World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Poverty Of Conceptual Learning

All religions distinguish between intellectual study and the apprehension of spiritual knowledge that is conducive to salvation. Intellectual and conceptual knowledge, for all its utility in the world, does not profit the spiritual seeker, and may even impede the realization of Truth. The gulf between Athens and Jerusalem--between the conceptual systems of secular philosophy and the scriptural truth of Western religions--is the subject of the first group of passages. Against the apparent knowledge through philosophy and scientific reason is placed the seeming folly of the cross, the absurd minutiae of sacrificial lore in the Torah, and the absolute claim of the Word of God. We include several passages on the evils of knowledge that is not restrained or directed by spiritual wisdom: it leads to arrogance, and excessive domination by which people are oppressed and the environment damaged .

Turning to Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Taoism, we find that the truth which is realized in the experience of enlightenment is too profound to be stated in words. Words themselves become impediments to enlightenment when they lead to discriminative thought, attachment to one thing, and aversion to another thing. Thus the Zen koan, "Has a dog the Buddha nature?" only leads the questioner into a welter of mental confusion until he realizes that the way out is beyond any "nothingness" uod as a concept. Words can be at best a vehicle to the meaning that lies beyond, as a finger points to an object beyond itself, or as a raft that carries a man across the stream is discarded once he reaches the other shore.

The poverty of conceptual learning extends to the concepts in scripture. Knowledge of scripture according to the letter is, like any other intellection, defective by itself. Direct intuitive knowledge or inner realization of God is far superior.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Judaism and Christianity. Ecclesiastes 12.12

A thousand and hundred thousand feats of intellect shall not accompany man in the hereafter.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Japuji 1, M.1, p. 1

Whoever goes after unreasonable and unnecessary rationalization will never be able to reach truth.

Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Saying 30

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Judaism and Christianity. Proverbs 9.11

This is true knowledge: to seek the Self as the true end of wisdom always. To seek anything else is ignorance.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.11

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.

Christianity. 1 Corinthians 8.1-3

Rabba ben Rabbi Huna said, "Whoever possesses knowledge of the Torah without having fear of the Lord is likened to a treasurer who has been entrusted with the inner keys of the treasury but from whom the outer keys were withheld."

Judaism. Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Ecclesiastes 12.12: Cf. Isaiah 64.6, p. 411. Japuji 1, M.1: Cf. Ramkali, M.5, p. 62. Proverbs 9.11: Cf. Isaiah 7.9, p. 750; Abot 3.11, p. 770. 1 Corinthians 8.1-3: Cf. Mark 7.6-7, pp. 489f.; 2 Corinthians 3.6, p. 804; Sutta Nipata 798, p. 65; Tao Te Ching 71, p. 915; Kena Upanishad 2.1-3, p. 87.

Rabbi Eleazar Hisma said, "Offerings of birds and purifications of women, these, yea these, are the essential precepts. Astronomy and geometry are but fringes to wisdom."

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 3.23

My now-deceased mother really scolded me. She said, "Go away somewhere into the wilderness, since all you seem to do is look at books. For all the days to come you will be pitiful because the book blocks your path. Never will anything be revealed to you in a vision, for you live like a white man."

Native American Religions. Delaware Testimony

Perfected is the Word of your Lord in truth and justice. There is naught that can change His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower. If you obeyed most of those on earth they would mislead you far from God's way; they follow naught but an opinion, and they do but guess.

Islam. Qur'an 6.115-16

True words are not fine-sounding; Fine-sounding words are not true. The good man does not prove by argument; And he who proves by argument is not good. True wisdom is different from much learning; Much learning means little wisdom.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 81

Human philosophy has made God manlike. Christian Science makes man Godlike. The first is error; the latter is truth. Metaphysics is above physics, and matter does not enter into metaphysical premises or conclusions. The categories of metaphysics rest on one basis, the divine Mind.

Christian Science. Science and Health, 269

The Unification Church is a school far greater than Harvard or Yale or Princeton, and is a place where only the elite of the universe can enroll. Harvard University can graduate a Ph.D., but that person can only turn around and teach theories on a blackboard. Even a thousand Harvards cannot create one son of God, but our school turns out sons of God every day.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 5-1-77

Abot 3.23: Offerings and purity laws are God's commandments in scripture, while the sciences are knowledge of human devising. Qur'an 6.115-16: Cf. Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 1, p. 87. Tao Te Ching 81: Cf. Tao Te Ching 71, p. 915; Chuang Tzu 2, p. 181; 13, p. 220; Gauri Sukhmani 12, M.5, p. 915.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For the Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Christianity. 1 Corinthians 1.20-25

Know verily that knowledge is of two kinds: divine and satanic. The one wells out from the fountain of divine inspiration; the other is but a reflection of vain and obscure thoughts. The source of the former is God Himself; the motive force of the latter the whisperings of selfish desire. The one is guided by the principle: "Fear God; God will teach you"; the other is but a confirmation of the truth: "Knowledge is the most grievous veil between man and his Creator." The former brings forth the fruit of patience, of longing desire, of true understanding, and love; while the latter can yield naught but arrogance, vainglory, and conceit.

