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Not Knowing

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Not Knowing?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Not Knowing

Complete Ignorance is What Will Bring True Knowledge

Knowing the answer to “Who am I?” happens only in the moment. The answer has nothing to do with the past. If the past determines the answer now, then it is obviously not a correct answer, since the past no longer exists. To really answer the question requires that we see that we don’t know, and also that we don’t know how to find out. Is it possible to let yourself see that you don’t know the answer and don’t know how to find it, and still let the question burn in you? “Who am I?” “Who am I?” Can we allow ourselves to see that we don’t know? If we assume we know, then we stop the inquiry. If we assume we know how to go about it, we assume we know what the answer is, that we know what we are looking for. Perhaps not knowing is the real knowing. If you allow yourself to see that you don’t really know and you don’t know how to know, something can happen. Maybe this is your first chance of really knowing something. Assuming that you know and assuming that you know what to do are barriers to true knowing. When you finally know that you don’t know, you finally have absolute knowledge. Complete ignorance is what will bring true knowledge.

Having a Healthy Respect and Appreciation for Not Knowing

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.


Inquiry Begins from a Not Knowing

Inquiry begins by looking at our present experience, but it is a looking that must embody openness. Instead of taking our perceived discrimination as final, inquiry says, “I know what I see, but I acknowledge that I do not know whether what I see is all.” You cannot begin to inquire into a perception if you think you know all there is to know about it. The moment you think that you know, the door to inquiry closes. So inquiry begins from a not-knowing, from recognizing and observing something in yourself that you do not understand. This lack of comprehension is not a resignation to ignorance but an acknowledgment of ignorance that has implicit in it an openness to know, an openness to comprehend, an openness to find out what is going on in your direct experience. This openness in inquiry reflects the openness of true nature. Without this openness, which is a fundamental characteristic of true nature, inquiry will not work. The core of inquiry has to be an openness to what is present in experience, to what you know of that experience and what you do not know. It is openness to seeing things as they are, openness for them to change and for the change to reveal more of what is present.

Interplay of Knowing and Not Knowing

Inquiry invites basic knowledge to speak – for instance, in disclosing the limitations in our knowledge and experience. It investigates the possibility that knowingness can appear within what we do not know. Inquiry involves a not-knowing, but it also involves investigating what you do not know, which allows knowledge to emerge. In inquiry, there is an interplay between knowing and not-knowing, but the ground is not-knowing. This ground of not-knowing is what expresses the necessary openness. And as you investigate, this openness allows Being to disclose that truth of the situation.

Nobody Knows What to Do to Be

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. This fundamental insight underlies many advanced spiritual practices, such as those of surrender and “nondoing” meditation. We can arrive at this insight by exploring the question of support for identity, but it is another matter to remember and practice it. When we truly learn this fundamental truth, then we have become wise; for self-realization is now an effortless relaxation into the nature of who we are, and this is the presence of Being. Nothing more need be done; the transformation is a matter now of spontaneous unfoldment.

Not Knowing Absolute Reality

Well, when I say you can't know it, that doesn't mean you cannot be it. You can know it as not-knowing. See, we think of knowing only in terms of concepts. That's why I say you cannot know it, because you cannot conceptualize it. You can't know it in the sense that you cannot identify or name it. Your mind cannot look at it, but your mind knows it's there by the mere fact that when it approaches absolute reality, the mind disappears. When you experience absolute reality directly, your mind doesn't know what happened. In fact the mind is incapable of conceptualizing absolute reality at all, the mind can't even recall the experience. After you encounter absolute reality directly, after while your mind will ask, "What happened? I don't remember what happened!” And you won't end up with any conceptual knowledge. Why? Because absolute reality is the experience of unity. The moment the mind looks at absolute reality, it becomes that reality. The separation implicit in one thing looking at another dissolves.

Not Knowing is Itself Knowing

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.”

Not Knowing Precedes 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 be knowing, 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.

The Field of Being as It Manifests in Our Soul

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 follows 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 Nature of the Nameless is Pure Consciousness, Consciousness that is Conscious of Consciousness, Without Labeling or Knowing Anything

<p>Inner realization is a process of shedding, of losing what one takes oneself to be, to ultimately become what one is, without need for any external support, not even one’s mind. This description is not metaphorical; one actually experiences the disappearance of great realms of one’s identity. As one goes deeper and deeper, one realizes that one is shedding concepts that one had taken to be absolute truths. The shedding of all concepts is the realization of the Nonconceptual Nameless Reality, what is. Nothing can be said to describe it because one can only use concepts to describe. Yet the shedding is still not absolute. It is true that all concepts are gone, but there remains one more thing—consciousness itself. The nature of the Nameless is pure consciousness, consciousness that is conscious of consciousness, without labeling or knowing anything. There is consciousness, but there is no knowing of what is known, or what knows; there are no conceptual categories. Huang Po says: “. . . you would find it formless, occupying no point in space and falling neither into the category of existence nor into that of non-existence.” [Translated by John Blofeld, The Zen Teachings of Huang Po, p. 87</p>

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.

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