Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Don’t Know

Knowing is a drag.
Etymologically consciousness means “to know with”, from the latin roots cum, which mean with; and scire, to know. The Buddha made the distinction between that which knows something – called mind (nama); and that which doesn’t know anything – called matter (rupa).
The pebble on the road doesn’t know anything – not even that it doesn’t know anything. The same with most (if not all) of your body. The hair you cut off, nailclippings, dead skincells washed down the drain when you shower – they presumably doesn’t know anything about anything.  Ignorance is bliss.
The mind on the other hand seems to be a bundle of knowing. To be human (among other things) means to have self-awareness, which means we know how it feels to be our selves. We know a lot of things, and one of the things we know is that there is a lot of stuff that we don’t know. For every piece of knowledge there is an unknown heap of ignorance. And ignorance is not bliss.
To know that we don’t know is seemingly quite anxiety-producing for most of us. We wish to know things because knowing gives us a sense of comfort and security. And since we don’t know who we truly are, or how the world has come into being, we feel insecure. This is where religion and ideology comes in. To feel secure we exchange knowledge (which is a rather hard to come-by commodity) with belief – the ersatz pacifier standing in the place of real knowledge. It doesn’t even have to be believing that we know how the universe came into being – somehow it seems enough to be sure that someone knows. The priests, God, the Bible-writers, the scientists, Wikipedia – surely someone knows! So I don’t have to bother. Imagine that almost every Wikipedia article would start with “No one actually knows, but…” It would feel less comforting, right? And yet it would be closer to truth.
In a sense practicing zen is practicing to be a stone. To not know anything and accept that lack of knowing as an opportunity to experience the world fresh. Maybe the stone is more conscious than we are. Maybe our consciousness is diminished by the need to know. Funneled into a narrow path of self-awareness. Maybe there is something to be a rock and not to roll. 

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