The Essence of Wisdom

The Essence of Wisdom

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Overview

The Essence of Wisdom by Stephen Mitchell

Every year, more and more Westerners are seeking to learn more from the world's religions. Americans are famous for taking what they want and leaving the rest from Western and Eastern philosophies, and The Essence of Wisdom serves our impulses perfectly. The Essence of Wisdom contains a sequence of 100 quotations from the world's master poets, writers, philosophers and spiritual leaders through the ages, arranged to follow the development of the inner life from entering the path to completion. Through each partial quote, one per page, such as, "we are close to waking up when we dream that we are dreaming" (Novalis), and "if you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don't bring forth what is inside you, what you don't bring forth will destroy you." (The Gospel of Thomas), the reader is able to see the whole of the teachings of the world's Masters. The sayings in this collection embody the quintessence of spiritual wisdom. Each of them, though partial, is complete. From Kafka to Confucius, this is a truly invaluable, easily accessible spiritual guide.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767903066
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: 10/19/1999
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 6.71(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Stephen Mitchell's many books include The Book of Job, Tao Te Ching, Parables and Portraits, The Gospel According to Jesus, Real Power (with James A. Autry), and Meetings with the Archangel.

Read an Excerpt

Foreword

The sayings collected here embody the essence of spiritual wisdom. Each of them, though partial, is complete. Through each part you can see the whole.

I have arranged the sayings in a kind of impromptu progression, from the earlier steps along the path to the full embodiment of wisdom. But in spiritual practice, the elementary is often the elemental, and the first step may also turn out to be, at a deeper level, the last step. So although page Y in this book has a higher number than page X, it may not present a more profound or a more refined insight. The progression isn't necessarily linear. It is meant to be taken lightly.

Nevertheless, there is a vast difference in experience between some of the earlier sayings and some of the later ones. Take, for example, the saying I have put at the beginning and the one at the end. "In the struggle between yourself and the world," Kafka says, "second the world." Y³n-men, when asked what is the essence of wisdom, says, "When spring comes, the grass grows by itself." Kafka's is a wonderful saying, with an exquisite sense of timing: it perches the ego out on a limb and then has it, like a cartoon character, saw itself off in mid-air. The humor is deadly serious, though, and the advice goes deep, as anyone knows who has had even a glimpse of the intelligence of the universe. But even to take sides against the ego is to assume the struggle, and thus to be forever involved in it. How far this is from the effortless serenity of Y³n-men, where the mind has become an element as natural as sunlight or rain. And how do we get from point alpha to point omega? "This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking,"says the Sufi Master Bistami, "yet only seekers find it."

The Essence of Wisdom is not meant to be read as you would read most books. Each saying stands alone on an otherwise empty page because, in order to resonate deeply, it needs at least that much emptiness around it. (If the economics of publishing were different, each saying would have its own book.) Each is a meditation in itself, enough for a day's reading; you might try reading one at the beginning of your day, then carrying it with you in your mind, lightly, as the day progresses, and reading it again just before you go to sleep. Even better: rather than reading them, I hope you can find a way to let these sayings read you. Wherever you don't understand them, and wherever you do understand, let them keep ripening in the empty spaces inside you. The more open you are, the more they will bear fruit.


The first three sayings from The Essence of Wisdom:

In the struggle between yourself and the world, second the world.
—Franz Kafka

We are close to waking up when we dream that we are dreaming.
—Novalis

Our "original mind" includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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