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, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I Don’t Know
Why is it so difficult to admit we don’t know? I don’t know. Maybe there is a better question I should be asking. Why don’t we know we don’t know? I don’t know that, either. Oh, I have some ideas with regard to both of those questions. But, I also don’t want to be guilty of presuming I know, when I don’t really know. Still, I could offer some conjecture. But, please understand, this is only conjecture on my part.
Is it the absence of humility? Sure, pride could be a major cause of our troubles. It has been our downfall often enough. And, Lao Tzu certainly prizes humility as one of our three greatest treasures.
But, I am not going to offer up any proof of this. I am only guessing, after all. Once again, I don’t want to presume I know.
Presuming I know, that Lao Tzu characterizes as a disease in today’s chapter. Maybe that is another plausible explanation for why we don’t know we don’t know; and, if we don’t know we don’t know, we certainly couldn’t be expected to admit it.
We are afflicted with a disease. But, that sounds almost a little too handy of an excuse. Like, I can’t help myself. I have an illness. Don’t blame me. I am sick. My oh my, the trouble I can stir up with talk like this, if I am not careful. Perhaps, it would be better to admit I don’t know. Yes, to know without thinking I know would be best. To not know, but think I do, could lead to disaster.
On the other hand, if we were to realize we were sick, couldn’t we then move toward health? That seems reasonable enough. Unless, of course, someone got the “bright idea” this sickness was incurable. You will always have this disease. No moving toward health, then.
I tend to think, and once again, this is only conjecture, I am only offering possibilities, here; but maybe, we can move toward health, as long as we keep in mind we are prone to think we know, when we really don’t.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches that knowing we don’t know is true knowledge. In other words, true wisdom is healing yourself of all presumption that you know. And, if you are truly wise, you will keep on “taking your medicine,” always being humble enough to realize you don’t know what you think you know.
That just might be the only way to to be truly whole.