Messages from the Wise Ones
Some thoughts from Rev Sarah Tinker from the service with Rev. Christopher Corps on 13th March 2016.
I didn’t mean to do it. Honest. But if you look at the front of today’s order of service it does imply that Chris and I as worship leaders today are in fact the wise ones delivering our own wise messages. But in truth we’re merely acting like postal delivery workers with a van full of parcels.
Because we live at a time in human experience where we have access to the most wondrously rich and diverse sources of wisdom. Never before have ordinary people been so freely able to read and even listen to great teachers, experts on every topic under the sun, sources of deep inspiration.
Now as some of us know when faced with a banquet table filled to overflowing with our favourite foods, there is the danger of indigestion. When we have so many sources of wisdom to choose from we may end up stuffing ourselves so much that we truly digest very little of it. You may have heard the story of the wealthy Buddhist scholar who had visited almost every teacher and now visited a renowned Zen master
After he made the customary bows, he asked her to teach him Zen. Then, he began to talk and talk about his extensive doctrinal background and rambled on and on about the many sutras he had studied.
The master listened patiently and then began to make tea. When it was ready, she poured the tea into the scholar’s cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, “Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can’t get any more in.”
The master stopped pouring and said: “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about Buddha’s Way. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”
A few years ago we had a service here at Essex Church about the 7th century AD Northumbrian monk the Venerable Bede. You can probably still find the text and podcast of it through our Kensington Unitarians website. His monastery was a renowned centre of learning and had probably the best library in the land at that time – a collection of 200 books. Well, we have a lot more than 200 books in our library downstairs – you’re all welcome to borrow anything you find there. And as I look round this room I know there are quite a few of us with embarrassingly large collections of books in our homes. We are surrounded by wisdom. But we have to keep emptying ourselves like that Zen teacup to ensure that we’re truly nourished by it.
And if our libraries don’t contain what we seek we can click on the Internet and find just what we’re looking for.
Though that has its issues too. I’ve been helped with today’s thoughts by a lovely website called ‘Fake Buddha Quotes: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha’. It’s packed with examples of Buddha misquotes – hardly surprising as the Buddha like Jesus and the Prophet Mohamad (peace and blessings be upon him) were teachers, their teachings were spoken and their words were notwritten down in their lifetimes. When they were written down it was in a language other than our own and at a time very different from our own. No wonder people sometimes tweak the message to fit in with today’s needs. There’s a photo of Abraham Lincoln doing the rounds of the Internet at the moment, with words he’s alleged to have said in 1864.
“The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy” – Abraham Lincoln, 1864
That may be true, but he didn’t say it! And the words I used to start our service came from the Fake Buddha Quotes website, though they do have some connections with a traditional Buddhist sutra or teaching.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with the light of reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” – Allegedly said by the Buddha
Sutra is often translated as text or teaching but it can also mean a thread in Sanskrit and that image of threads in a tapestry is one that works for me when trying to describe the world’s wisdom traditions. We are fortunate to have access to all these threads that connect us to great teachers, known and unknown. Yet the tapestry is also made of ordinary, everyday wisdom, the kind of wisdom that gets passed from parent to child, friend to friend, neighbour to neighbour through the generations.
As liberal religious people, as spiritual explorers, we’re probably not going to stay with just one teacher, or stick to just one path. Our sources of wisdom will be rich and varied. And like any sensible explorers we’ll do a risk assessment of the journey. We risk indigestion, of just being too full to take anything truly in; there’s a risk of teetering bookshelves of inspirational books falling on our heads; we risk becoming Internet or workshop or book butterflies flitting from one source to another yet never really deepening our understanding by sticking with just one path, at least for a while.
There will be times for some of us when we need to follow one source of guidance, it’s healthy for us to be lifelong learners and to sit at the feet of teachers we respect. And from time to time we’ll have a deep inner sense of our own sources of wisdom, messages from the wise one within, our own knowing and understanding. And when we experience one of those moments we’ll be able to laugh and know that we’ll never need to buy another book nor quote another famous teacher. Sometimes the messages we’re seeking from the wise ones have really been within us all this time. We just have to look inside.
Closing Blessing: Socrates is said to have said that ‘True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves and the world around us’. May we in the week ahead be joyously aware of how little we know, may we rejoice in accessing our inner founts of wisdom, and may we give thanks for the wisdom of the ages, all around us and in all those we meet. May all that true wisdom be ours. Amen, go well and blessed be.
Rev. Sarah Tinker
Sermon – 13th March 2016