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Putting bread on the table in spiritual wisdom

By Ven Prof. Bhikkhu Mihita 

Congratulations, OISE Graduating Class of 2020! Thanks for taking me from my sunset years back to the bright sunshine of over four decades ago, to 1978, when I earned my doctorate from this venerable institution.

You’ve put in umpteen hours to earn your credentials. And now you can now finally put bread on the table! This, of course, would be by sharing your knowledge with your students or colleagues – in modern languages, education, psychology, sociology, history, philosophy, whatever it may be.

But, to continue in a single, narrow specialization is to know more and more of less and less! Just walk up to the tenth floor where the sign reads, ‘Interdisciplinary Studies’. OISE is inviting you to do better – to crank it up as you move into the wider world.

Knowledge in a specific subject area, of course, is needed. You may come to know every detail of a thumb. But the deeper you dig into the thumb, the further back you are leaving the palm, the hand that supports the palm, the mindbody of which they are part, and indeed the collective mindbodies called family, community, nation and the world.

To take an analogy. Someone in Greektown in Toronto along Danforth, never stepping out of the neighbourhood, will conclude “Oh, how wonderful! Toronto is all Greek”! Someone further south in Little India, again ensconced exclusively in the neigbourhood, will conclude how Toronto is all South Asian. One in Chinatown, also never leaving town, will see only the Chinese people of Toronto. One living in Forest Hill north of St. Clair at Spadina, likewise concludes that all of Toronto is Jewish!

Each claimant will, of course, be privy to every detail, i.e. more and more, of the single neighborhood. But in the same process will have come to know less and less of the rest of the city. But let’s say one fine day, the ensconced within the neighbourhood happens to take the subway. Now the eyes will immediately come to be opened to the reality of Toronto in all its multiplicity, complexity and relationality.

Now if, for all its negativity, there is one thing that COVID-19 has reminded us: humankind is the reality of relationality, inter-relationality in fact. There is something to appreciate about the fact it brought many together in what centuries of exclusive individualism has put asunder.

So, to widen your knowledge in relation to other disciplines is an interdisciplinary wisdom.

But this is an exercise for the left brain. Your right brain is still starved! However, you can feed it by practising in mind, body and word, attitudes such as friendliness, compassion and altruistic joy, i.e. happiness in another’s happiness, each of this in another. Caring.

This may appear to be asking too much in our busy lives. But other-care is, in fact, a self-care.

Whenever you act in kindness, what you’re really doing is building good cells within your own mindbody. And, the more good thoughts and caring attitudes you have towards others, the healthier cells, shall we say, red cells, you’ll come to have. The more red cells you get, the more white cells, unhealthy, get pushed out, because now both brain hemispheres are working together.

Traveling along the ANS, i.e., autonomic nervous system, the stimuli of interdisciplinary knowledge can be said to impact on the left brain. But there is also what I have come to call the ASPS, the "autonomic spiritual system". A kind, compassionate thought or action in relation to other-care can be said to travel along the ASPS, impacting upon the right brain. Now the two hemispheres, communicating across the pons – bridge, come to be cultivated in relation to each other. This can be called your spiritual wisdom.

Relating to others in spiritual wisdom puts qualitatively better 'bread on the table' for both yourself as well as others.

How so? The beneficiaries of your critical compassion and altruistic joy – your students, colleagues, neighbours, and so on, now begin to thank you for it. Would that not bring a smile on your face? As you become happier, more good cells are generated. These in turn make you healthier and happier. Happier and healthier, you continue the pursuit of other-care and self-care as a natural way of life. Now you come to live longer.

Sharing the knowledge you gained at OISE in spiritual wisdom is to put healthier bread on the table. For others. For yourself. Here then are my best wishes. Best in health and happiness. Metta!

May you be well and happy. May all sentient beings be well and happy!

Ven Prof. Bhikkhu Mihita