural and societal evolution. I think social psychology has value, but I don’t think it’s the case that we are ever going to come up with some sort of universal truths that apply to all humans other than some very basic ones. We all need to eat, we need to have a certain proportion of minerals in our diet, we are social, and other generalities. One individual is too hard to predict completely.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Very interesting! Let’s play a social psychology game 😀
    When Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale it was her reading of a patriarchal society descending into extremism. Does everyone here think her reading makes sense? Does it represent patriarchy as we know it?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. … if you are led to believe in the inspiration and greatness of the word of God, it’s hard to think of it as anything but that.  If the wisdom in the pages matches your own experience then this will only give you more respect for the book.”

    It’s called brainwashing. A ruse by any other name is still a ruse.

    I am definitely a spiritual person with a deep respect for the mystery. And then there is mother nature, presupposing nothing, perpetually residing in is-ness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Bela. I must prefer people being allowed the freedom to explore spirituality on their own. I think many people could do a much better job than what is handed to them by those trying to push their religion on others.

      Thank you for reading and your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. I remember taking my daughters to church one Sunday, as I had been taken as a child, doubting my ability to provide them with a proper spiritual education. But at the end of the day, when I picked them up and they told me what they had learned, I decided never to take them back for further brainwashing. And that was that. They are both well educated and contribute to society in a healing capacity. And they both are in touch with their own deeply spiritual side. So I guess we did OK without the patriarchal dogma. 😬🤗

        Liked by 1 person

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