"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Knowledge That Suffocates Bewilderment

(1207-1273)
"Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment," urges Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet

I once read an anecdote about Rumi's first encounter with his spiritual muse, Shams of Tabriz. The story goes that Rumi is walking while reading a hand-copied book of his father's teachings (Rumi's father, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad, was a theologian, Sufi sheikh and mystic of the first order, himself.) Rumi runs into Tams, who promptly snatches up Rumi's most treasured book and throws it into a fountain, thereby destroying it. There is no doubt that an astonished Rumi must have at first been bewildered by Shams' actions.

But here I am again, clinging to all my suffocating cleverness which encases the bewilderment within. "But just let me explain," cries my smaller self, "I know what it all means." Knowledge and experience are not synonomous and may, in fact, be mutually exclusive. Do you know what it is you see, by its similarities, differences, qualities and classifications? Or, do you openly experience what your senses present to you?

Rumi eventually realized how nonsensical it was to be engrossed in the knowledge within the book that was destroyed, when Shams was already there as an exemplar. He realized that the moon reflected in a pool of water was not the moon, in fact, and that the puddle could not after all hold the moon. (This is the Sufi version of the Buddha's distinction between the moon and the finger pointing at the moon.) And, yet, the moon required the puddle, and the puddle the moon, in order to bewilder Rumi.

Can you not see what a clever little trickster the ego is? Where can one buy bewilderment these days?

Osho (1931-1990)
A recent issue of The Times of India featured an excerpt from Osho's book, Walking In Zen, Sitting In Zen, highlighting why he was against knowledge, but rather urged people to respond to the moment.
"Knowledge destroys wonder, destroys the capacity to feel awe," Osho observes. "It makes you capable of explaining away everything. It takes away all poetry from life. It takes away all meaning from life. The knowledgeable person is never surprised by anything because he can explain everything. But no explanation is true for they don't explain anything at all. The mystery remains. The mystery is infinite."
Knowledge "takes away all poetry." How true. It was only after embracing Sham's bewilderment that Rumi became a poet for the ages. All his considerable learning and knowledge were an impediment to the bewilderment that wanted to burst forth from his chest.

"The knowledgeable person," writes Osho, "becomes so burdened by his knowledge that he loses the mirror-like quality of reflecting the beauty, the benediction, the dance, the ecstasy of existence." This is Osho's poetics flowing from beyond knowledge.

 "Knowledge is not going to help as far as life is concerned," he concludes. "The knowledgeable person is almost a dead person; he lives in his grave." Rumi says, "Take tiny sips of breath all day long, before death comes and closes your throat." Knowledge can too easily suffocate, I say, smothering the flames of bewilderment with the ego's rote rememberings and constant analysis.

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