Muggles, Philosophers, and Sages

In most spiritual traditions you have a distinction between the wise and the fool. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says, “If, while on your way you meet no one your equal or better, steadily continue on your way alone. There is no fellowship with fools” (Fronsdal 2008, 17). The Bible says, “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14 NIV).

But in Bodhidaoism, I view this distinction as too harsh and too extreme. Things are rarely that black and white. Furthermore, calling someone a fool is overly harsh and gives the impression that there is no hope for the fool. It also paints the wise in too good of a light. There a very few that I would actually call wise. Rather, reality is more nuanced. There are the very unwise, the unwise, the slightly wise, the fairly wise, and the sage.

This is why I prefer dividing up people into muggles, philosophers, and sages. John Sellars draws a similar distinction, when he says that, “In between these two classes of the foolish majority and the rare sage, there is a third group, those who are ‘making progress’ (2009, 63). He calls this third group “lovers of wisdom.” A philosopher is literally a lover of wisdom. So if we change fool into muggle, you find my threefold division. But since I use these words differently from Sellars and common use, let me explain.


The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the word muggle is “of unknown origin.” But it does note that it was used in 1926 to refer to “marijuana, a joint,” and was “apparently originally a New Orleans word (2010). But it was J. K. Rowling who popularized it. As the English Oxford Living Dictionaries explain, the word muggle was “used in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling to mean ‘a person without magical powers’” (2017). It is now informally used to refer to “A person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill.”

Bodhidaoism is the path of awakening. You are either on the path to awakening or you are not. There is no third option. If you are not on the path of awakening you are a muggle, you are uninterested and uninformed about the need for awakening. A muggle is someone who is uninterested and uninvolved in the process of awakening, and therefore, does not love and seek wisdom.

So there is a difference between a fool and a muggle. A fool, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary is “a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom, etc.; silly or stupid person; simpleton” (2014). A muggle, on the other hand, may be smart and informed. A muggle may be intelligent, but is uninterested and uninvolved in awakening to the true nature of reality. The problem is not knowledge but vision. They don’t need more knowledge, they need new eyes.

Morpheus, from the movie The Matrix, probably said it best, “Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” Muggles ignore that feeling. They are not interested in discovering how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

The practical benefit of distinguishing muggles from those on the path of awakening is spelled out by the quote of the Buddha we referred to earlier, “If, while on your way you meet no one your equal or better, steadily continue on your way alone. There is no fellowship with muggles.” Muggles can be a distraction from the journey to awakening. They are interested in things that are unimportant and have views that are unenlightened. The Buddha said, “The deluded, imaging trivial things to be vital to life, follow their vain fancies and never attain the highest knowledge” (Easwaran 2007, 106).


Philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” a love that consumes one’s life in the pursuit of the beloved. Originally, remarks Pierre Hadot, “philosophy was a way of life” (1995, 265). This idea is, in the words of Jules Evans, “quite far from the contemporary academic model of philosophy, where students are taught a theory and then tested in that theory” (2012, 11). “Philosophy,” explains Pierre Hadot, “was a method of spiritual progress which demanded a radical conversion and transformation of the individual’s way of being” (1995, 265). In Bodhidaoism, that radical conversion is from being unaware and indifferent, to the pursuit of the wisdom to awakening to reality as it truly is. This is the life goal of the philosopher.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word philosopher in Greek is philosophos, meaning a “lover of wisdom” (2016). This love of wisdom includes the pursuit of wisdom. Many philosophers today fall short of this ideal. They are philomathes, not philosophers. Philomathes are a lover of learning and studying, not necessarily lovers of wisdom. They may be smart, but they are not wise.

In Bodhidaoism there are two kinds of philosophers, students and teachers. Both are lovers of wisdom who pursue a way of life that is conducive to gaining and apply wisdom. You are a muggle until you actually try to live wisely. Philosophers are not wise men and women, they are men and woman trying to live wiser day by day. They are imperfect and inconsistent. They may mistakes, But they are always learning and growing, becoming more aware and less judgmental. They are learning to be mindful and live in the present moment.


So what is a sage? The Chinese word is shen ren, referring to a person “of the highest virtue and respected, of great wisdom, has reached the highest and most perfect state of the human person, it sometimes specifically refers to Confucius” (Pattberg 2011, 67). But remember that Confucius was not recognized as a sage until after his death.

In Bodhidaoism, no one living is a recognized sage. A sage is like a Catholic Saint, only recognized as such after their death. There is a reason for this. Calling a living person a sage places them above others, grants them an authority they may or may not deserve, and induces people to stop questioning them. This is a dangerous place both for the sage and the student. We should learn from all, but cling to none.

If sages are so dangerous, why have them at all? For the same reason they are found in Stoicism. As Donald Robertson explains, “This concept of someone perfectly wise and good gives the aspiring Stoic direction, structure, and consistency in her practice” (2013, 112). However, the Stoics went too far in making the sage perfect beyond reality. The fact is that the ideal sage was “a fiction” that they “were doubtful” ever existed “in the flesh” (Robertson 2013, 112).

In Bodhidaoism, the sage is not perfect but very advanced and led an exemplary life. Each sage has faults and imperfections. The four most influential wisdom traditions on the formation of Bodhidaoism are Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. The foremost sage of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The foremost sage of Taoism is Laozi. The foremost sage of Stoicism is Socrates. And the foremost sage of Humanism is Confucius. More modern sages might include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama.


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2016) New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
English Oxford Living Dictionaries. (2017) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Evans, Jules. (2012) Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems. Novato, CA: New World Library.
• Fronsdal, Gil. (2008) The Dhammapada: Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
• Hadot, Pierre. (1995) Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Arnold I. Davidson, ed. Michael Chase, tr. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Online Etymology Dictionary. (2010) Douglas Harper, ed.
• Pattberg, Thorsten. (2011) Holy Confucius! Some Observations in Translating sheng(ren) in The Analects. New York: LoD Press.
• Robertson, Donald. (2013) Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
• Sellars, John. (2009) The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy, Second Edition. London: Bristol Classical Press.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition (2014) New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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