The third speaker was James Lin, a Methodist minister from Ukiah, who also teaches at Mendocino College. He alluded to an ancient Greek myth, saying that our information-gathering society has in fact opened up Pandora's box [from which all misfortunes tormenting humankind emerged]. He suggested going back to some more ancient understandings. In most religions today there are two streams. The first is 'conventional wisdom' that provides safety and security, keeps the status quo going. This is something everybody knows and is socialized to. The second is a kind of 'subversive wisdom', an alternative to the familiar and practical conventional wisdom. There is always a tension between these two.
Biblical knowledge is an intimate, relational kind of knowledge, it has to do with relationships between people and relationships within oneself. The modern world has taken us away from this, and now scientific analysis has gotten to the point of "paralysis of analysis", where people cannot relate to each other in significant ways. Most religions teach a Wayhe Dharma of Buddhism, the Li of Confucianism, the Torah of Judaism, the Dao of Daoism. This is the way we are to relate to other people, to the universe, to the natural world, to ourselves, and to God which is beyond ourselves. All religions develop a lot of conventional wisdom. Then a reformer comes along with subversive wisdom, opens up new opportunities, and helps us get through the body of knowledge that traps us in conventional wisdom.
The next speaker was Mr. Hudaya Kandahjaya, who teaches a course in History of Buddhism at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. He illustrated the intricacies of knowledge and wisdom with a 3-D picture postcard of a Buddha image, where you can only see the background picture emerge, if you can focus your eyes properly. But our eyes and mind are so used to seeing only what we are used to seeing that changing the focus is not easy. When we talk about knowledge and wisdom we are actually talking about our way of dealing with the environment, our way of observing and understanding.
Then Mr. Kandahjaya brought out a Japanese scroll on which the character 'a' was written in Sanskrit. This scroll has been transmitted from India to China to Japan and is a meditational object of the esoteric Shingon [in Chinese 'zhen yen', true words] school of Japanese Buddhism. Meditation on the character 'a' was to reveal the source of everything, the beginning of the universe. Then he took out a CD-ROM disk that contained the entire Chinese Tripitaka, 54 million characters, from a text originally printed in Korea during the 11th century. The audience could now view these two objects from centuries apart side by side. Yet, ultimately, what is the difference between the 54 million characters on the disk and the single character 'a' painted on the scroll?
Terri Nicholson, principal of Instilling Goodness Girls' school, told the audience a short story about her husband, Alan Nicholson. The previous weekend Alan, who leads a busy life with a family and several jobs, had been working on a house, putting up a roof. Suddenly he saw a lizard down on the ground, frantically running back and forth from one spot to another, stopping for a second and then dashing off to another place. All of a sudden, as he looked at the lizard, Alan felt embarrassed. He realized that most of us are like this lizard, spending our lives frantically running from one thing to another. First we want to get this job, then we decide to have a BA, then a MA, then we decide we'd rather be in business, or pursue something else... We rush from one thing to another without much of a center, without much meaning in our life.
In this age of constant information and exposure to many different cultures we tend to grasp more, know more things, have more experiences, but as a result we lose our center. It is now harder than ever for us to slow down, find the center. Wisdom is knowing what we are doing and why, in a bigger sense: What am I here for? What was I born of? What am I doing to make my life worthwhile? Really understanding that deeply is what wisdom is all about.
Heng Lyu Shr, abbot of the CTTB, thanked the speakers for their contributions. He quoted the saying "knowledge is power", meaning knowledge of things we need to live in this society. Having or not having wisdom depends on how one uses one's knowledge. If knowledge is used with anger and greed, it becomes stupidity. The mantra for stupidity goes simply "Greed, greed, anger, anger, sa po he." Knowledge can turn one into either a wise or a stupid person. As he got enlightened, the Buddha said: "All living beings have the wisdom of the Thus Come One; but because they are covered by false thinking and attachments, they do not understand."
The rest of the evening was taken up by questions from the students, addressed to the panelists. Various topics were touched on or expanded. Articulating or defining wisdom is always difficult, since wisdom is intuitive. James Lin expounded on the differences between conventional and subversive wisdom: "Grace is always undermining the little morality systems that we develop". Answering a question on how to avoid being a lizard, Terri Nicholson pointed out that in life the process is just as important as where we are going to. Where you are right now, how you act and relate to others is just as important as finding your goal or anything that is going to happen in the future. "This is it, right here." Having that focus, living the moment to the fullest and being the very best person we can is the best way to avoid running back and forth without any meaning.
Answering a question on how to break down barriers between people and groups, the panelists emphasized reducing killing karma by becoming vegetarian, overcoming stereotypes by getting to know people of other faiths better, and putting wisdom back into the educational system. On this note of educational reform, of directing knowledge towards gaining wisdom, the evening's discussion was brought to a close.