Learning After You Know…

by Modaser Shah

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  (Earl Weaver, Zen Calendar)

Behind this know-it-all, self-sufficient posture is uncertainty and doubt, those truly human qualities.I f you don’t recognize & own these, the need to learn from someone other than yourself, it is  hard  be open to knowing.

One needs to learn how to learn (Idries Shah) and learn how to unlearn and to let go or drop things. Nasruddin (the Sufi sage who was always in guise of a fool) had to drop his keys before he could begin to learn and to teach by showing. He did this by looking for the keys under a lamppost, not in the dark where he had actually lost them.

The Tao view of learning is as follows: “In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.”

These are two different states of consciousness.That of learning in the usual sense and that of Tao. They are different, but not separate. They imply and contain each other. To pass from one to the other, something has to (be let) go, not something trivial but something deep within:

“Wherever I may be I meet him, he is no other than myself. Yet I am not he.”  (Dosan, Zen Calendar)

Is this an attack on logic, on I-ness and He-ness, on identity? Does it weaken or threaten you? Or strengthen you? Or both.? It is apparently not a zero sum game. The laws of thermodynamics don’t apply. Or if they do, they don’t fully.

“Knowing ignorance is strength; ignoring knowledge is sickness.” (LaoTsu)

So what happens to the self-sufficient persona, as it faces the REAL or the Other? Let us listen:

“I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is and not as a comment on my life.”   (David Ignaow)

The mountain as a mountain, a thing in itself; not diminishing or exalting one’s existence. Seeing things as they are, no more, no less. How simple and how hard.

What about the painful struggles and suffering, that are the fate of those who dare to drop their self-sufficiency, to be alive and  jump into the river of fire,  as Ghalib, the Sufi Indian poet,  says. The struggle of forming and unforming, life and death. The Heart Sutra (some have called it The Heart Attack Sutra) waxes eloquent:

“All form is emptiness, all emptiness is form…

No old age and death and no end to old age and death.

No suffering and no end to suffering.”

This is Nirvana, enlightenment. Not self-sufficiency by any stretch.

Allama Iqbal says: if you are thirsty for a look, close your eyes, to make sure that no one looks. A wise artist said:” In order to see, I have to close my eyes.”  So there is looking without seeing; seeing without looking.

One has to gaze at reality,but this is not without danger to identity. It may be you. And yet not you. You and not-you, this can be shocking and intoxicating at the same time. Lost & found. Like Nasruddin’s keys, you can’t be found until you are lost, a believer until an unbeliever, sane until insane. Clean follows unclean.

A quote from After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (The title of a book on Zen): Having sense emerges out of senselessness

The translation of a verse by Maulana Amir Meenai: “The pious naively invite us to the mosque; If we  had sense, why would we be in the tavern?”  So, in closing the eyes and losing sense, giving up  your identity, you may become who you were meant to be. You may win some, you may lose some. Head to the tavern and lose your senses, piety blossoms in the middle of impious revelry, says the Maulana. And, it may be added, revelrous impiety in the bosom of piety.

” Lose your way, but then return.” (Taigen Dan Leighton).



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