Reproducing the sage III

In reproducing or approximating the sage, much depends on our definition of the sage, or at least on what sort of human context we conceived. The historical Jesus and Buddha are technically unknowable, and the texts that remain to us — and the source of much critical exegesis since the nineteenth century — have an uninspiring dichotomy between sage and institution-founder. The latter image often absorbs and obliterates the former, making the reproduction of the enlightenment process almost impossible if based on the teaching authorities rather than a insightful reflection on the texts.

An authentic presentation of the sages is often subordinated to the role of authority on the part of the presenter, and the reader or listener is often reduced to the role of subordinate. This role of modern pedagogy becomes the subconscious or obvious way of thinking about the sages. But to reproduce in our lives the image of an authority, much less an ambitious founder of institutions and orders, is not going to work.

In the case of the Buddha, the notion of sangha has represented a community of believers or adherents. Similarly, in the case of Jesus, the ecclesia or people has come to represent the institutional Church. But can these notions be reconciled to the historical sages, who were doubtless addressing groups and crowds of householders but not crowds of authorities intent on recreating not the sage but themselves as authorities?

The listeners and followers of the sages are often portrayed as the simple, humble, oppressed, and poor. In those portraits of the Buddha or Jesus facing authorities, the latter are always seen as either arrogant and hostile or as on the brink of recognizing that they should renounce authority if they are to gain wisdom. How, then, can it be argued that the essence of the sage is to lend ethical credence to power and authority?

Perhaps the least ambiguous example, of sagacity, then, is to be seen in the ancient Chinese sages ranging from Confucius to Chuang-tzu, where authority and individual are unremittingly opposed to one another and where sagacity clearly lodges not in one person or class but in nature. The individual must capture the patterns of nature in order to achieve sagacity, but these patterns cannot be captured unless authority and power is renounced. Additionally, the most successful renunciation is not an ethical process as such but leads to an ethical process as its vindication and confirmation.

The process of sagacity, therefore, can be simply presented as a psychological or logical necessity, as a means to an end. It becomes attainable by anyone regardless of station or formal learning. Moreover, it opens the possibility of solitude in a world of social class and consciousness. Sagacity is a matter or reproducing or approximating the natural order. The reproduction or approximation of sagacity in an individual is therefore not so much a matter of imitating someone as it is the seeing of the self engaged in the understanding and following of the natural order.

When Buddhism reached China and Japan, this tradition was ready to transform the intellectual categories of the new thought into already perceived historical wisdom-processes. Unfortunately in the West, there was nowhere for the sage Jesus to be received except into the existing models of cultural arrogance, whether of the religious exclusivity of chosenness or the authoritarian model of empire.