The Meaning Of Wisdom: A Ganesh Story (Part 3)
The Full Discussion
What is the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom? What does it have to do with success and prosperity, and our purpose in life? Join us for the final installment of our three part mini-series about wealth, success, and purpose, following stories of Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed deity. In this final episode of the mini-series, we’ll hear of Ganesha’ trip around the universe, and learn how applying knowledge into our lives brings forth success and prosperity, without their usual trappings and temptations.
Introduction: Namaste. You’re listening to the Sivana Podcast. Join us on an exploration of eastern spirituality, yoga philosophy and conscious living for the New Age. This podcast is a production of sivanaspirit.com, where you can find a large selection of ohm and yoga clothing, spiritual jewelry and unique fair-trade gifts from the Far East. Now here’s your host, Ashton Szabo.
Ashton: Welcome to the Sivana Podcast, everyone. I’m your host Ashton Szabo. Today’s part 3 of our Ganesha miniseries on Purpose, Success, Wealth, and Fame.
In episode 9 of the Sivana Podcast, which was part 1 of our miniseries, we explored the story of Ganesha and the Shiva temple. We saw how money, success and fame can all become distractions on the path of realization, on our path of fulfillment.
In episode 11, part 2 of our Ganesha miniseries, we explored the story of the King of Gold and revealed another temptation of wealth and success – excess, greed, wanting more and more; how our tendency to impulsively and/or mindlessly consume causes suffering and delusion. And we’re talking about late night internet shopping, splurge, impulse buys at the store, always needing to have the latest gadget and iPhones and so forth; or thinking that once you get that thing, you’ll be happy. Once you get that car, that job, that house, that relationship, happiness will magically come and stay.
This brings us to our final story of the Ganesha miniseries, and part 3 will explore the role of wisdom in our journey of life and understanding.
One final story that I think has lots of relevance to our modern culture as well, because we’re in an age of a decline of critical thinking. We’re bombarded with information but horribly lacking in understanding and wisdom. We’re consuming junk food that is making us sick and we’re consuming junk thought that is making us dull.
And one of my favorite stories of Ganesha demonstrates the importance of using our intellect, our creativity and imagination, allowing greater meaning to come into our lives, to further our knowledge and understanding, our wisdom. More importantly, let’s use that word ‘wisdom’. Ganesha in the story demonstrates his wisdom and this is to say that we can realize that you can know something and you can understand something.
I can read a menu of food and know all the ingredients, as well as all the items on the menu. But unless I’ve tasted any of the food or any of those ingredients, I don’t really understand what the food tastes like. I don’t truly understand it unless I’ve experienced it, unless I’ve embodied it somehow.
Another example is that I can read every poem about love ever written and know love. But until I felt love in my own heart, I can’t really understand it. It’s merely an intellectual exercise at that point, and even in some cases, I might still experience it, experience love and whatever, and still not understand it.
Now there is still a step beyond knowing and understanding, and we’ll call that ‘wisdom’. Wisdom, as I define it here, is applying your understanding to your actions. It’s one thing to know something. It’s another thing to understand it. But it’s an entirely different thing to be able to understand and apply what you understand, and that’s wisdom.
Even if we’re applying knowledge, that too, is wisdom. Maybe I know love. I know the right thing but I don’t truly understand it. But if I can apply that knowledge into action, then I’m still demonstrating wisdom. This very much ties into our other stories from our miniseries.
I think we all know the trappings of wealth and success. We can intellectually know about the consequences and so forth. But that knowing probably isn’t enough to stop me from a late night impulse buy on Amazon or eBay. It somehow doesn’t stop me from thinking that once I’m making a certain amount of money, then I can finally be relaxed and happy. Once I get that job, then I can be happy.
We all know to be nice to one another. We all know the consequences of hate. This isn’t missing from our human historical perspective. Yet people still treat each other like crap because we’re lacking in understanding and wisdom.
So this brings us then to our next story.
