Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's OK Not To Know

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.
            ---- Tao Te Ching chapter 71

Last year I turned 60.  It seems like for 50 of those years I have pondered eternal issues in varying degrees of intensity.  For about half of that time I was a devout fundamentalist Christian with periodic questions and a growing awareness that there was more to know than what was presented in the Bible.  At times, I anguished over my desire to know “the truth” and my lack of direction.  Then, I had a realization that freed me from that anxiety.  It probably occurred over a period of time because I do not remember a specific “Eureka” moment.  It was a recognition of the immensity of the universe and my finite place within it. 

I am awed by the enormity of the universe.  Every time I watch the accompanying videos, I am confronted with my inability to grasp the concept of infinity.  After all, we live in a finite world with limitations and boundaries.  So, trying to envision the universe expanding forever is truly mind-blowing.  For example, in 1995 for a period of 11 days, the Hubble telescope was focused on an apparently empty region of space.  During this time, researchers detected an additional 3,500 previously unknown galaxies.  A similar deep space probe was conducted in 2003 after Hubble had been equipped with new optics.  This time, it remained focused on a single point for approximately three weeks.  This resulted in the discovery of an additional 10,000 galaxies.  We are talking about galaxies, not individual stars.

Let’s see if an analogy can bring this vastness into focus.  Imagine that we lived on the surface of an electron (earth) orbiting the nucleus of an atom (the sun) which was part of a DNA molecule (our galaxy) in a cell (our local cluster of galaxies) in the brain of a gigantic human (the universe).  Would we be able to fully recognize the total reality?  Would we recognize that we were part of an enormous living being?  Absolutely not.  Our perception would be much as it is now.  We would be able to scan as far as our technology would allow, but it is impossible to believe that we would ever comprehend the big picture. 

As I have considered this perspective, I have come to the conclusion that neither I, nor any other human, will ever be able to completely understand God, the Source, the cosmos because it is just too vast and our comprehension is so incredibly limited.  I doubt that everyone will understand the magnitude of this revelation.  Many people are not particularly interested in cosmic contemplation anyway.  They are quite satisfied with focusing on the day-to-day issues of their lives.  Many more are content to place their absolute trust in ancient scriptures and believe that everything we need to know about God is contained there. 

For those who are actively seeking a deeper revelation, the idea of not being able to know the “ultimate truth” may be unsettling or depressing.  Personally I find it incredibly liberating.  For me, accepting the reality of this limitation has allowed me to thoroughly cherish what I do learn and understand.  I recognize that every effort to perceive God will always be partial, no matter how insightful.  This offers the freedom to consider a variety of sources, gleaning what seems true, and rejecting what seems erroneous.  I have yet to find any teachings that I feel compelled to fully embrace (although I thoroughly enjoy the Tao Te Ch’ing).

Does this mean that we should give up the search altogether?  Of course not!  If someone offers me a piece of cake, I don’t refuse it because I’m not allowed to eat the whole cake.  I gratefully accept the portion that is offered.  If I am among friends, I may ask for a second piece, and if someone suggests that I take some home, you can count on me gladly accepting the offer.  I feel the same way about enlightenment.

I think we all just need to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the process of discovering what we can about the cosmos and our place in it.  I have discovered a great freedom and joy in merely following a path of illumination as it is presented to me.  There is an old Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”


  1. I am quite content to let God handle the details of this vast universe. He knows I have enough on my own plate on this tiny dustspeck we call "Earth."

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  3. indeed the universe is vast. vast is not even sufficient, this implies that it is measurable, and i'm not sure it is. it is infinite. and this goes in many directions, make that all directions. it is overwhelming to think of how tiny our little existence is in the scope of the billions of galaxies we are aware of, but to me equally overwhelming to contemplate how vast we are when we attempt to look within. modern instruments can look into a cell and find a whole universe of protons, neutrons, quarks, down to the building blocks of life as we know it, and it goes on forever. the further we look in the more we realize there is to see. i always thought of linear existence as separate from eternity, but this difference is only perception, only because of my limited experience and understanding. if you take a strait line, that has a beginning and an end, this is finite, yet you can divide it in half an infinite number of times, eternity.

    as far as the cake analogy, this maybe where in the problem lies with me, you see i have never been satisfied with just one piece of cake, i want the whole thing, however when i would eat a whole cake i would of course get sick. and i am highly allergic to nuts, and to be honest i think the cake that we used to eat had way too many nuts in it....

  4. sometimes i think that maybe the Bible isn't so much incomplete, but rather, we are just used to reading it from a single, often literal, perspective. I've pondered a couple of notions regarding the ancient scriptures, one that, maybe they are all really telling us the exact same thing, ie. describing the same reality, but doing so from a perspective that we as a culture are most ready to understand, with the deeper truths always only revealed at a level only stumbled upon at higher levels of the spiritual evolution. Another idea about the scriptures, and everything else (including especially science) could be that each one is merely a piece of the overall puzzle. All valuable, nothing to be discarded, but each relevant only to the specific place we are as individuals in our own spiritual journey.

  5. I am fascinated at the way your comments reflect so many of the things I plan to include in future postings.

    If you would like something on a lighter note regarding this posting, try this link

  6. I am fascinated at how relevant all of this is to where I am in my journey.

  7. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) can be useful to our spiritual journey if we're ready to allow it. Sounds like you are ready to allow it. Maintaining that state of readiness is another issue altogether.

    Rick, you definitely seem to be laying a foundation.

  8. I am always looking for nuggets of gold no matter how small and am no longer surprised when or where I find them.