There are four levels in which our consciousness engages with the world:
Ignorance is the blindness that comes from our inability/unwillingness to be aware of the consequences of our being in the world. This is the influence of the unthinking material world.
Knowledge is seeing the world as if it were a picture, two dimensional as something that is distant and separate from us. The way of science and education, it allows manipulation and some semblance of control and so helps us contain our anxiety. Knowledge is better than ignorance but has the danger of superficiality and exploitation. It is disengaged.
Understanding is three-dimensional; it is the world of participation and engagement, or experience. To understand is to be involved with the object, to feel its nature, its function and limitations. It is the world of empathy and creativity that accepts the suffering and loss of control that comes from involvement. When we understand, we know something with more than just our perceptions and mental constructs – we know its nature.
Wisdom is experiencing the whole–knowing fully the expanding consequences of our actions, the part something plays in the web of connectivity and in our life experience. It recognizes that nothing is separate, that complexity and chaos are essential for all life and growth, that we are small and inconsequential in the face of a vast universe, that our awareness is limited and constrained. Our purpose in life is to consciously evolve–to develop our capacity for understanding and wisdom–so that we can make that difference to the world that is a reflection of our own individual nature.