The Norman Transcript


January 3, 2014

Ecclesiastes 1:18 says: ‘For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.’ What does this mean?


A ‘knowing angst’

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Overland Park, Kan.: In Jewish tradition, King Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes, and nobody’s wisdom is more heralded than that of Solomon.

Stunning, isn’t it, that he would be dismissive of the gift for which he has received so much acclaim. What is it about wisdom that brings grief and sorrow?

An ancient rabbinic commentator, Rabbi Shmuel Bar Yitzchak, offered the following analogy: “Two people walk into a restaurant. One eats bread from unrefined flour, while the other eats bread that is from flour finely sifted with oil, meat and fine wine. The former feels no ill effects from his food, while the latter gets seriously ill.”

Intellectual inquiry as an end to itself is the most frustrating of activities. The more one explores, the more questions arise, and it often feels that no progress is being made. A simple idea, all of a sudden, is not so simple, and one is left with more questions than answers.

While the person is eating, he gains much pleasure from “knowing,” but at the same time it will certainly challenge matters that he believes to be true. It might even shake the entire foundation of what he may believe.

Turn to meditation

Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center, Kansas City, Mo.: The Buddha had much to say about the causes of grief or suffering in this world, how life is characterized by suffering: namely birth, old age, sickness and eventually death. Because everything in this phenomenal world is impermanent. Nothing lasts.

All beings desire happiness, safety, peace and comfort. We desire what is satisfying, pleasurable, joyful and permanent. The nature of existence is impermanent, always changing and therefore incapable of fully satisfying our desire. Inevitably, we experience frustration, anger, loss, unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

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