Main Pages

By Region




Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Knowledge?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Knowledge

Adherence to Ordinary Knowledge Limits Our Openness

Our experience is mostly determined and patterned by self-images and internalized relationships from the past. These images and memories form most of the content of our ordinary knowledge… All of our prejudices, beliefs, positions, and preferences, all of our ego structures and identifications, are either ordinary knowledge or based on ordinary knowledge. And it is the adherence to this ordinary knowledge – taking the position that a particular piece of ordinary knowledge will apply to every moment forever as absolute truth – that limits our openness and thwarts the dynamism from engaging its optimizing evolutionary thrust.

Appreciating that Knowledge is not Just Information Someplace in Our Brain

We are discussing basic knowledge to begin appreciating that knowledge is not just information someplace in our brain, it is not just computer memory. A computer cannot have basic knowledge; it can only store ordinary knowledge. A human being is capable of basic knowledge, which is the source of all ordinary knowledge. Without it, there is no knowledge of any kind, even ordinary knowledge. Where does ordinary knowledge come from? It comes from direct experiences that have already happened—either direct experiences in your consciousness or direct experiences of something you have heard or seen or read. What is reading but the knowledge of the experience of reading? Reading the book itself is knowledge. I don’t mean the knowledge of the content of the book; the very process of reading the book is knowledge. The whole experience is knowledge. This basic knowledge is the source of ordinary knowledge that you store in your mind. Even ordinary knowledge is basic knowledge because it cannot arise in our immediate experience except as basic knowledge—where each thought and memory in the moment of being experienced is basic knowledge.

Basic Knowledge

Basic knowledge becomes ordinary knowledge as time passes. You have an experience or observation, which is basic knowledge, but after a few minutes it becomes ordinary knowledge, stored information.

Basic Knowledge is Direct Knowledge in the Moment

So our experience is not knowledge in the usual sense of knowledge. It is not what we call ordinary knowledge – the information we have in our minds that we remember about things in the past. It is knowledge now. Basic knowledge is always direct knowledge in the moment – the stuff of our immediate experience. We usually don’t call it knowledge; we call it experience, and if we are little more sophisticated, we call it perception. Perception carries more of the sense of being aware of your immediate experience, which is the palpable sense of knowingness that is basic knowledge.

Comprehending that Knowledge is a Characteristic of the Field of Consciousness that is the Soul

When we begin to experience and actually comprehend that knowledge is a characteristic of the field of consciousness that is the soul, this comprehension has many powerful effects on the soul’s experience of herself and the world. For example, it has the effect of changing the sense of separating boundaries around the various forms of which we are aware. The boundaries of what is experienced as the self become less opaque, and as the awareness of a field of conscious presence begins to come to the fore, the forms we perceive in the world become much less solid and separate. We become aware of knowledge as something that characterizes all our experience, and appreciate increasingly that the field of our awareness is a medium that contains all content of experience, from the thoughts in our minds to our perception of birds in the sky. The partitioning boundaries that had defined the different forms in our experience begin to melt and we become increasingly aware of continuity in all phenomena. Encountering our experience as knowledge is one way we come to be in touch with the soul. When we are not in touch with this level of consciousness, we have the experience that some things in our experience are information, some things are issues, some things are feelings, some things areobjects, and so on; this is the ordinary egoic dimension of experience.

Conditioned Knowledge is Useless for Answering Fundamental Questions

So the conditioned knowledge says that what I’m here for is to be happy, to be successful, to feel good, to get what I think I want, to satisfy my dreams, to get somebody to love me, or to make a lot of money. This is the knowledge that you have been conditioned with, and it is useless for answering fundamental questions. How do you know that the knowledge you get from others is the truth? How do you know that your teachers, or even the great philosophers, have the answer that is appropriate for you? Christ says to love your neighbor. Do you really know that that is what you need to do? Buddha says that enlightenment is the best thing. How do you know that is what you need? Some people say you have to learn to be yourself. It sounds good. Some people say you should be free from your personality and develop your Essence. It sounds great. How do you know it will resolve your situation? You don’t really know whether any of these ideas are relevant or true for you. You can’t know with certainty until you have experimented and learned from your own experience. Until then your action is based on faith or belief. If you assume unquestioningly that what someone else says is the truth, your inner flame will be extinguished. You will believe that you have answered questions when you haven’t answered them; someone else has. And they haven’t answered them for you, but for themselves. We comfort ourselves by believing that others know, and that we can use their knowledge.

