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Knowing (Not Knowing)

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Knowing (Not Knowing)?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Knowing (Not Knowing)

A Basic Not Knowing that Underlies All Our Knowingness, All of Our Knowledge

This is how we ordinarily think about not-knowing; it is not-knowing from the perspective of ordinary knowledge. But there is a much more profound not-knowing, a much more basic not-knowing that underlies all of our knowingness, all of our knowledge. As you listen to me, you believe that you know me in a certain way. But most of what you know about me comes from experiences in the past. At this moment, if you really investigate, you will discover that you don’t really know me. Maybe I have changed since last night. How do you know? Maybe I went through a deep metamorphosis. Maybe I am not what I was yesterday or a few years ago. There is a basic not-knowing that is present all the time, in a fundamental and simple way. You look around you and say, “I’m sitting here with these people, inside these walls,” and you think you know who the people are and what the walls are. This is ordinary knowledge. And this ordinary knowledge from the past is actually determining your perceptions right now. In reality, you don’t truly know in this moment what a wall is. You call it a wall because you know things about walls, and you put the wall in a certain category that fixes and rigidifies it. Of course, it appears to be a normal wall. But what you are knowing is basically your mind. More precisely, you are knowing this presentation, which we call a wall, through the filter of your mind. But do you really know the wall at this moment? Do you truly know what this thing is in itself, without your ideas about it?  

A State of Knowledge

Not-knowing is a state of knowledge; it indicates an innate, basic knowingness. It happens within a field capable of knowing. As we have seen, recognizing that you don’t know is a function of knowing, is an expression of basic knowledge. A dynamic not-knowing implies an unknowingness that is moving toward knowing, an unknowingness that is interested to know. It is an unknowingness that wants to know, that loves to know. In a very direct way, dynamic unknowingness is the expression of dynamic knowingness. In other words, dynamic unknowing is the operation of a knowingness that knows that it does not know. And the fact that it is knowingness gives it the dynamism to actively move toward knowledge. Not only do you need to recognize that you don’t know, but the not-knowing must also have a dynamism that moves it toward knowing what you don’t know. Otherwise, your not-knowing will not be inquiry. What I am saying is that a dynamic not-knowing is one that is open to knowledge. It is not just a passive attitude that leaves things as unknown. It is a not-knowing that is full of interest, passionate about knowing, in love with discovery—a not-knowing that points to the possibility of further knowing. In terms of basic knowledge, this possibility leads to further discovery, further experience, further expansion. 

Direct Expression of the Mystery Itself

This demonstrates another reason to have a healthy respect and appreciation for not-knowing: Not-knowing is the entry to the adventure of discovery. In time, you may recognize that not-knowing is the way Being opens up to its own mysteriousness. In fact, this not-knowing is the direct expression of the Mystery itself. What does “mystery” mean? When you say, “There is mystery” or “I experience mystery,” you are experiencing not-knowing in a palpable form. Mystery is the essence of Being itself, which manifests in inquiry as an openness that appears as a not-knowing. Entering into that openness of not-knowing is the work we do in the Diamond Approach. We question one thing after another—everything we know about ourselves and about reality. And every time we recognize that we don’t know, a new kind of knowledge is revealed. We need to remember that basic knowingness is the field of Being as it manifests in our soul. Inquiry is a dynamic stream that meanders according to its knowingness of what it does and doesn’t know as it flows through the field of the soul. This field, however, exists within a larger field of not-knowing—a boundless field of mystery and the ground of all of our experience, perception, and knowledge. The not-knowing of inquiry is like a spring bubbling up in the stream of knowing from the underlying ground of Being’s mystery, indicating the undiscovered treasure that lies beneath.  

Emptiness Feeling Like a State of Not Knowing Myself

I have encountered this shell every time my identity has been challenged by a new manifestation of Being. It indicates the identity of the ego-self, formed by memory and history. In this state I feel phony, not authentically myself. At these junctures the process usually begins with the recognition of being identified with an ego structure, with the attendant shame and deep hurt. This understanding gradually dissolves the shell, and fully reveals the emptiness. The emptiness feels like a state of not knowing myself, of not having a sense of self or identity. Holding this deficient emptiness with motiveless global awareness, allows it to transform to a peaceful black spaciousness. This space, which has no sense of self, and no concern for its absence, allows the new identity to arise. The new identity is usually a certain dimension of Being, which now takes the center of experience. Something different occurs in the experience I am relating, again reminding me never to become smug about what I know, even when it arises from authentic experience. I have learned not to anticipate what will arise, for there is no way to second-guess the action of Being.