Baha'i Faith. Book of Certitude, 69

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Christianity. James 3.13-18

"Some say that broad learning is an impediment in the study of Shinto; is that really so?"

"It is not extensive learning itself which is an impediment. It all depends on the mind of the scholar with such erudition, whether it becomes a benefit or a hindrance. Learning has as its original function knowledge of the way of mankind, becoming familiar with all the things within the realm, and producing human virtue. In spite of this fact, current scholarship concerns itself with matters of absolutely no value to the way of man, aiming merely for the approbation of fellow scholars, becoming merely a tenacious attachment to books, and thus dark and confused, without any illumination at all. Such is an evil to Shinto."

Shinto. Ieyuki Asai, Precepts of Divine Learning

1 Corinthians 1.20-25: Cf. 1 Corinthians 2.6-10, p. 538; Dhammapada 63, p. 915. Book of Certitude, 69: Cf. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 128, p. 793; Book of Certitude, 68-69, p. 805. James 3.13-18: Cf. Galatians 5.19-23, p. 465; Mark 7:6-7, pp. 489f.

Of all things seen in the world Only mind is the host; By grasping forms according to interpretation It becomes deluded, not true to reality.

All philosophies in the world Are mental fabrications; There has never been a single doctrine By which one could enter the true essence of things.

By the power of perceiver and perceived All kinds of things are born; They soon pass away, not staying, Dying out instant to instant.

Buddhism. Garland Sutra 10

As long as men in high places covet knowledge and are without the Way, the world will be in great confusion. How do I know this is so? Knowledge enables men to fashion bows, crossbows, nets, stringed arrows, and like contraptions, but when this happens the birds flee in confusion to the sky. Knowledge enables men to fashion fishhooks, lures, seines, dragnets, trawls, and weirs, but when this happens the fish flee in confusion to the depths of the water. Knowledge enables men to fashion pitfalls, cages, traps, and gins, but when this happens the beasts flee in confusion to the swamps. And the flood of rhetoric that enables men to invent wily schemes and poisonous slanders, the glib gabble of "hard" and "white," the foul fustian of "same" and "different," bewilder the understanding of common men. So the world is dulled and darkened by great confusion. The blame lies in the coveting of knowledge.

In the world everyone knows enough to pursue what he does not know, but no one knows enough to pursue what he already knows. Everyone knows enough to condemn what he takes to be no good, but no one knows enough to condemn what he has already taken to be good. This is how the great confusion comes about, blotting out the brightness of sun and moon above, searing the vigor of hills and streams below, overturning the round of the four seasons in between. There is no insect that creeps and crawls, no creature that flutters and flies, that has not lost its inborn nature. So great is the confusion of the world that comes from coveting knowledge!

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 10

Lord Mahavira said to Gautama, "When Dharma is not seen by the seer directly it is seen through the wire mesh of words. Conjecture is the wire mesh that covers that window. Multiple sects and systems result from such an indirect observation. The path suggested to you, Gautama, is the direct path of the seer. Be vigilant and a seer of Dharma."

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10.31

Garland Sutra 10: Cf. Lankavatara Sutra 63, p. 155. Chuang Tzu 10: Cf. Tao Te Ching 18-19, p. 294; Chuang Tzu 13, p. 220.

Knowledge is of five kinds, namely: sensory knowledge, scriptural knowledge, clairvoyance, telepathy, and omniscience. These five kinds of knowledge are of two types: the first two kinds are indirect knowledge and the remaining three constitute direct knowledge. In sensory knowledge... there is only the apprehension of indistinct things.... But clairvoyance, telepathy, and omniscience is direct knowledge; it is perceived by the soul in a vivid manner without the intermediary of the senses or the scriptures.

Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 1.19-29

The kami-faith is caught, not taught.

Shinto. Proverb

A monk asked Joshu, "Has a dog the Buddha nature?" Joshu answered, "Mu."

Mumon's comment: To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking.

Buddhism. Mumonkan 1

Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata conceives the idea: I must set forth a Teaching. For if anyone says that the Tathagata sets forth a Teaching he really slanders Buddha and is unable to explain what I teach. As to any Truth-declaring system, Truth is undeclarable; so "an enunciation of Truth" is just a name given to it.