Form and Cognition of Form are Inseparable

What we are calling "basic knowledge" is the fundamental element of knowingness that is inherent in our experience. Every experience we have of any sort is knowledge. When a form arises in the soul this form is inseparable from the cognition of this form. The whole experience is nothing but knowledge, composed of knowledge and dependent upon knowledge. We can easily see this by contemplating our experience, any experience and at any time. Our hearing of a sound is the knowledge that we are hearing sound; our knowing that there is hearing and sound, our recognition of the quality of the sound -- all these are knowledge.

Knowledge Contains All Experience Including Illusion

There is nothing but knowledge in our experience. The moment there is no knowledge, there is utter unconsciousness without knowing that there is unconsciousness. Knowledge contains all experience, including illusion. All of Reality is a field of knowledge, a field that is constantly and continuously morphing itself into forms, shapes, and colors, but these forms only express the knowledge, without ever ceasing to be knowledge.

Knowledge is Part of Whatever Happens

Knowledge is part of whatever happens in the field of our consciousness. If we feel pressure in the stomach, what is the pressure but the knowledge that there is pressure and the knowledge of the specifics of the pressure? Every impression involves knowing. Every experience is knowledge. Is there an expression of fear that is not the direct knowledge of the fear? Knowledge is the very fabric of experience.

No Knowledge is Absolutely Exact and Correct

The absolute is a luminous mystery, yet also the source of all knowledge and being. Everything we know is a knowledge of it; for whatever we know is a manifestation that expresses something about it. Even when we approach it as unmanifest and absolute mystery, nondetermination and nondelimitation, we gain tremendous luminous insights about it. When we see that it is nonbeing and being implicit and undifferentiated, it is an earthshaking insight; when we realize it is stillness and silence it is a balm for the heart; when we know it is nondimensional it uplifts the most ecstatic lovers; when we recognize it is mystery it dazzles our minds and hearts with joy and bliss. Although all these are correct in that they tell us something about the absolute, and lead us deeper into it, they are not completely correct, because the absolute is ultimately indeterminable. They are approximations on the right track, for they lead us deeper into its mystery. We learn a great lesson through this process, which is that the knowledge about what we have thought of as determinate and discriminated objects of knowledge is always approximate, and never absolute. We learn that no knowledge is absolutely exact and correct, for it is never the whole truth, and that there is no such thing as the whole truth. It is always relative, always approximate, yet it can be correct enough to keep us on the right track, and to take us further into the mysteries of truth. In other words, exact, precise, and objective knowledge about something is always relative to a task, an endeavor, a worldview, a perspective, a dimension. It can be useful and enhancing for our life and understanding, but its greatest function is to take us closer to the mystery.

No One Ever Tells Us How Knowledge is Important in a Real Way

It is curious that although knowledge is such a basic thing for humans—something we use all the time and that we depend on every second for our existence—most of us go through school for years, and no one ever tells us how knowledge is important in a real way. We are taught economics so we can make money, or we learn chemistry so we can become a chemist. We need to learn literature so that we can enjoy reading, history to have an historical perspective, art and music to appreciate culture, but we are taught nothing about thinking for ourselves. Because knowledge is not appreciated for its fundamental function, its value is not seen. We tend to value compartmentalized knowledge, which is seen as useful for certain things. Knowledge isn’t just a tool to get a good job or impress people with your erudition: it is imbedded in life itself. And knowledge is not a luxury, although many people think it is. It is as basic as air, as basic as sunlight. Every minute of our existence. It is involved in the working of our minds, in our emotional choices, and in emotional reactions. What is the good in life? What should we really go after? No one ever thinks it is important to explore these questions, at least not important enough to look at in school or with our parents.

Ordinary Knowledge

In the normal cognitive process, we abstract certain forms and patterns from the overall unified field of knowledge and retain them in memory. The accumulation of these abstractions is what we ordinarily call knowledge. Our cultural environment largely determines which forms and patterns we focus on, isolate, and abstract. Thus ordinary knowledge is largely culturally determined. But knowledge can free itself from these constraints and apprehend what is. This is spiritual awakening. Ordinary knowledge is a subset of basic knowledge. It originates in perception and experience, but then forms structures which strongly influence and further structure our moment-to-moment experience. Even ignorance and falsehood are knowledge. When we know we're ignorant of something, this is knowledge. If we are ignorant of something and believe we are not ignorant, this mistaken knowledge, this belief, functions as knowledge in our experience, even though it is false.

