Knowledge and Being


The pyramid is a very useful
image for these tutorials because it expresses several
fundamental aspects of this teaching. It implies climbing, or effort, without which one cannot
progress on this path. It implies ascent, meaning, that as one rises, one
sees more, one gains a broader view of
oneself and the world around one. And it implies a movement towards a focal point, that this is not only
about accumulating knowledge, but about turning “knowledge”
into “being,” using “knowledge” in order
to “Be.” We will begin this tutorial by examining the role of
knowledge in this teaching. We will see that knowledge must be combined with
first-hand experience if it is to help us climb
the pyramid. We will draw from the
story of Prince Siddhartha, who, like us, sets out to explore
his surroundings, and gradually learns unsuspecting things about them. And once we understand the roles of “knowledge”
and “being,” we will apply that understanding to the world of our emotions. “Knowledge and Being”
(Understanding & Verification) “Certain teachings compare
man to a house of four rooms. Man lives in one room,
the smallest and poorest of all, and until he is told of it,
he does not suspect the existence of other rooms
which are full of treasures.” One of the ancient teachings that compares man to an
unexplored house is Buddhism. It expresses this comparison in the story of the life
of Prince Siddhartha. The auspicious circumstances around Siddhartha’s conception
and birth, his emerging out of the right side of Queen Maya’s womb, lead a sage to predict that the newborn prince
will become either a great monarch, or an enlightened being. The king, wishing his son to
inherit the kingdom, rather than retire to a
religious life, confined Siddhartha to
the palace, hoping that a life of
luxury will prevent any spiritual inclinations to
arise in him. As Siddhartha nears his thirties, he becomes more and more
curious of what lies beyond the palace walls. His confinement to
a palace, and his eventual venturing
outside, is an allegorical description
of man, who lives in a small
part of himself, rarely suspecting the existence of other rooms in his
micro-cosmos. When Siddhartha finally
ventures out, he witnesses exactly those
realities which his father had hoped
he would never see: sickness, old age,
and death. On his first excursion he sees an old man. “Who is this man who
has come here, O charioteer, with white hair and
his hand resting on a staff?” “That is old age
by which he is broken down… He too once drank milk
in his childhood. Having step by step become
a vigorous youth, he has, step by step, in the
same way, reached old age.” Siddhartha’s charioteer
or driver represents the mind. First comes experience – we observe something – in this case, Siddhartha witnessing an old man
leaning on his staff. And then comes the mind’s explanation of what we observe. This combination of
first-hand experience and mental explanation is how we learn. This is an important point: we cannot learn with
only one or only the other; knowledge in this system must be accompanied by
verification. “If you only hear about
these ideas, or read about them, they remain merely words. But when you begin to
verify them for yourselves, when you understand
each function in yourselves and find out your own
feelings and sensations connected with each of them, then it becomes
knowledge.” Our self discovery, our venturing into the
unexplored rooms of our own being, will have to follow this step-by-step progression. If we studied this system
in a classroom without simultaneously
observing ourselves, our knowledge would
remain theoretical. If we observed ourselves without the knowledge of
this system, our observations would
remain vague. To advance on this path we have to combine
one with the other; we have to take a step
of knowledge and follow it with a step
of verification, or vice versa, take a step of verification and follow it with a step
of knowledge – it doesn’t matter which
comes first as long as one is
consistently accompanied by the other. Knowledge alone cannot
change us. Only verification leads
to change. Back to Siddhartha, now that he has verified for the first time in his life the reality of old age, he returns to his palace
changed. He can no longer see
things the way he used to. “Since such is our condition, O charioteer, turn back the horses, go quickly home; how can I rejoice in
the pleasure-garden, when the thoughts arising from old age
overpower me?” In exactly the same way once we verify a habit we can no longer indulge in it with a clear conscience, as we used to. This doesn’t mean it
immediately stops, but that our attitude towards
it has changed. Just like Siddhartha can no longer view his luxurious
palace in the same way. “The more a man
understands what he is doing, the greater will be the
results of his efforts. This is a fundamental
principle of the fourth way. The results of work
are in proportion to the consciousness
of the work. No ‘faith’ is required
on the fourth way; on the contrary, faith of any
kind is opposed to the fourth way. On the fourth way a man
must satisfy himself of the truth of
what he is told. And until he is satisfied
he must do nothing.” In the coming tutorials we will seek to “understand”
negative emotions. Like Siddhartha and
his driver, we will venture into the
unexplored room of our emotional world. The tutorials will focus on different aspects of negative emotions, and in so doing, lay the ground for our
observation. To start, we will set
an aim to avoid expressing
negative emotions throughout this week. But because this is too
big and broad of an aim, we will make it more specific: we will deliberately skip
one meal in the coming week. In particular, a meal we are
most accustomed to having. And pay careful attention
to negativity after this little sacrifice: irritability, impatience, judgement, and so forth. We each have a favorite
meal or beverage which we are accustomed to having at a particular time of each day. For me, it is the coffee
and biscuit in the morning; for someone else, it is a beer and a snack
in the afternoon; and for a third person it is lunch during work. The irritation of
missing this pattern – only once – will likely evoke more internal negativity than usual which we can then observe and try our best not
to express. And here is a tip
for Siddhartha, or the part in us
that observes: we are most habitually negative to those with
whom we are closest: our spouses, our children,
our parents, or our very close friends. Be particularly observant in those circumstances. And here is a tip for
our driver, or the mind: we almost never call
negative emotions, “negative emotions.” We justify them by
numerous other names. If we express negativity towards our children, we call it “correction.” Or if we express negativity towards our boss, we call it “injustice.” So watch for that, too. “The most important
aspect of discipline is not expressing
negative emotions, and not indulging
in negative emotions. If you catch yourself at the
moment of negative emotion and stop it,
this is discipline.” So this week we will introduce an
interruption to our day by skipping one
favorite meal; by paying careful attention to negativity that arises as a result of that sacrifice; making an effort not
to express it, but to take note of it under its proper name: irritability, impatience, judgement, and so forth. This will mark our
venturing into the world of our
emotions. (Queen Maya Giving Birth – 100AD – 300AD, Gandhara) (Siddhartha Meeting Old Man – 100AD – 300AD, Gandhara) “Knowledge and Being” “(Understanding and Verification)”

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