Even Not Knowing Your Experience is Knowing, is Knowledge

If you look at your experience at any moment, you will see that it is a kind of knowledge. Experience is inseparable from knowledge, and in fact is completely knowledge. Experience is so intertwined with knowledge that you cannot say, for example, “My knee hurts,” without the knowledge that you have a knee, what a knee is, what hurt is, and the various other pieces of information that constitute your experience of the knee hurting. All of this is knowledge. You cannot say, feel, or think, “I feel loved by you,” without knowing there is a you, there is a me, there is love, and what love feels like or means. All this is knowledge. Even not-knowing your experience is knowing, is knowledge. Even “I don’t know what is going on with me” is knowledge. What is understanding, then? How is it different from knowledge? Understanding means that you not only have knowledge of what is going on, you not only have the experience, but you also are in touch with the meaning of the experience. There is not just the knowledge of the fact of the experience itself, but also a cognitive appreciation of its significance. For instance, you are sitting with somebody and you are feeling uncomfortable. This is experience, and it is always connected with knowledge. At some point you investigate, “Why am I uncomfortable?” You hold this question until you see some truth that you haven’t seen before—perhaps you want to go to bed with that person but are afraid to say so. You are afraid of even knowing it. This is the truth you didn’t see before that gives meaning to your discomfort. 

Feeling Uncentered, Lost, Disoriented, Not Knowing which Way to Go or What to Do

In addition to functioning as a center of observation, perception, and awareness, the structure of self-identity has other functions which are difficult to distinguish until we have the experience of the identity dissolving. In the experience of “no self,” as in Pia’s report in Chapter 6, when one experiences the identity as absent, one may also feel that one doesn’t recognize oneself, as in James’s report at the beginning of this chapter. In initial experiences one is also likely to feel uncentered, lost, disoriented, not knowing which way to go or what to do, or even the sense of not being able to do anything. Clearly, this phenomenon is different from loss of memory, although that might also result in loss of the feeling of identity. It is more a sense of loss of a psychological self-reference. Losing the sense of self-recognition disturbs the element we depend on to know what to do and what direction to take in life; hence, we may feel disoriented and lost. How can we discern a meaningful direction or action if we do not know ourselves? Actions, plans and goals are meaningful only in relation to one’s identity. So loss of identity is bound to manifest, at least sometimes, as disorientation and lack of direction. There is a common expression for this state—we say we are “not feeling centered.” 

Forgetting All that You Think You Know

Not knowing, forgetting all that you think you know, opens the centers in the head. The centers of perception and understanding are blocked by the belief that you know something when you don’t actually know. It’s that simple. If you believe that you see things as they are, or that you know things as they are, the centers of perception and understanding are blocked because you are taking an illusion to be reality. You are looking at your mind instead of at reality. So the way to do it is to always be ignorant. Why do you need to know anyway? Why do you need to feel that you already know all the time? What’s so wonderful about that? The transition from not knowing to knowing is far more wonderful than the feeling of “I know,” because the feeling of “I know” is not a discovery. 

Helplessness of Not Knowing What to Do to Be Oneself

The most important insight needed for a student to move from the deficient lack of support to the actual state of support is the recognition that the feeling of helplessness, of not knowing what to do to be oneself, is not an actual deficiency, nor a personal failing. It is rather, the recognition of a fundamental truth about the self, which is that we cannot do anything in order to be, for to be is not an activity. We can come to this understanding only through the cessation of intentional inner activity. At this point, not to know what to do is a matter of recognizing the natural state of affairs, for since there is nothing that we can do to be, then it is natural that we cannot know what to do. There is nothing to know because such knowledge is impossible. Nobody knows what to do to be, and the sooner we recognize this, the easier is our work on self-realization. In fact, feeling that we don’t know what to do to be ourselves is the beginning of the insight that we don’t need to do anything.