Once upon a time, the divine family, the mother and father Shiva and Parvati and their two sons Ganesha and Murugan or Skanda, we’ll call him – he has lots of names – they’re all up on Mount Kailash one day at their home and Shiva and Parvati decide to hold a contest for their two children. In some versions of the story, their prize was to be a golden mango, a theme we saw also in episode 5 of the Sivana Podcast, although perhaps in a different context.
But in other versions of the story, it’s two wives Ridhi and Sidhi, prosperity and success, that are to be the prize. So in essence, the prize for the winner of the contest is prosperity and success.
The contest that Shiva and Parvati come up with is simple. The first of the two boys that can travel around the whole universe three times and return to the starting stop will win. Now this is a bit peculiar because Skanda is the God of War. Think of the blonde hair jock, muscled, quarterback guy; the fit, super athletic, type A. The guy’s vehicle, the animal that he rides on is this super swift peacock.
Then you’ve got Ganesha over here. He’s chubby. He loves his sweets. He’s got a big round belly. He’s not exactly the poster boy of physical prowess or speed and he rides a mouse, a giant elephant riding a tiny little mouse. They’re not going too fast as that tandem, right?
So it looks like Skanda’s not only going to win, but truly that the contest was set up so that only he could win. Peculiar, right; coming up with a contest that is so obviously skewed in one person’s favor, and Ganesha seems doomed to fail.
So Shiva and Parvati announce the start of the race and Skanda takes off. He just flies off and leaves Ganesha in his dust. Ganesha’s kind of sitting there like, what the heck, thanks mom and dad. Thanks for laying on this contest that I can’t possibly win. But instead of getting caught up in negative thinking, he allows his mind to whirl along with possibility.
Shiva and Parvati, they represent the whole universe. They are everything. They are the manifest and the unmanifest. And even more simply, they’re Ganesha’s parents. To any child, their parents are the whole universe. They’re the center of it all.
While Ganesha is sitting here thinking all this over, and whoosh, Skanda flies by. He’s moving so fast, he’s already gone around the universe once and come back. He notices that Ganesha hasn’t even moved yet and figures he’s got this race in the bag. He even slows down a little bit because why not, he’s got no competition. He’s out strolling around the universe at a nice, healthy speed.
Think of the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare, the rabbit is so much faster that he starts to take rests to hang out. He’s not too concerned about losing.
But Ganesha, he’s still formulating this idea. But to any onlookers, it looks like he’s just clearly losing the race. But the idea he’s having, it’s finally starting to sink in. He stands up. He walks around his parents Shiva and Parvati three times and he stops. He looks at his parents and he smiles. It was a brief moment of pause before Shiva and Parvati looked to one another and nod. And Shiva and Parvati declare Ganesha the winner.
When Skanda returns, he’s furious to find out that he’s not the winner. He gets even more furious when he finds out how Ganesha won. But how Ganesha resolved the challenge was acceptable to Shiva and Parvati, obviously, so he remained the winner.
Now this is an important reminder of the power of intelligence, and more specifically, of wisdom to overcome brute force. Our success as a species is not because we have more brute strength and power than any other animal on the planet. It’s our keen intellect that has allowed for us to ascend to the top of the food chain. Yet for some reason, we often default to the idea that to solve a problem, just throw more force at it.
I remember when I was training heavily in martial arts. I loved training with larger, stronger opponents because I couldn’t outmuscle them. I’d have to outthink them. And interestingly, most of those really big guys, those really strong guys always relied on their strength because it was the easiest and most of the time it worked.
But as I learned essentially basic physics and how fulcrums and levers worked, I learned how to position my body and move around theirs. I learned how to negate a large part of their strength. And when that happened, it was like watching a building come crumbling to the ground. They were so used to using their strength, they didn’t know what to do if it failed them.
But it was my intellect that overcame their brute force, my wisdom that overcame their brute force. I didn’t just acquire more and more brute force until I eventually overcame them. I used my intelligence, my understanding that came from years of training with larger opponents, to find solutions to the problem, other solutions to the problem.
