There are two distinct kinds of knowledge—(1) knowledge of natural or historical facts, and (2) knowledge of internal principles. The former is tersely expressed by the term learning, the latter by the word wisdom. These two paths of knowledge are eternally separate. They not only do not merge into each other; they do not, at any point, touch each other. Learning consists of a knowledge of external and ever-changing effects, which every generation modifies. Wisdom consists of a knowledge of never-changing principles or causes which do not admit of the smallest degree of modification. Learning is acquired by observation and reading; chiefly by absorbing the ideas of others. Wisdom is built up by practice in right-living. Learning deals with fleeting appearances; wisdom with established realities.
Learning never leads to wisdom, and is not, strictly speaking, real knowledge, as it does not touch the realities of life. All the learning in the world will not confer one grain of wisdom, so that a man may be, and if often is, very learned and very foolish. The most learned man may be vain and presumptuous, but no man can come to Wisdom and behold her loveliness until vanity and presumption are entirely removed. The learned man may be lustful, avaricious, gluttonous, given to anger, anxiety and disappointment; but the wise man has put away all these things, for it is only by so doing that a man can become wise.
So distinct are learning and wisdom that the learned man can only become wise by the renunciation of his learning. So long as he remains proud of his learning, looking superciliously down upon the ignorant, just so long will wisdom be a hidden thing to him. Whilst he takes his stand upon his learning, he will fall and fail under severe tests. Only when the learned man is ready and willing to admit that all his learning is as nothing, can he enter that path of knowledge which leads to the unchangeable Peace. This is the "becoming as a little child" of which not only Jesus, but all the supremely Wise Ones have spoken. Indeed, the grand and final use of all learning is to bring man to a knowledge of his own foolishness and ignorance, and to show him that, as yet, he knows nothing. Where learning ends, wisdom begins.
There is, then, a knowledge of external and ever-varying facts, derived from books and observation, which is entirely separate from ethical conduct, and which does not touch the vital experiences of the human heart and life; it therefore affords no firm foundation on which to stand, and does not bring steadfastness and peace: and there is a knowledge of internal truths or realities which is patiently built up by living stones hewn out of the rocks of human experience; and this is the knowledge that brings peace. This knowledge cannot be gained from any book, nor can it be arrived at by observation; there is no possible way of attaining it except by daily practice in purifying and building up one's self from within. It is by the eradication of the inward errors and impurities alone that a knowledge of Truth can be gained. There is no other way to wisdom and peace.
"The peace which passeth understanding" is a peace which no event or circumstance can shake or mar, because it is not merely a passing calm between two storms, but is an abiding peace that is born of knowledge. Men have not this peace because they do not understand, because they do not know, and they do not understand and know because they are blinded and rendered ignorant by their own errors and impurities, and whilst they are unwilling to give these up they cannot but remain entirely ignorant of impersonal Principles.
Whilst a man loves his lusts he cannot love wisdom; whilst he is covetous, vain, proud, self-indulgent, he must perforce remain in darkness, and, clinging to prejudice, hatred and ill-will, he is locking iron doors against his own peace. Not until a man realizes this, and commences to patiently purify his inner life, can he find the way which leads to lasting peace. And this way leads to peace because it leads away from that which is mortal and transitory in its nature to that which is immortal and eternal, namely, to a comprehension of unalterable Principles which form the foundation of the universe. These Principles constitute the reality behind all phenomena, and are therefore the reality in man, and he who finds them by the removal of all his own errors and self-seeking, ceases to be the suffering, fluctuating personality that he formerly was, and becomes steadfastly established in peace. He becomes one with those Principles. Whereas he was formerly a mortal personality composed of a combination of passions, emotions, and sense-perceptions, he has now become an immortal being composed of love, compassion, joy, light and wisdom, for he has comprehended these Principles as his real self, and has forsaken all that is not in harmony with them.
Such a man is wise, and it may be truly said of him that he knows. For him anxiety, fear, disappointment and unrest have ceased, and under whatever condition or circumstance he may be placed, his calmness will not be broken, and he will bend and adjust everything with capacity and wisdom. Nothing will cause him grief. When friends yield up the body of flesh, he knows that they still are, and does not sorrow over the shell they have discarded. None can injure him, for he has identified himself with that which is unaffected by change.
The knowledge which brings peace, then, is the knowledge of unchangeable Principles arrived at by the practice of pure goodness, righteousness, becoming one with which a man becomes immortal, unchangeable, indestructible. It was therefore said by Jesus, speaking as the impersonal Christ of Love and Wisdom, "Come unto ME and I will give you rest;" and by Buddha, "There is no more suffering for him who has finished his journey," that is, who has overcome himself.
Joy is to the sinless; peace is to the pure; sorrow cannot remain with him whose mind is cleansed from self, and to him who has harmonized his mind with the eternal verities there comes the brooding of a deep, holy and unspeakable peace.
With Christ his Father's throne and wear
The world's imperial wreath.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.