The Wisdoms of the World

Proverbs and Aphorisms on Wisdom

The concise gnomic saying, aphorism, or proverb is one of the oldest forms of wisdom literature in various traditions and perseveres to this day, often, but not always, magnetically attached to a refrigerator door. Here are some interesting examples suggested by students (the student's name is in brackets after the quotation): (We have not included proverbs from well-known texts such as the Biblical proverbs or The Analects of Confucius, etc.)

Dec. 31

"As the least drop of wine tinges the whole goblet, so the least particle of truth colors our whole life. It is never isolated, or simply added as treasure to our stock. When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before."

June. 23

"Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to true wisdom, but by abondonment, and childlike mirthfulness. If you would know aught, be gay before it." (From Thoreau's Journals) Jason Morgan

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. to know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no greater fool than a knowing fool, but to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom ­Spurgeon (Pat Buckley)

"Thought that accepts reality as given is no thought at all." Herbert Marcuse (Chuck Herdman)

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein (Chuck Herdman)

"To know that which before us lies in daily life is the prime wisdom; what is more is fume." John Milton (Mark Edsell)

"There ain't any answer, there ain't going to be an answer, there never has been an answer, that's the answer." Gertrude Stein (Jason Conrad)

"We can give advice but we can't give the wisdom to profit by it" (Amanda Kollar)

"It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows." Epictetus (Aimee Eshbaugh)

"Wisdom is a special knowledge in excess of all that is known." Ambrose Bierce (Emily Hardisky)

"To understand wisdom fully and correctly probably requires more wisdom than any of us have." ­ Robert J. Sternberg

"Young people often have a mania for more and more information. The more you take in the more information needs to be managed. Without that you have encyclopedic knowledge and minuscule wisdom. True wisdom is a qualitative value built on a quantitative foundation." Deng Ming Dao (Kevin Kaufmann)

"He who thinks only finds answers, he who ponders finds the truth" by Maya Vaidya

The end of knowledge is that man comes to the point where he was at the origin. Abu Yazid al-Bistami (d.875)

The Sufi sees his own experience as particles of dust made visible by a ray of sunlight: neither real or unreal. Abu'l-Hasan ash-Shadhili (d.1258) (Maya Vaidya)

Truth melteth like snow in the hands of him whose soul melteth not like snow in the hands of truth. Sufi Saying (Loren Ganoe)

To know that you know what you know, and to know that you don't know what you do not know, that is knowledge (Thoreau, quoting Confucius, Walden, p.7) (Mike Leskanic)

The past flies away,
coming months and years do not exist,
Only the pinprick of this moment

belongs to us.
We decorate this speck of a moment­­­­time­­­­
by calling it a flowing river or a stream.
But often I find myself alone
in a desert wilderness,
straining to catch the faint echo of
unfamiliar sounds.
­­­From The Secret Rose Garden by Sufi poet Mahmud Shabistari, thirteenth century. (Mark Edsell)

"We do not find meaning lying in things nor do we put it into things, but between us and things it can happen." Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (Mark Edsell)

"When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real....Our life is frittered away by detail." -Thoreau, Walden (Summer Silveius)

"He bids fair to grow wise who has discovered that he is not so." (Maximum 578) Publilius Syrus (Summer Silveius)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot