Knowledge is a Mixed Blessing

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The Buddha

It only took ten years. For the first nine years that I lived in middle Tennessee, every February, I would notice that the bulbs were starting to emerge from the ground and think, it’s much too early. A hard freeze will kill them.

Finally, in my tenth year, I realized — the bulbs had long since evolved to survive in that environment and grew when it was time for them to grow.

One might say that they “knew when to grow,” but that is not strictly correct. Flowers don’t know anything. We tend to think of knowledge as being purely good.

But for Buddhists, who want to silence monkey mind in order to hear the silence of consciousness, knowledge is a mixed blessing. Finding out about a tradition called “Buddhism” and what Buddhists typically think and do is a form or knowledge. It may be useful for you to know about Buddhism. It certainly has been for me.

But knowledge is less than half the battle. One can know everything there is to know about Buddhism and still not be any closer to awakening.

Buddhism offers a practice, meditation, that is very helpful, maybe essential, to help us experience awakening. Knowledge, to be useful, requires thought. As we saw when we discussed consciousness, you can identify any number of bits of information, like your name, your date of birth, your home address, your phone number, that you know without thinking about all the time. To make that information useful, you have to think it at least to the extent you need in order to state it or write it down or otherwise convey it to someone else.

But even if you don’t think it, the information is still in your head, stored in your consciousness. Knowledge is essential, but it is still an abstraction. It is not experience. Awakening is an experience. Once you’ve had the experience, then you know what it is, but the experience is the necessary part, not the knowledge. Knowledge can distract because it can be wrong. It turns out that I knew little or nothing about the growth patterns of bulbs in middle Tennessee. This made no difference at all to the bulbs. They just did what they were supposed to do without requiring any knowledge.

Awakening is the same for humans. Don’t let your knowledge, or what you think you know, get in the way. Just let your inherent awakening emerge on its own.

Meditation just allows you to uncover what is already there, whether you know it or not.

Please help spread the word.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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