World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Learning And Practice

When a truth is learned, it must be practiced. Indeed, knowledge that is not put into practice is not truly learned; it soon fades away like a mirage. The person who claims to be wise and devout, but who never acts on his wisdom, is engaging in Hypocrisy, pp. 489-93. Conversely, as the concluding story of Mary and Martha shows, action without learning is also foolish. In the East, people are taught the virtue of being reserved and taciturn in order that they might not display knowledge that they not yet mastered in practice. It is far better first to act on an idea in private and see to its result than to announce it to others while it is yet untested and unmastered. This reserve is especially apt in the case of religious and moral teaching, whose practice is not easy. Only a teacher who has first mastered and embodied his teaching is worthy of respect.

I do act as I talk And live up to my words in deed.

Hinduism. Basavanna, Vachana 440

Tzu-kung asked about the true gentleman. The Master said, "He does not preach what he practices until he has practiced what he preaches."

Confucianism. Analects 2.13

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

Christianity. Matthew 23.2-3

O you who believe, wherefore do you say what you do not? Very hateful is it to God, that you say what you do not.

Islam. Qur'an 61.2-3

Analects 2.13: This is close to the Confucian meaning of sincerity; see Doctrine of the Mean 25, p. 724. Matthew 23.2-3: Cf. Qur'an 26.221-26, p. 444.

Realization of Truth is higher than all else; Higher still is truthful living.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Ashtpadi, M.1, p. 62

Just as a man or a woman has known what is truth, so he or she should practice that truth with zeal, and should teach it those persons who should practice it so, as it is!

Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 35.6

As a flower that is lovely and beautiful, but is scentless, even so fruitless is the well-spoken word of one who does not practice it.

As a flower that is lovely, beautiful and scent-laden, even so fruitful is the well-spoken word of one who practices it.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 51-52

That knowledge is very superficial which remains only on your tongue: the intrinsic merit and value of knowledge is that you act up to it.

Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balaga, Saying 90

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Christianity. James 1.22-24

The Master said, "A gentleman is ashamed to let his words outrun his deeds."

Confucianism. Analects 14.29

Not study is the chief thing, but action; and whoso multiplies words, multiplies sin.

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 1.17

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Christianity. Matthew 7.21

Dhammapada 51-52: Cf. Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom 431, p. 444. James 1.22-24: If a teaching is not put into practice, it may readily be forgotten. This frequently happens to sensitive people who receive spiritual revelations; if not acted upon they rapidly slip away. Cf. James 2.14-26, p. 1009f. Matthew 7.21: Cf. John 9.31, p. 830; James 2.14-26, pp. 1009f.

The Master said, "Do not be to ready to speak of it, lest the doing of it should prove to be beyond your powers."

Confucianism. Analects 14.21

The one who would have the worst position in God's sight on the Day of Resurrection would be a learned man who did not profit from his learning.

Islam. Hadith of Darimi

Though he recites many a scriptural text, but does not act accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who counts others' cattle. He has no share in the fruits of the religious life.

Though he can recite few scriptural texts, but acts in accordance with the teaching, forsaking lust, hatred, and ignorance, with right awareness and mind well emancipated, not clinging to anything here or in the next life, he shares the fruits of the religious life.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 19-20

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

Christianity. Luke 10.38-42

Luke 10.38-42: In this story, Martha's constant serving, though an effort to please the Lord, was out of place. Receiving a new teaching is of special value, during which time life's ordinary duties, even what is regarded as obligatory good practice, should be put aside.


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