Understanding an action is wisdom. This trait is what has allowed us to thrive as a species. Yet for some mind-boggling reason, we seem to forget this. Many of us default back to brute strength instead of understanding, instead of applying wisdom.
I actually want to touch on one more insight from this story. As a lover of myth, of story, of one thing perhaps meaning another thing, I noticed how utterly literal our modern, Western culture can be and people sometimes have a hard time recognizing metaphor and using it to enrich their lives. People everywhere have stopped looking deeper into things.
If it takes longer to understand than a 5-minute YouTube video, then a lot of people switch it off. It’s like they look at the face, the surface appearance and go no further. They are caught by what they literally see and don’t bother investigating any further.
This story is inviting us to see things for more than they are, to dive in, to explore possibility; to see that things can have more than one meaning, more than one solution, more than one offering. When you see obstacles in front of you, do you try to bash the obstacle down? Do you attempt to use brute force to make your way past it?
Or can you allow the possibility of more innovative thinking to occur? Do you allow yourself space and time to use your intellect and to come up with alternative solutions to your problems? Can you move through knowing, understanding and wisdom, and sitting and thinking as Ganesha did to win the race?
What do you ultimately gain when you allow this process to happen and what can you actually or when you can actually apply wisdom to your life? You win the golden mango. You win the prize. The wives, Ridhi and Sidhi; prosperity and success.
Prosperity and success go not to the strongest but to the wisest. Wisdom, that melding of knowledge, understanding and action that Ganesha demonstrates – he didn’t get caught up in what was most obvious to all. He allowed himself to expand the possibilities of the solution. He demonstrated understanding and recognizing that his parents are the universe and he displayed wisdom by putting that understanding into action, and circling them to win the contest.
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Ashton: So when you’re out there living your purpose in the world, use your full capacities to interact with the world. See deeper into things. Use your intellect and find creative methods and means to engage the world. Know things. Understand things and apply that knowledge and understanding into your actions.
What would’ve happened if Ganesha simply knew his parents were the whole universe and just sat there the whole race, knowing the answer but not acting? Or even understanding? He’s had an experience of the totality of the universe through his parents, but still not completing the contest if no action is involved.
It’s not until he stands up and he applies his understanding through his actions and demonstrating his wisdom that the actually completes and wins the contest.
So purpose, purpose comes from the heart or what we could call perhaps the spiritual heart. We find purpose by looking inward and if we take our heart, our purpose out into the world with wisdom, applying our knowledge and understanding, then Ridhi and Sidhi, prosperity and success, will naturally follow.
But the key is you’re not chasing after the wives. You’re not chasing success. You’re simply living your purpose elegantly in the world, joyously in the world.
Knowing your purpose is one thing. Understanding your purpose is another. Living your purpose from that understanding is a completely other thing, and that’s wisdom. When we can make our life a shiny example of this, when we can live with purpose, when we can invite in deep and reflective thinking and feeling, and understanding; when we can move through the universe with skill, when we’re making that kind of offering to the world around us, the world takes notice. The world shifts.
Even if it’s not televised, even if it’s not getting a million YouTube views, at that point we really make a difference. We make a difference when we live with purpose, when we encourage growth and intelligence, innovation, understanding, wisdom.
Our planet today is facing some of the most serious threats we’ve ever seen, or perhaps more appropriately put, human beings are facing the most serious threat to our ability to inhabit this planet that we’ve ever seen. The planet will do just fine without us.
We need thoughtful people living with purpose out there in the world applying wisdom, taking understanding into action. We need people who aren’t just bouncing around with all of their might like a bull in a china shop. We need thoughtful, compassionate individuals, people who understand who they are and their purpose in the world. We need you to live your purpose more now than ever.
Skanda or Murugan, he has all the natural gifts. But here in the story, he’s clearly not wise. He’s not really understanding what the contest is. He thinks he knows what the contest is, but he doesn’t actually understand it. If he doesn’t understand the true depth of the contest, well then he can’t apply that understanding as Ganesha does.
