Welcome to the Wisdom Circle at Open Sanctuary in 2022. We begin on the 3rd Saturday of March at 3.00pm, and thereafter on the following Saturdays: April 9th, May 14th, June 4th, July 2nd, August 6th, September 10th, October 8th, November 12th. Monthly bulletins will be sent out the week before each Circle is due, and published on the Wisdom Blog page. The times will also be on the Events Calendar on this site.
The Wisdom Circle is a development of the program we held last year entitled Preparing for Parousia. We could not complete the program because of Covid, but its theme will carry on into the Wisdom Circles. That theme is one worth being more aware of: that human consciousness has evolved from a state in which we felt we fully participated in the rhythms of the Cosmos, emotionally and spiritually, as well as bodily and physically, to a state in which we think of ourselves as beings over and against Nature, endowed with extraordinary knowledge that allows us to interact with the world with intention and power and make it our own.
While acknowledging the great scope of our scientific knowledge and the power it gives us to act, many have also realized that it is how we have used this knowledge that has also brought us to the edge of the unimaginable crisis the world now faces. At the heart of this crisis is the lack of a different sort of knowledge, knowledge that informs us how best to act in a way that is best, or at least better, for everyone. This sort of knowledge has been traditionally called Wisdom. We need desperately to learn how to cultivate Wisdom in our individual and collective lives, and encourage others to do the same. Wisdom takes account of the Whole; Science takes account primarily of the Parts. Science and technology are means to ends, ends which can be for good or ill depending on the motives and intentions of those using those means. Wisdom, on the other hand, can determine ends, ends that are in the best interest of the Whole. There is no such thing as self-interested Wisdom; on the other hand, cunning is inherently self-interested.
The human faculty we all have, developed more in some than in others, and which is central to all this is imagination. Both Science and Wisdom are dependent on imagination. Copernicus and Kepler imagined themselves as observers on the Sun; Einstein imagined himself at the edge of the Universe travelling at the speed of light. Wise men and women of all ages have imagined themselves as other people, even animals and other forms of life and then seeing something from that point of view. But the imaginations of Science and Wisdom do not have a free reign, unlike the imagination of artists and Art. They are answerable to an order which seems to be inherent in the Universe.
The imagination of Science has to conform to rational discourse, and the most rational discourse we have is the language of mathematics. It is when we can reduce natural phenomena to mathematics that we feel we are really dealing with truth. If this reduction cannot happen, or has not happened yet, the language used has to have a logic about it that we can rest in and feel satisfied that all concepts and connections make sense.
So also with Wisdom. The imagination of Wisdom must conform to those things that enable individuals and communities to at least survive if not thrive; individuals in community, not individuals using community for their own ends. The ideals are such things as service, friendship, empathy, love and goodwill. Where Wisdom is cultivated and pursued, these ideals will flourish as realities. Where Wisdom is neglected, other ideas and forces will prevail and rules have to be introduced to curb actions and behaviours that are destructive or fragmenting of the community.
Some rules such as Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative embody a Wisdom (act only on the maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.) He believed a categorical imperative is a rule of conduct that is unconditional or absolute for all agents, the validity or claim of which does not depend on any desire or end. Alas, such an understanding is a self conscious commitment each individual has to make; it requires people who want the good for themselves and others. So rules about the actions of human beings where there is no inspiration and commitment to the good require to be enforced in some way, by government, by rulers, by institutions, by God. The rules are in the form of ‘do not do this, or do not do that’ and the consequence of not obeying is punishment of some sort, including loss of privilege, fines, prison, Hell. Such rules cannot inspire the good; they penalise the bad in the hope of arresting their destructive influence.
Over the thousands of years human beings have walked the Earth, other means of holding communities together developed. We will be looking at some of these in the Wisdom Circles. The most important is possibly ritual sacrifice, which is the heart and core of archaic religion and which lingers on even to our day in various ways. Scapegoating is still an important process in the survival of institutions and sports, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes planned, sometimes institutionalised. The scapegoating of the Jews by the Nazis is the last great national example of this means to survive, driven by fear and the very opposite of Wisdom. This sort of religion is seldom wise.
Wisdom seems to have its own life. Traditionally we have understood Philosophy as the love of Wisdom. But it would make as much sense to think Philosophy meant the Wisdom of Love. There is an element of spontaneity in Wisdom, such as sudden inspiration or intuition when the reality of an Other or the Whole is seen. It is symbolised in a mother’s love for her child, the innocence of a dove, the willy-ness of a serpent. It can lead to self transcendence where in our wise action we actually grow in our capacities to engage effectively. We are a bigger person, seeing and understanding more. And there may be very little scientific knowledge involved in this. But scientific knowledge may then support and help us in our action through its power and usefulness.
One of the questions that will abide with the Wisdom Circles is whether or not there is a single concept that captures the Whole of Everything, to finally centre Wisdom. We will be dealing with parts and wholes, and with holons which are wholes that are also parts of bigger wholes. Do holons ever find a final Whole?
The famous astronomer Fred Hoyle said in 1949 that when planet Earth could be photographed from outer space, human consciousness would undergo a very significant shift. The human race would stand outside itself as never before. The photographic image of our beautiful planetary home, hanging magically in endless space, is now a symbol of a truly significant Whole that all our actions must take into account if we are to survive. I believe Hoyle was right. So our Wisdom Circles will be an actual circle around a representation of the Planet. We can think of ourselves as humans in space looking down, or gods of old watching over the human race. Nothing need be excluded. Everything is part of the Whole that is our Planet, from its formation in our solar system, in our Milky Way Galaxy, in our Virgo Cluster, in our entire Cosmos, down to our time now when we can all claim our fundamental identity as human beings living on little Planet Earth.
God and 'gods' have played a very big role in our human story, and they are necessarily part of a Wisdom Circle. What has been meant by God and gods has taken on many forms. In our modern scientific world, God and gods have been excluded just about altogether, in part because of the prevailing belief that the really, real world is the physical world where only things that can be measured and reduced to mathematics really exist. You can’t do that with God and gods, so they don’t exist; but you can’t do it either with human consciousness, and that exists. Science does try to pick itself up by its own bootstraps in claiming the only real world is the physical world. In truth the physical world is an abstraction from the world of our actual experience, our experience of subjective consciousness of the world we live in. We are still not there in fully appreciating the significance of this; but consciousness studies are now at last one of the great frontiers of human thought.
To be truly inclusive Wisdom must include this world of subjective human consciousness and consciousness in general, even if Science excludes or downplays it. Despite the huge influence that physical science has had on our subjective experience by the denial of mind and spirit in favour of a central nervous system and brain, God and 'gods' live on in different ways in peoples’ minds and experiences, and they may yet make a big comeback, not as before institutionally or otherwise but in new understandings and appreciation of universal figures, symbols and energies of love and Wisdom. Even the word 'God' may find a final resting place, but I think it will be a resting place not much like the catholic church or conservative evangelicalism or radical Islam or orthodox Judaism. It will be a fully inclusive 'God', at least as inclusive as the Cosmos. Nonetheless the 'gods' of catholicism, conservative evangelicalism, Islam and Judaism, and all the other 'gods' that have existed in the human story are all valid parts of that story, along with how they have succeeded or failed to succeed in capturing something of the Mystery we all live in.
I would like to warmly invite you to come and be part of the Wisdom Circle at Open Sanctuary. I intend to make it interesting and fun, challenging and hopeful, as best I can. And what you think and feel can be an important contribution to the process. We may even become a little bit wiser, hopefully.