Buddhism. Diamond Sutra 21

Tattvarthasutra 1.19-29: Omniscience, the highest form of knowledge, is attained only by a perfected soul. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3.6, p. 804. Mumonkan 1: 'Mu' means emptiness, but emptiness cannot be realized conceptually. Proper meditation requires complete denial of the intellect. Cf. the commentary to this koan, p. 841; Lankavatara Sutra 63, p. 155; Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 5, p. 90. Diamond Sutra 21: This and all the Perfection of Wisdom sutras are written for the student who is aspiring for truth; there is nothing nihilistic about them. But since truth is based in sunyata, this text advises that 'an enunciation of truth' is also empty and not to be made an object of grasping. Cf. Lankavatara Sutra 61, p. 634f. Mumonkan 6, p. 819; Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 5, p. 90; Kena Upanishad 2.1-3, p. 87; Seng ts'an, pp. 221f. Mulamadhyamaka Karika 24.8-12, pp. 1021f.

It is because every one under heaven recognizes beauty as beauty that the idea of ugliness exists. And if every one recognized virtue as virtue, this would merely create fresh conceptions of wickedness. For truly, "Being and Not-being grow out of one another: Difficult and easy complete one another. Long and short test one another; High and low determine one another. Pitch and mode give harmony to one another, Front and back give sequence to one another." Therefore the Sage relies on actionless activity, And carries on wordless teaching.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 2

Mahamati, the Tathagatas do not teach a doctrine that is dependent upon letters. As to letters, their being or non-being is not attainable; it is otherwise with thought that is never dependent upon letters. Again, Mahamati, anyone that discourses on a truth that is dependent upon letters is a mere prattler because truth is beyond letters. For this reason, it is declared in the canonical text by myself and other Buddhas and bodhisattvas that not a letter is uttered or answered by the Tathagatas. For what reason? Because truths are not dependent on letters....

Therefore, Mahamati, let the son or daughter of a good family take good heed not to get attached to words as being in perfect conformity with meaning, because truth is not of the letter. Be not like the one who looks at the fingertip. When a man with his fingertip points out something to somebody, the fingertip may be taken wrongly for the thing pointed at. In like manner, simple and ignorant people are unable even unto their death to abandon the idea that in the fingertip of words there is the meaning itself, and will not grasp ultimate reality because of their intent clinging to words, which are no more than the fingertip.... Be not like one who, grasping his own fingertip, sees the meaning there. You should rather energetically discipline yourself to get at the meaning itself.

Buddhism. Lankavatara Sutra 76

Tao Te Ching 2: Cf. Tao Te Ching 18-19, p. 294; 48, p. 898; Chuang Tzu 2, p. 67; 2, p. 181; Katha Upanishad 2.1.10-11, p. 588. Lankavatara Sutra 76: Cf. Lankavatara Sutra 61, pp. 634f.; Mumonkan 6, p. 819; Zohar, Numbers 152a, p. 804.

"O monks, a man is on a journey. He comes to a vast stretch of water. On this side the shore is dangerous, but on the other it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to the other shore which is safe and without danger, nor is there any bridge for crossing over. He says to himself, 'This sea of water is vast, and the shore on this side is full of danger; but on the other shore it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to the other side, nor is there a bridge for crossing over. It would be good therefore if I would gather grass, wood, branches, and leaves to make a raft, and with the help of the raft cross over safely to the other side, exerting myself with my hands and feet.' Then that man gathers grass, wood, branches, and leaves and makes a raft, and with the help of that raft crosses over safely to the other side, exerting himself with his hands and feet. Having crossed over and got ten to the other side, he thinks, 'This raft was of great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I carry this raft on my head or on my back wherever I go.'

"What do you think, O monks: if he acted in this way would that man be acting properly with regard to the raft?"

"No, Sir."

"In which way, then, would he be acting properly with regard to the raft? Having crossed and gone over to the other side, suppose that man should think, 'This raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I beached this raft on the shore, or moored it and left it afloat, and then went on my way wherever it may be.' Acting in this way would that man act properly with regard to the raft.

"In the same manner, O monks, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft--it is for crossing over, and not for carrying. You who understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up attachment to even the good Dhamma; how much more then should you give up evil things."

Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.134-35: Parable of the Raft

The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 26

Majjhima Nikaya i.134-35: Cf. Dhammapada 85-86, p. 541; Bhagavad Gita 2.42-46, pp. 805f.; Mulamadhyamaka Karika 24.8-12, pp. 1021f.


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