Friday, June 25, 2010

The True Sage

Each week as I surf around the internet looking for blogs and web sites focused on or discussing Taoist themes and principles, I am struck again and again by the number of individuals who view themselves as modern day sages. Their stated purpose for being on the internet is that, having become enlightened, they wish to share their knowledge and wisdom with all who meekly come to their doors.

For some, it's nothing more than a new fangled guise to extract money from the unsuspecting. Many, however, aren't looking to pick money out of your pocket, they are more desirous of recognition and being fawned over.

It raises the question of whether or not a true sage would even bother with the internet at all. In my estimation, a truly enlightened individual would see no need to write, whether it be a blog or a book. Such a person would see no use in YouTube videos or podcasts. They wouldn't run around hosting retreats and seminars.

For one thing, a true sage wouldn't view themselves as a sage at all! Giving oneself that kind of title is a way of assuaging one's ego. It's an attempt to bestow recognition on oneself and a true sage would be content in his or her anonymity. The simple act of announcing to the world that you are a sage necessarily means you are nothing more than a pretender trying to fool yourself and trick others.

The true sage lives and breaths their sagacity in the routine moments of life. There is no need for grandstanding or shining the light of popularity upon themselves. A sage would never stand up in a crowd and yell, "Look at me! Look at me!" These are the acts of a person held prisoner by the tentacles of ego.

But what about Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, you may ask. They wrote books that have been passed down through the ages and we consider both of them to be sages. Yes, but THEY didn't advertise themselves as sages -- this title was bestowed by others in subsequent generations. At the time their works were penned, they were ego-controlled human beings just like the rest of us. They ate breakfast, went to work, made love, picked their noses and wiped their butts just like all their countrymen then and like you and I now.

So, in my estimation, one could say that a sage is never a sage in his or her own time. It is a title we bestow upon others when their thoughts and words resonate through the years.

In other words, the only true sages are dead ones.


  1. for me, i don't really understand what the big ho-hum is about being a sage anyway. a sage means someone who is wise, yes? well, every human being is wise in some way or another, and no human being is wise in all things! i prefer to think of the world, not in terms of "sages" and "non-sages", but in terms of all people having their own gifts to contribute to humanity. perhaps a rabbit could be a sage. i don't know. perhaps "sage" has an air of authority about it, and in that case the large-ego-driven wo/man is most likely to claim sage-hood, because s/he craves power and attention.

  2. I agree with you that every person is sagacious at one time or another, yet we each struggle with the tentacles of ego.

    My point is that many people hold themselves up as having solved the ego dilemma when, in fact, holding themselves up in this way contradicts the assertion.

  3. But then, of course, they would have had to have written them down, else how would we know?

    Tap, tap, tap....


  4. Love your posts! It does seem that most people who we revere as sages where probably seen as very normal, typical, even boring during their lives. They probably were not even accepted in their own neighbor as someone special until after they died.

  5. Another aspect, or definition of enlightenment is sometimes described as being 'fully awakened'. While I certainly make no claim to any of the above definitions, I sometimes have trouble understanding how so much of humanity can go through life so fully asleep.

  6. Interesting. In a recent article in Tricycle, the Western Buddhist journal, a Tibetan monk says the dharma will never be fully realized in the West until a Westerner achieves enlightenment. Until then, it's just all talk and effort and no lineage.

    WIth all due respect to Iktomi, the idea is that the sage or a buddha-- an enlightened being --is someone who IS wise in ALL things. In the U.S., we kind of hope that that person is the president. Yeah...right. Maybe that's why religions of martyrdom are so appealing to Westerners. Cults of dead sages.


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