Sunday, April 01, 2007

knowing and KNOWING

In my newest Suicide Girls piece I wrote:

"Knowing that you don't know is a really powerful thing. Knowing clearly that you don't know, you can be certain that no one else knows either."

In response, a guy with the handle Apesamongus wrote:

"I don't know lots of shit that other people do, in fact, know just fine. It's arrogance to assume others share all of your ignorances."

The problem here is that there's knowing and there's KNOWING. Lots of people know stuff I don't know, like how to do their own taxes or play the bassoon or make lasagna. I would never presume that just cuz I don't know these things, nobody else does. There's also a certain degree of knowledge that comes from just occupying space on this planet a bit longer than someone else. My grandma can remember when TV was a new thing, and, having lived through the changes America has gone through over most of this century, she can impart some of that knowledge as well.

Then there's KNOWING. KNOWING is what lots of unscrupulous spiritual master types — as well as politicians, ad men and other dubious characters — pretend they do and you don't. Lately some people have started mistaking me for someone who KNOWS. I keep getting asked variations on a question that goes something like, "What does the world look like to you?" As if maybe they think that when I look at a tomato I see the eight armed cosmic form of Vishnu or some such thing.

I got an e-mail from a guy who told me that when he was having a private meeting with his Master, the guy told him, "You're at level three (of whatever the fuck level of spiritual planes he counted), but I can bring you to level two if you'd like." The teacher, you see, KNEW, while the poor student could only hope to bask in his reflected glory. Folks, if anyone says stuff like this to you, please run away as fast as you can.

The truth is, no one KNOWS. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Well, how do you know that no one KNOWS? You haven't met Grand Master Sri Sri Rama Lama Whozitsface. He definitely KNOWS." It's fine with me if you want to believe crap like that. I don't. Because KNOWING doesn't exist out there. It's not something someone else has and can sell you. You can't borrow someone else's experience. The old metaphor for this in Buddhist stories is counting someone else's treasure.

Someone else may know themselves very well. But they don't know you and they can't know you. I remember a conversation I had with my first Zen teacher, Tim, many years ago. I said something like, "But you know. You've been through all this." He said, "Brad, I haven't been through anything."

The idea that someone else KNOWS is always a way of deferring your own responsibility to somebody else. They KNOW, so they can tell you and you can just sit back and absorb.

It doesn't work. There are times I wish it did. But it doesn't. Once you get your brains around that you may have a chance of discovering real knowledge for yourself.


ZenManDan said...

That kinda reads like "I know that you know that I know that you don't know...etc." I KNOW that I don't know, so I guess that means that now you know that I know that I don't know. Keep the good posts coming Brad. Looking forward to the new book too.

ps. You ever type a word so many times that it just starts to look wrong? know..know...know...nwok nnow..uuugh!

Lone Wolf said...

This post reminds me of two quotes from teachers in the Soto Zen lineage:

Zazen is good for nothing - Kodo Sawaki Roshi

I feel this quote is saying that Zazen won't give you some special thing or make you smarter or whatever you think Zazen will give you or change in you. Zazen is about knowing that you don't know or knowing that your nobody special, just a smuck like everyone else.

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilites; in the expert's mind there are few. - Suzuki Roshi

The more one knows the less one KNOWS.

There is my two cents, as if I really know something.

Anonymous said...

From the Genjo Koan

"Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your consciousness. Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge."

kshingo said...

If this whole thing is an illusion, a dream... Each of us has our own script, our own movie runnin' that we call our life. This blog is part of my movie. So how do we know what it is to be Alive or Dead? How is it that we think we Know what Life is, and that it's the opposite of death? Maybe This is death. Words are such a game. Sometimes they seem like such a waste of time, but then the great Mystery can get one yearning for connection, for stability. (Insert Zazen here- very helpful) So out comes the things called words and the scramble to agree on meanings.

kshingo said...

P.S. What is Real Knowledge?

UncaDan said...

A few words from U.G Krishnamurti:

So your problem is not the problem but the solution. If the solution is gone, there is no problem there. If there is a solution, the problem shouldn't be there anymore. If the answers given by others [the "wise men"] are the answers, then the questions shouldn't be there at all. So they are obviously not the answers.
You see, the search takes you away from yourself -- it is in the opposite direction -- it has absolutely no relation.
I discovered for myself and by myself that there is no self to realize -- that's the realization I am talking about. It comes as a shattering blow. It hits you like a thunderbolt. You have invested everything in one basket, self-realization, and, in the end, suddenly you discover that there is no self to discover, no self to realize -- and you say to yourself "What the hell have I been doing all my life?!" That blasts you.
Something else I read somewhere recently But I don't recall where:

Buddhism is not something you believe, It is something you do.
Reject labels.
Reject identities.
Reject conformity.
Reject convention.
Reject definitions.
Reject names.