In the Face of this Not Knowing Our Faith Keeps Us Going

Holy Faith is a specific condition or state, a specific development of this sense of purity and implicit confidence or trust. It is needed to embark on, and to continue traveling the path, because as we journey on our path, we do not have full knowledge of reality. We do not have complete access to this view, and so most of the way along the path, we don’t know what’s happening. We don’t know where we are or where we are going, except for occasional glimpses. Because of this inevitable ignorance, faith is very important; in fact, it is necessary to keep you going when you can’t see the road clearly. When we have complete understanding and perception of reality, faith is no longer necessary. But as long as we are passing through what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night” of not seeing reality clearly, we need faith. At times, the journey is easy, at times it is difficult, and at other times it feels down-right impossible; and for the most part, we don’t know why, nor do we understand what it is that is happening to us. In the face of this not knowing, our faith keeps us going; and when there is faith, we don’t need to know where we are going or how to feel secure. If we knew exactly where we were heading, there would be no discovery, no adventure, no magic. Holy Faith sustains us on our journey into the unknown. 

Facets of Unity, pg. 252

Navigating Through Your Not Knowing

Inquiry is basically a challenge to what we think we know. We ordinarily believe that we know who we are, what we are, what we are going to do, what life is about, what should happen. Inquiry means challenging all these things. Do we really know? Through inquiry, you learn how to navigate through your not-knowing. You will find out where you are going through the unfoldment of your own dynamism: “Where is it taking me? Am I going to become a monk? Am I going to become a householder? Am I going to be a computer analyst, a soldier, a teacher, a lover, a husband or a wife?” The more any inquiry is open ended, the more its power is released. That power is the power of the dynamism of Being itself. This is quite different from the restricted and limited way of using inquiry, which is directed toward a particular result and is determined by an idea in your mind or by something you or somebody else already knows. When I say that inquiry needs to be open ended, I don’t mean that you should never take a perspective. But whatever perspective you take, inquiry can move to open it up and reveal what you are inquiring into. And if you inquire into a particular way of looking at things, you might realize, “Oh, this perspective is good for this, but not good for that.” We are discussing inquiry in a very general way, laying the groundwork for looking more extensively into this fascinating part of our work. But the moment you start understanding inquiry, you forget that it is work. Inquiry brings in a love and a joyfulness; it brings in the very dynamism of Being that is needed for transformation. 

Not Knowing Already Implies Knowing

In saying that inquiry begins by not-knowing, I am not referring to something circumscribed; not-knowing is not a certain quantity or area of information that you don’t know. Not-knowing is omnipresent. However, it begins with certain circumscribed areas, for they are part of the not-knowing. For instance, you experience a certain manifestation and feel a particular reaction: Suddenly you’re frustrated and scared and you don’t know why. This is a not-knowing that can begin inquiry. The more you are aware of what happened—“I just went through this door and saw all these people, and I am scared and frustrated”—and realize you don’t know why, the more likely it is that inquiry will begin. Of course, right away you may find a reason to explain your feeling: “Well, I am just scared of crowds. Too many people here.” This is a piece of knowledge derived from previous insights, but you can use it to close down the not-knowing. Maybe there is more to it. If you investigate, you might realize that you are not scared of crowds; you might discover that the reason why you are afraid is a deeper one. For example, you might be concerned about losing yourself in such a situation. It is important that we explore more thoroughly this not-knowing. We usually think that not-knowing is a gap, a deficiency, in our ordinary knowledge. That is why we judge ourselves, that is why we feel bad or get threatened and scared when we realize that we don’t know something. We think it’s something we could have known, and that if we know it now, the not-knowing will disappear. This position implies that we do not understand that not-knowing is how basic knowledge first reveals itself, that not-knowing is really a knowingness. Not-knowing already implies knowing, doesn’t it? You know that you don’t know. In the very not-knowing, basic knowledge is functioning. In other words, one of the main ways basic knowingness functions is in the feeling that you don’t know. 

Not Knowing that is Not Threatening

There is a sense that all my apparent knowledge of the world, primarily ideas and stories in the mind, is peeling away, leaving something unknown underneath. There is mystery all around me. I feel a profound sense of ignorance. I wonder about life and death, about the life of the body, about everything that I have thought naively and arrogantly that I know. I realize that all life, and all objects and processes in life, are full of mystery. I do not really know anything. The not knowing is not threatening. I accept it with a sense of wonder and bafflement. The center of the operation of the nous, at the forehead, feels like an open window, transparent and clear. In this openness the activity of the nous is so intense that it feels like a continuous series of explosions. The contemplation, which is bursting with insights, acts on the mind like dynamite, shattering its long-held complacency about its knowledge of the world. At such moments it seems that the perception sets aside the knowledge of the mind and apprehends things nakedly. The chair now looks like the usual chair I have known, except that this is only the external appearance, which I am now acutely aware of as merely appearance. Everything else, the walls and the doors, the floor and the carpets, the lamps and books, all seem to be appearances, surfaces of something much more fundamental, external facades of a more basic reality. I perceive the chair and everything else around me becoming transparent, as if the shapes and colors have become so luminous that they have lost all opaqueness. And through this transparency, naked reality peers through. 