Relation Between Ordinary and Basic Knowledge

Ordinary knowledge is in some sense a subset of basic knowledge. However, because we can think of ordinary knowledge as knowledge that is stored someplace and becomes accessible at certain times, we can conceptualize it as not an experience, and hence as separate from basic knowledge. But in reality, whenever there is ordinary knowledge in operation, it is arising as experience in the moment and thus is basic knowledge. If you think of your experience yesterday, that act of thinking is basic knowledge. So ordinary knowledge always originates from and operates within basic knowledge.

Soul Needs the Knowledge of Essence

The knowledge of essence is needed to bring about the purification of the soul. How will the soul know it is lying if it doesn't know truth? How will it know what is courage if it doesn't know strength? So, in some sense, Essence teaches the soul by providing experiences of how to be a real human being. The knowledge of essence exposes the impurities and teaches us the way out, or the way of purification. These experiences are teaching elements, not just lollipops. We need to absorb essential experiences so that we will grow from them and not use them to temporarily fill our stomach. The growth of the soul has to do with its refinement and purification.

The Greater Knowledge that Becomes Available Through the Experience of Essence

When there is more awareness in the body, the capacity to know feelings increases. Knowledge requires awareness more than anything else, but it also requires discrimination, strength, patience, courage, kindness, gentleness with oneself, perseverance, and humor. Our technical knowledge here encourages these innate qualities. In a sense you could say that what we do here is to supplement the education that we get elsewhere. We start with exercises, to foster our awareness, and then our awareness leads to knowledge. Our work can be seen as freeing our capacity to know. When we become more open and curious about knowledge, we come upon even more basic knowledge. Our experience of our essential nature becomes a kind of knowledge that is more intimate and precise than we have been used to. This opens us up to realms of knowledge we had not imagined existed. Here, experience and knowledge become inseparable; experience is knowledge. The greater knowledge that becomes available through the experience of Essence can develop and deepen to the extent of recognizing that we are knowledge. Our bodies and minds are knowledge. Even our environment turns out to be knowledge.

The Knowledge of Presence is Not Separate from the Presence

When we appreciate how knowing occurs in essential experience, we know clearly what basic knowledge is, because Essence knows itself only through basic knowledge—through being present to itself. That is why we call it presence. When we begin to think about our essential awareness, the presence and the consciousness are no longer one, and the knowing shifts to ordinary knowledge. Furthermore, Essence, which is consciousness and presence as one, is an awareness that not only is aware of its own presence and the fact that it is presence, but is also aware of the distinctive quality of that presence —in this case, stillness and peace. Our mind can associate all kinds of things with peace—what it is not, what agitation is, what it would mean to be peaceful. All of these things are ordinary knowledge, but the direct apprehension and recognition of the stillness is what happens right at this moment and is independent of what our mind says. In fact, we might not even call it stillness. If we don’t speak English, we won’t call it stillness, but it is still the same experience. In this case, what is stillness? Knowledge, basic knowledge. If you call it presence, then it is knowledge of presence, but the knowledge of presence is not separate from the presence. There is no presence separate from the awareness of the presence. They are the same thing. It is the same as the experience of the sun and its light. You cannot experience the sun except through its light. It cannot be perceived otherwise. So how can you separate the two? They are the same thing, which means that the presence of stillness and the direct knowledge of stillness are the same thing.

The Potential of the Knowledge of the Soul is Infinite

The direct experience of pure knowledge, however, is the experience of the potential of infinite knowledge, of a form of conscious presence that intuitively feels and tastes like the sense and knowing that there is an infinity of new possible things to know, an infinity of new experiences, an infinity of realization, an infinity of insights, an infinity of qualities. It is like looking through a telescope into the night sky. At the beginning we see few stars; when we increase the magnification we begin to see that these stars extend infinitely, more and more of them, as far as any magnification can allow. We become humbled by our potential; we see how we have always been scratching the surface of Reality. It is again as if this medium of knowledge is composed of an infinity of atoms, each one an insight, an experience, a realization, a particular knowledge about a certain manifestation. It has a sense of power, a sense of exploding, a sense of potency, a sense of a fountain that is exploding with brilliant light. Practically speaking, this means there is the possibility of knowing endlessly new things about the soul, for the potential of the knowledge of the soul is infinite.

