‘If you think I know it well, then little indeed you know.’ (Kena Upanishad)
With these words, the teacher gives the mind of a pupil a shake. The words are a thrust at self-satisfaction. The pupil has an intellectual grasp of Brahman, Truth, and some experience of it, but he thinks that this shining intellectual experience is the true Knowledge which gives liberation from confinement in body-mind individuality – a succession of birth and death.
The teacher gives a thrust: ‘If you think that this is knowing it, you know almost nothing about it.’
Badly shaken, the pupil leaves the group of disciples and goes to a solitary place. There he sits down in the deep meditation that leads to samadhi, and takes the needle-point of his ‘I’ consciousness beyond associations and memories.
In the Zen phrase, the bottom falls out of the bucket.
He comes back, and the teacher looks at him. The glance says: ‘Say something of it.’
The pupil replies: ‘ I do not think I know it. But it is not that I do not know. I know and do not know as well. He among us here who knows what it means to say: ‘Still, I do know it’, he knows it.’
The Upanishad sums up: ‘Known to him to whom it is unknown; unknown to him to whom it is known.’
We can find, in daily life, a hint to these apparent riddles.
When someone sits down to learn to type, the teacher often covers the keyboard so that he cannot see his fingers. In front of him is displayed a map of the keyboard, and he has to identify the keys under his fingers with the various letters. It is slow, because he does not know where they are. He has to consult the map and then feel for them. He does not know, and he cannot type.
After some weeks, he has memorised the plan, and his fingers are getting familiar with the keys. He knows, but he cannot really type as an expert understands it.
After some years, that expert can type with perfect accuracy at high speeds – with a computer keyboard he can be almost as fast a pianist.
But if someone suddenly asks this same expert: ‘Where is the ‘J’ key?’ often he cannot answer at once. He has to mentally type ‘Joe’, and only then can he answer. He does not know. And yet he types perfectly at high speeds. He more that knows. In a sense, it is part of him. He does not know, yet he does know.
© 1999 Trevor Leggett