Taking this in the whole context of everything, it’s not enough to know the temptations of success and wealth and fame. It’s not really enough to know anything. We need to be able to apply knowledge and understanding into action.
We can sit down and have a conversation, all-knowing, all-acknowledging that success won’t bring us happiness, wealth won’t bring us happiness. If we go right back into our lives and keep chasing the dragon, or keep pursuing stuff, that job, that new pair of shoes, that relationship, that whatever, then we’re doomed. We’re bound to live a life of suffering because we’re unable to apply our knowledge or understanding into action.
Where in your own life are you doing a skillful job of demonstrating wisdom? Where are you wise? What sorts of things in life do you feel you know and what do you actually understand? This, in and of itself can be a great contemplative exercise. How much of what we think we understand is actually just knowledge, meaning it hasn’t been experienced, it hasn’t been digested yet?
Personally, I read a lot. But reading is knowledge. It’s intellectual. It’s up here in the mind. But for it to move into the whole body, into the whole being, I need to understand it. And for that, I need an experience of the knowledge and that’s a totally different realm.
Once I get clear about the things I know and the things I understand, I can start to ask real questions. Am I applying what I know and understand into my actions? Do my actions actually line up with what I know or understand? Or am I the bull in the china shop of my life, not really applying any of my understanding and just bouncing around from one impulse to the next, one desire to the next, one reaction to the next?
Because it’s wisdom that’s going to allow me or you, any of us to truly live your life with purpose. It’s wisdom that will shield you from the temptations of success and wealth along the way.
Now I can know I was meant to be an artist or a musician, or something else. At that point, it’s merely an intellectual exercise. It’s not enough. Maybe even I understand it, if I live music in my body every day, play music every day but I’m unwilling to go out into the world with that, if I take a job as a clerk instead, I’m going to be miserable; unwise. To be able to take action on my understanding, to go out, to be bold, to be wise and live my understanding, my purpose out in the world, now that’s something.
Part of the consequences of our culture hiding away its old people, its elders is that we’ve lost a lot of wisdom. Cultures all throughout history have venerated their elders, listened to how they applied wisdom into their lives or they didn’t. Either way, there’s so much to learn from our elders. I think that’s part of why we’ve gotten in the place we have. We hide our elders away in old age homes, assisted living centers and so forth.
We hide death in our culture. When people are aging, it’s something to be shunned, to be hidden away. And we have a culture that tells people to run after success, fame and money even though there are people, plenty of people that have ascended that pillar of success only to turn back and say, stop, it’s a trap. It doesn’t actually make you any happier.
We as a human species have a lot to learn from one another, from other cultures, from our elders, from the very stories and myths of the world.
I hope these stories help you know and that knowledge helps you understand and that you can apply that into action. We can all demonstrate wisdom in our lives. And if we do that collectively, well then prosperity and success, Ridhi and Sidhi, will come to us all. We can collectively lift one another up. We’ll all be thriving.
I think that’s enough for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this 3-part miniseries following a few stories of Ganesha. If you haven’t already, go ahead and listen to episodes 9 and 11 of the Sivana Podcast for the first two installments of the miniseries.
Subscribe to our channel, leave a review, and please if you’re enjoying the podcast, share them with your friends and family. Share them on social media. Help us collectively uplift the knowledge and understanding of our community and of the world.
I’m Ashton Szabo. This is the Sivana Podcast. Thank you for listening.
And I’d also like to offer a special thank you to Zack Cooper, our sound engineer who brings all these stories to life. Thank you for all the work that you put into these shows. And Sivana Spirit, thank you for supporting these shows and making them possible.
I hope you all have an incredibly wise and purposeful moment. Thanks again for listening. Namaste.
You’ve been listening to the Sivana Podcast. To find out more about Sivana, go to sivanaspirit.com; or follow Sivana on Facebook at facebook.com/sivanaspirit. For daily inspiration, check out our blog at sivanaeast.com.
Be sure to join us next week for a new episode and thank you for listening to the Sivana Podcast.
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