Transformation Comes from Freeing Our Experience from Old Knowledge

The truth, then, is a moving point. The moment truth becomes knowledge; it quickly becomes what I call ordinary knowledge. The moment the elements of ordinary knowledge become positions, fixed views of self and reality, they become barriers to the inquiry. Knowledge then becomes a barrier to the openness that is the very heart of inquiry. We can say, then, that understanding and transformation are a matter of freeing our experience from old knowledge, from ordinary knowledge.

True Knowledge is Not Comprised of Conclusions

Knowledge is not to close something, to end something, or to come to conclusions. The true function of the mind is not to come to conclusions, and true knowledge is not comprised of conclusions. True knowledge is the opening of questions. In the dead world, we want knowledge that will silence our questions. We want our questions to be answered for good; we want to have no more questions. The fact is that true knowledge just opens up more questions. It just shows you more and more that you do not know. When you have the next insight, you have just found out something, but at that same instant you realize how much more you do not know. And it should continue that way—seeing how much more you do not know, until finally, you realize you do not know anything. When you finally see that you know absolutely nothing, then maybe it is possible to be innocent.

Using Knowledge as a Pointer

Inquiring into how our ordinary knowledge determines, patterns, and limits our experience enables us to learn a different way of approaching the content of that knowledge. Usually we take our knowledge as the determination, as the boundary, of what is possible and what can be known. However, if we understand indeterminacy, the openness of inquiry, in time we learn to take the knowledge not as a boundary but as a pointer. We can use our words, concepts, and thoughts as pointers toward truth, toward what is possible, rather than as boundaries for what can be known: “This is a possibility” instead of “That is what you will find.” If we can inquire into our experience by using knowledge as a pointer, it becomes a helper, a kind of guidance. For instance, we know that anger frequently hides hurt. That becomes knowledge from repeated experience. The next time we see anger, how do we use that knowledge? Do we say, “There must be hurt there; let’s find the hurt”? Or, rather than making this automatic assumption, are we open to the possibility that there is hurt, which then can guide our investigation? If you assume that you are hurt, you might be wrong, for once in a while hurt does not underlie anger. There are always exceptions. Knowledge can be used in a way that will aid our inquiry, but we usually use it in a way that limits and binds our inquiry.

We Experience Ourselves Through the Veil of Ordinary Knowledge

Ordinary knowledge includes what we think about ourselves and reality, what we take ourselves and reality to be, what we think we want and don’t want. Anything we put in a conceptual framework is ordinary knowledge. So ordinary knowledge is old categories, information, beliefs, philosophies, ideologies, positions – whatever we believe we know and take to be the truth. We ordinarily experience ourselves through the veil of this knowledge, such that our experience of ourselves and everything else is not an immediate, direct, free, spontaneous contact with what is. It is indirect and filtered through knowledge, and this filtering is largely what patterns the experience.

What We Believe to be Good Depends on Our Knowledge of What We Think is Good

Now we have seen three points. The first point is that we usually attempt to go after what we believe to be good. Second, what we believe to be good depends on our knowledge of what we think is good. And third, our education doesn't give us a complete perspective on the value of knowledge: we're taught to restrict it to certain areas and to limit its value. So you see, it is not a luxury to be a philosopher. A philosopher is someone who is interested in knowledge; and to be interested in knowledge is basic to happiness.

When there is New Knowledge about Reality it is Always Because of True Nature

Each of us is different. Everybody has their history, capacities, and situations and, as we do our work, each of us will need to use whatever resources we have. But one thing we have in common—which I have observed both in my own experience and in the experience of others—is that when there is a true breakthrough, when there is a new knowledge about reality, when there is experience of reality that brings in new dimensions, it is always because of true nature. As we have seen, it is never because of our own individual efforts. It is never because of what we think we’re doing. This is a central insight of the dynamic of realization: In our practice, it is Total Being practicing. Whatever insight we have is because the depth of true nature, the sense of the purity of reality, has touched our mind and sparked an insight or an idea or a revelation. That is to say, we never arrive at true spiritual insight or understanding by simply thinking. Just as thinking alone will not do it, neither will doing anything in particular or feeling anything in particular. The realm of realization, the spiritual realm that brings about freedom, is not accessible to the intentions or efforts of our individual consciousness regardless of how heartfelt or intelligent or skillful they are.

Subscribe to the Diamond Approach