“Oh I know that!”

Posted on March 23, 2011

I sit with a new client and every time our conversation becomes interesting she says, “I know that.” And I fall silent. Half knowledge is difficult, it provides a haven for insecurity and pride and it shuts down new possibilities.

“Oh I know that!” How often this thought runs through our minds and we immediately go on to something else. But wait, not so fast! The sense that we know something can have two very different meanings and outcomes. Truly knowing leaves you with a feeling of security. It feels warm in the belly and rock-solid in the heart. Paradoxically, when we truly know something we don’t have to think, “I know that!” We simply do. And we’re open to learning more.

Thinking that we know is quite a different matter. What is the effect of this belief? It closes you to new insight. Thinking “I know” is a state of being full—and perhaps even full of yourself. If you think you are right, you are closed. And more: if you’re right everyone else is wrong, unless they agree with you.

This contrasts with a state of mind that is open, receptive, and eager to find a new, deeper perspective. This is a mind that observes and goes toward new experiences undefended, like meeting a potentially wonderful friend for the first time. It’s the beginner’s mind, what in the Zen tradition is known as the “don’t-know mind.”

Vedanta calls this aspect of mind buddhi. It is the intuitive ability that knows right from wrong, the higher mind, the doorway to wisdom. It is the mind of awakening; it can run our lives perfectly and with an unerring certainty which the thinking mind can never have. Buddhi should be the decision maker and not the conditioned mind with its doubts and conflicted memories. Purifying buddhi is the most important function of spiritual practice. It opens the path to the heart and allows us to witness (and thereby dissolve) the mistaken identity we call ego.

The Buddha said, “Those who are awake live in a constant state of amazement.” Aspire to that state! In that state you are open, engaged, able to let life touch you, move you and change you. In that openness you cannot fail.

My guru used to say, “If you don’t make it empty, how can you fill it up again?” So I try to empty myself of the ‘me’ that knows. When in doubt, and especially when in conflict, I try to remember that I don’t know. I try to develop sensitivity to that arrogant feeling that says “I know” and stays closed, and to question the thoughts that tell me I know. When I can do it, it makes me humble and soft.

In a conflict you can ask yourself this question, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” You can’t have it both. Certainly we all would rather be happy. But we forget. Old conditioning takes over and we close down. Then we hide in a cave or we pull up the draw bridge and man the ramparts and are ready for war.

How many times do we need to loose this war to find another way? The simple answer is: until we awaken to the folly of our ways. As soon as we realize that we don’t know, as soon as the mind surrenders its superior position we are open again, we can relax and learn, we can taste the delicious flavor of humility. Eventually that will lead to a state of continuous wonderment. That will be the time when we will truly know.

with Love,

Ram Giri

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