Envision a pyramid. It is made from many blocks of stone tapering upwards to a sharp tip. The base contains the most blocks, and the further up the pyramid we ascend, the less blocks of stone we encounter. At the top, the apex is a single crowning stone.
Although unity appears to be the antithesis of multiplicity, these two are related and complementary. The lower part of the pyramid, comprised of many stones, creates a single pyramidical form. The crown, the single whole, is a miniature representation of what lies beneath.
The base and body of the pyramid represents multiplicity; the peak represents unity.
This principle expresses the relationship between knowledge and wisdom. But to see it more easily, we must turn the pyramid upside down. The wide base with many blocks now becomes the ocean of apparently infinite ideas. The deeper we understand something – the more we transform knowledge into wisdom – the more its particulars prove similar to each other, just as penetrating deeper into the upside down pyramid is a movement from a multiplicity towards unity. Understanding this reveals the diversity of knowledge to be an illusion, that the same few cosmic laws function on all scales. This reaffirms the ancient aphorism: as above so below and as within so without. If we have properly understood one cosmos in its entirety, we can understand them all.
ancient wisdom is universal
Thus, when an individual gains wisdom in a particular field, regardless of which field it may be, his wisdom proves universal. And this leads us to a further distinction between knowledge and wisdom: knowledge is particular; wisdom is universal.
“Knowledge means knowing all,” says an ancient aphorism: “Knowing a part means not knowing. To know all, one must know very little. But to know that little, one must know a great deal.” That ‘very little’ that stands at the foundation of all knowledge. That ‘very little’ embodies ancient wisdom, the deep, unified apex of the pyramid that upholds all the other building blocks.
When we turn the pyramid upside-down, the crowning stone at the apex now resides at the base. It supports the rest of the pyramid, like the ‘very little that is required to know all’, alluded to in the ancient aphorism. That root of wisdom would be incredibly simple and concise, yet would carry the seed of all knowledge. It is that kernel, that we call Ancient Wisdom.
ancient wisdom condensed
All ancient teachings allude to that precious ‘little’ that is representative of all and everything. “All the divine wisdom of the Koran is contained within the opening Surah,” says a Sufi aphorism. “And the wisdom of the opening surah is contained within the opening phrase—‘In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful’—and the wisdom of the opening phrase is contained within the opening word—‘In’—and the wisdom of that word is contained within its first letter, and the wisdom of that letter is contained within the point beneath the letter.”
Thus does Islamic mysticism echo the aforementioned relationship between knowledge and wisdom: it paints a picture of the Koran – the depository of Muslim wisdom – as an upside-down pyramid. The entire text rests on the first chapter; the first chapter, in turn, rests on the first phrase; which, in turn, rests on the first word; which, in turn, rests on the first letter; which, in turn, rests on the dot underneath it (see above-right image).
Knowledge is general; wisdom is specific. The one supports the other just as each block of the pyramid keeps the whole intact. And while knowledge changes through the eras, each age demanding new skills from its inhabitants, wisdom remains the same, which is why we call it ancient wisdom.
ancient wisdom applied
Wisdom must be practical. It must be immediately applicable. And for that sake, it must be portable. Few can recite the entire Koran by heart – or Bible, or Vedas, or any extensive manuscript – but the aforementioned nature of wisdom proves this unnecessary.
We need only to encapsulate the message into the simplest archetype, the most essential trait, and slip that ‘little’ into our pockets to be carried within hands’ reach. That quintessential dot can then be applied at short notice, to any duty or challenge of the moment.
Accordingly, all traditions articulated their quintessential wisdom in a single solitary word -‘Be’ for Islam and ‘Om’ for the Hindus and Buddhists – a command that calls forth everything a man has learned and acquired. It invites his wisdom to the forefront, to meet the circumstances in which he finds himself; for ultimately, it is the present moment where man’s wisdom is put to the test; where he proves either theoretically knowledgeable or practically wise.
Beyond that mysterious point there is no knowable, and therefore it is called Beginning, the creative utterance which is the starting-point of all.
~ The Zohar