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.