Taking Responsibility for What We Don’t Know

“If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.”

~  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
German philosopher


“I don’t know.”

That’s a statement we hear too little of these days. It seems we would expound about spiritual issues with which we have no personal experience, rather than take responsibility for what we do not know to be true, and stand in the nakedness of our not knowing. Not knowing seems a deficiency of the personality, rather than a simple fact.

Is there a soul? Is there life after death or is this all that there is? Is there a heaven or hell? Reincarnation? Is there a spiritual reality? How do we go about finding answers to life’s deepest questions? If you have an interest in questions such as these, how have you sought to answer them?

Typically we seek our answers in books and workshops, etc. We read that the Buddha said this, Christ taught that, Sufis assert “x”, although Hindus believe “y”. The larger your library of spiritual books, the more workshops that we have attended, then the more we know the answers. Or do we, really?

What we assume to know from such exploits is only what others have told us to be so. If Guru MahaMaybe says there is reincarnation, but we are reincarnated on Planet Xenon, many of us go will go forth, and propound the virtues of life on Xenon. Yet is what we glean from others knowledge or simply reportage?

But what a way to search the mysteries of living! We take refuge from our existential vicissitudes by nestling in the doctrinal authority of another. Yes, there are many admirable teachers in all traditions. However, teachers serve us not by enlisting us as believers, but by directing us to realization through our own direct experience. If our search for life’s meaning ends with our resting in a nest feathered with the words of others, we will have found only words, not answers.

Instead of being dipped in the opinions of others, I wish that we each would dip ourselves into the well of our actual living, moment-to-moment experience – the actual “stuff” that is life. There, inquiring into the ordinariness of each lived moment, not books, the answers may be will be found, whatever they may be. Where else would you expect to find them?

What I experience, I may claim to know. All else I have not experienced, “I do not know”, although I may hold the teachings of others as hypotheses to be verified by my inquiry into my life’s experience. My not knowing is not a deficiency. Rather than mislead myself and others on such important matters, if I do not know something from personal experience, that is an existential fact for which I willingly take personal responsibility, for is that not my truth?

Is the nest of your knowing feathered with the words of others or your own personal experience?

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