Not Knowing that is Opening to Knowing

When we are open, inquiry is merely the enjoyment of the exploration: having a good time experiencing the path and the terrain of unfoldment. It is an investigation, and an involvement in the investigation. Then there is a lightness to it instead of the dreary heaviness of trying to get someplace. Dreary heaviness means no openness. When inquiry embodies this openness, it becomes an exciting adventure. It is fun. This fun implies not-knowing, but this not-knowing is not a heavy kind of not-knowing, where there is anxiety and self-blame. It is the not-knowing that is the opening to knowing, the not-knowing that eliminates the barrier—which is the accumulation of what you know. It is true not-knowing. It is innocence. You know that you do not know and you are happy to be on the journey of finding out. In inquiry, you do not know, and you know that you do not know. However, you have some sense of what you do not know, and that means you have a general direction—that is what formulates a question. You are happy that you know you do not know, because that means you are getting closer to knowing the truth, which is the beloved of your heart. The truth is ultimately true nature, and inquiry is nothing but the attempt of the love of truth to reveal the fullness of true nature.  

Nothing to Do

Achieving a measure of freedom from this incessant ego activity is not easy; it requires a deep surrender. This letting-go requires several factors. One of these is learning what Mark says he discovered: that not knowing what to do in order to be is not a deficiency, for being is not a matter of doing anything. When there is nothing to do, then not knowing what to do is an objective situation and not an indication of a personal failing. When this happens, then the feeling of “I cannot do anything; I do not know what to do,” which is the hole of the Diamond Will, transforms into the solidity of essential support, with the understanding that Being is the support for being (see Chapters 25 and 26). The surrender also requires deep and unquestioned trust in truth and in reality in general. It requires an unusual faith or basic trust that if one suspends the activity, everything will be okay, that everything will be taken care of. For most people, this basic trust was eroded because of early parental treatment that failed to give the child the implicit confidence that she would be taken care of without having to manipulate for her environment to provide what she needed. The inadequacies of the early holding environment made her feel that she cannot just relax and be; she has to take things into her own hands, and make sure that she will be safe and cared for. This orientation manifests in later life as a general distrust of reality. She learns to react instead of being, to manipulate things in an attempt to compensate for inadequate holding, as Winnicott observed some decades ago: 

Soul, Not Knowing She is Enlightened and Not Caring to Know

To be established in the nonconceptual is to attain an inconceivable freedom. The soul realizes her nature in such a way that she does not need to know what it is. She does not need to know she is enlightened. She is beyond the concept of enlightenment and liberation. She is innocent, not knowing she is enlightened, and not caring to know. She has attained liberated indifference, for the fullness of realization takes her to such completion that there is no distinction between falsehood and truth, soul and essence, enlightenment or delusion. There is no reflection on one’s realization, no excitement about it, no narcissistic congratulations, and no need to talk about it. One is, Reality is thus, and one goes about one’s business. The aspirant’s mind is open and free, totally unencumbered by any position, philosophy, or system. He has no perspective that he takes to be ultimate and final. Yet, he is free to use any system. Since he is established in the nonconceptual he sees all perspectives for what they are, conceptual perspectives, and hence not ultimate truth. But because he can use his discriminating mind, he can see when a given perspective is useful or necessary for some functioning or teaching, and is free to use it. Nevertheless, he uses it without having to believe it is ultimate and can drop it whenever it becomes unnecessary. He needs no perspective for his own experience, for he lives where no perspective can enter. Although he understands the need for the correct perspective for those who have not attained the nonconceptual, he recognizes that what is necessary for the soul’s freedom is not a particular perspective, but liberation from all conceptual limitations.