365 Tao - Daily Meditations
August 20 - No. 232
Deng Ming-Dao

muddy elephant said...

"Lately some people have started mistaking me for someone who KNOWS."

Thanks for this Brad--but I get the feeling I might as well thank a tree for being a tree. knowhatimean. Thanks anyways.

Stuart said...

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to give his take on Socrates: Socrates would always teach everyone to "Know Thyself." But when someone asked him, "Socrates, do YOU know yourself?" He replied, "I don't know anything. But I understand that I don't know."


Anonymous said...

He who knows, don't know. He who don't know knows. He who knows he don't know doesn't know. He who don't know that he don't know doesn't know. He who knows... ok, I'm gonna stop now.

Anonymous said...

This guy KNOWS:


And this fellow also KNOWS:


Hell, even Rosie O'Donnell KNOWS:


If you have five minutes to spare, you too can KNOW:

The Blue Danube Waltz

Zac in Virginia said...

Yeah, I think that practicing Buddhism has been like a long, slow breakup or something.
Zen's been letting me down slow, ya see, slowly making it clear that this is it, and that my idea about there being Something Else Out There was, well, illusory.
There's a million things I haven't yet experienced, yet will someday. And yet, they won't really be Something Else. They won't be transcendent.
I dunno. It's hard to explain :) I guess it's like, well, enlightenment really is just sitting. It's not a magical light show of Hindu gods and roaring monsters; like my friend with a strange tee-shirt from Target said, "See these swords underneath the Buddha? Those are for cutting through the bullshit."

Anatman said...

Haha. I have that tee shirt. Target rocks.

Anonymous said...

All my life I've longed for a sense of confidence, a sense of 'having it together.'

Will be turning fifty next year and it really bugs me to face that I'll probably never feel that way at all.

Its embarrassing to be forty nine and still feel like a puzzled kid inside.

What's funny and scary and sad is facing that everyone else is in the same predicament, with the difference being that some accept this and manage to function responsibly, and others fake it real good.

My therapist told me that one of the freaky things he discovered in his clinical training program happened when he was sent onto psychiatric wards to counsel patients who were labelled as psychotic.

He said, 'It does something when you realize the only difference between yourself and the other person is you have a key and can leave the ward and they cant.'

But..he's cool with that.

Anonymous said...

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Anonymous said...

Everyone KNOWS
the Emperor has no clothes.

BlueWolfNine said...

i dont KNOW anything but i have alot of ideas about everything!

Xan said...

Okay, so you are clinging to the idea there is nothing to know.

Another guy is clinging to knowing.

Have you noticed the clinging itself and how it feels in your body/mind?

And have you noticed when you let go fully, in this moment, there is experience of Wholeness.

You are the one who experiences.


Mike said...

In the real world, these just people with ideas
They just like me and you when the smoke and camera disappear
Again the real world (world), it's bigger than all these fake ass records

--Dead Prez

El Zombie Muerto said...

"I got an e-mail from a guy who told me that when he was having a private meeting with his Master, the guy told him, "You're at level three"

Zentient said...

Brad, quoting the Zen wisdom from your post:

"It's not something someone else has and can sell you. You can't borrow someone else's experience."

Going along with that, you can't deny someone else's experience. It is the basis of true compassion. If you know that in your heart, you won't be so quick to judge others, no matter what they have done. This is practical Zen, and it has been of help to me. I simply can't know another's experience; in physics terms, two things can't occupy the same space at the same time. It goes beyond the old saying that you have to walk in someone else's shoes. It is impossible to step into another's life and experience it as the same. The Zen paradox is that we are the same because every human shares that truth.

Thank you,

Zentient said...

Brad posted:

"It's not something someone else has and can sell you. You can't borrow someone else's experience."

It is also true that you can't deny someone else's experience. It is the basis for true compassion. It goes beyond walking in someone else's shoes. To step into someone else's life is not the same experience, it is your experience. In physics terms, two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time in our relative plane. This Zen way of thinking has helped me to not judge others quite so much. The truth that we cannot know another's experience is paradoxically what we all share in common.

Thanks, Brad