Three Different Kinds of Not Knowing

This place of not knowing is different than the not knowing we encounter in inquiry when we have a new experience or one we’ve had before but have not investigated. The latter is the kind of not knowing that we need to move through many times on our inner journey. We need to first recognize through our inquiry that we don’t know something before we can begin to know it. So, for example, we cannot recognize our essential presence before realizing that we don’t know what essential presence is. Because if we continue to believe that we know it, we will never find out what it actually is. So inquiry always requires letting ourselves experience that “I don’t really know what this is . . . I don’t know what is happening right now . . . I don’t know who I am.” It is possible for us to be in that place and still be aware because the nonconceptual awareness is there. But that doesn’t mean that we are aware of the nonconceptual dimension directly. The nonconceptual is supporting that process, but our conceptual, cognitive mind is still present—it just hasn’t yet grasped something. It doesn’t know, but it knows that it doesn’t know. In contrast, in the nonconceptual you don’t know and you don’t know that you don’t know. There is no knowing, where before there was not knowing. So we could say that there are three different kinds of not knowing:

1. “I don’t know, and I don’t know that I don’t know.” This is pure ignorance and darkness, for I believe I know many things. The knowing mind is present.

2. “I don’t know, and I know that I don’t know.” This is awakening to my condition.

3. “I don’t know, and I don’t know that I don’t know.” This is pure realization, light, no darkness, but the knowing mind is absent.

Transition From Ordinary Knowledge to Basic Knowledge

Not-knowing is the door to the true, direct, fresh knowing. In the preceding chapter, I related inquiry to knowledge, but in this chapter we are exploring it in relation to not-knowing. To inquire into basic knowledge, we must respect and appreciate not-knowing. We need to become comfortable with not-knowing, we have to embrace not-knowing—not as a deficiency or lack, but as the manifestation of basic knowingness. Not-knowing is itself knowing, for it is the way basic knowingness first appears when allowing the possibility for new and direct perception—basic knowledge. Otherwise what we experience will be the repetition of the same things we have known in the past and believe we know. In some sense, not-knowing is the transition from ordinary knowledge to basic knowledge. So inquiry begins with the recognition of not-knowing. The moment you recognize that there is something you don’t know, inquiry may proceed. If you take the position that you know, then no inquiry is possible, for we must first perceive and acknowledge that there is something we don’t know. Not-knowing, regardless of how uncomfortable it is, is the starting point of inquiry. And to recognize that you don’t know is a very deep thing, as we will see. When we say we don’t know, we are usually looking at the situation from the perspective of ordinary knowledge. It is like saying, “I’ve studied chemistry; I studied the acids, the bases. But I haven’t studied organic chemistry, so I don’t know about organic molecules. I need to explore those so that my knowledge will be more complete.”

Two Kinds of Not Knowing

This possibility of not-knowing thoroughly permeates our experience all the time, in all possibilities and all situations. It is fundamental to our knowing capacity. In fact, our basic knowing capacity begins by not-knowing. How can you know if you don’t first not know? We tend to be scared of not-knowing; we are unable to see that it is the pervasive ground of our knowledge. Not-knowing, in some sense, is where we live all the time. Every piece of knowledge is situated in not-knowing. It is the space where all knowledge is. So we can say that basic knowingness is the field of not-knowing, which can manifest forms within itself that this knowingness recognizes. It is clear that not-knowing is basically of two kinds: Just as there is ordinary knowledge and basic knowledge, there is ordinary not-knowing and basic not-knowing, Ordinary not-knowing is the absence of certain information. Basic not-knowing is a quality of experience, an omnipresent quality necessary for our knowingness. It implies knowingness and it is the entry into knowingness. Basic not-knowing is actually the openness of Being that allows the dynamism of Being to disclose new possibilities of experience and perception. 

What Truly Exists at Any Moment is Not Knowing with a Few Little Bursts of Luminosity, of Direct Basic Knowledge

Our conscious minds would have us believe that we are living in an environment of ordinary knowledge, while what really surrounds us is an environment of mystery, of not-knowing. That which truly exists at any moment is not-knowing, with few little bursts of luminosity, of direct, basic knowledge. Yet we do not find ourselves in this reality; our identity is located within our mind, this universe of thoughts and concepts and memories that would have us believe that we know what is going on. Once in a while, when there is a little gap in that knowledge, we freak out: “Oh, there’s something here I don’t know. What am I going to do next?” In reality, however, not-knowing is so fundamental, so important for us, that without it we can never know anything new. One corollary of the fact that not-knowing underlies all knowing is the recognition that knowing is not something we must have. Knowing is a transitory phenomenon. Something arises and you know it; the experience of knowing it at that moment is what matters. What is important for your liberation is not that you’ve just gotten a piece of knowledge, which you then store in your brain in order to increase the amount of knowledge you have. What matters is the direct experience of the luminosity. And this direct experience of the luminosity needs and requires the ground of not-knowing. 

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