Knowing is to the Self what knowledge is to the ego

Question: Sir, what is knowing? Does knowing include all objects or does it not include any object?

Speaker: The difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing’ is not the difference between things that are being known. This is the common tendency of the human mind, to ask, “What is it that is being known in what we call as ‘knowledge acquisition’ and when we say ‘knowing’, does that involve a different object?” The direction of the question has to be totally changed. It is not about the object that is known it is about the entity that knows. That is different.

Knowledge is gathered by an entity that feels itself to be dependent on knowledge, defined by knowledge. So it takes knowledge very seriously; it is a different center of existence. “Who am I?” – The knowledge gatherer. Now, such a mind defines itself with respect to objects, with respect to all things external, with respect to all things mental and material. This is knowledge.

In knowing, what is different is not really the thing that you are looking at but the entity that is looking. In knowing, you are not defining yourself with respect to objects. You are still looking at objects, even knowledge acquisition might still be happening, but that knowledge is not important to you in existential terms now. You do not exist depending on that knowledge. That knowledge does not add anything to who you are. Having gathered all the knowledge, you do not feel even a bit of augmented and if you fail in gathering that knowledge, you do not feel even a little diminished. You are what you are; the center of being is different.

There is a man who comes across a particular piece of news and that news shakes up his entire being, now which kind of a man is this?

It is a mind dependent on knowledge. So some external news came and because this man was probably defining himself with respect to the external, a change in the external caused tremors in the internal. This is the tragedy of the knowledge dependent man.

Are you getting it?

He has no central internal anchor; he does not have an untouched, secure point to live by. A piece of comfortable news that offers him security and everything will appear alright in his life. You will look at him and you will say, “Well, nicely settled man, well-adjusted man, with probably a healthy mind.”

All that health will go down in dumps, the moment his structures of security and familiarity are removed. He might appear very well-adjusted; just tell him he doesn’t have a job any more. He is gone, finished! He might appear very well-adjusted; just tell him his wife, his kids are not exactly the way he thinks they are. Finished!

And you don’t even need to change material things. You can even change ideas or attack memories and this man will feel as if the earth is shaking under his feet. Tell him, for example, that his past is not what he had imagined it to be so far. Tell him, that some critical thing, some critical piece about his past is misplaced. This man, because he is dependent on the external, lives by a center that is defined by the external.

What is meant by external? – All that it means is that he lives by a dualistic center. Internal, external only mean two. Internal, external does not refer to something within the body and something outside the body or something within the mind or outside the mind. Internal and external refer to two; so one thing dependent on the other thing. The internal which is dependent on the external and vice versa.

Are you getting it?

Have you seen these kind of people, who appear nice and peaceful as long as certain conditions are been satisfied in their environment.  But the moment their environment takes an unpredictable turn or changes, in a direction that they do not support or like, these people simply lose their cool, their mental poise is all gone! The man who appeared so composed is suddenly a mess – angry, violent, out of his mind. This is the mind that lives by knowledge. It’s a different center of living all together, it’s a dependent center.

And then there is a mind that lives by itself.

This is the mind that, I say, lives in constant knowing. Not that this mind doesn’t have knowledge, it does have knowledge. But it does not define itself with respect to knowledge. You get the critical difference? It has knowledge, but it does not have a self-image dependent on knowledge. His past does not define him, the opinion of people around him does not define him, and even his own opinions do not define him. Nothing defines him. He feels no need to define and hence limit him. You ask him, “Who are you?” He will look at you as if you asked the strangest question. Not that he will have a scholarly answer. The scholarly answer will be available with the one who lives by knowledge, he will come up with grandiose answers. And you will be impressed.

But this second man, you ask him, “So, who are you?” He will either give you very ordinary answer or he will just stare at you blankly like a fool, like an idiot. But in his foolishness, he is infinitely wiser than the knowledge dependent man.

 Are you getting it?

And because he has not already defined himself with respect to something, hence his doors are always open, because he has not committed himself. Do you understand this? He has not committed himself yet, he never commits himself! He is always an infidel, a little disloyal. He never says, “I am this” or “I have taken this position.” His position is never predictable or located in the mental space, never. So he has all the freedom to navigate. He does not need to look at the world from a particular position. He can look at the world very freely. He can look at himself very freely. Hence for him, learning is a continuous thing, knowing is a continuous thing.

Not knowledge. Knowing is a continuous thing. Why is it continuous? Because he is not afraid, he is not going to close the doors, he is not going to say that some piece of unsettling news might come in or “Why go to that man, he can say something that can shake me up.” No. “Why read that book that contains an ideology that runs counter to mine.” No. He will be prepared to read whatever that book might have! Not only he will be prepared to read that book, in fact, he will be the only one who will understand that book because he is not going to that book with the thirst for recognition. He is not going to that book with the aim to gain an identity.

We are such beggars, that even in simple situations of life, we are looking for self–recognition. You go to a stranger, you look in his eyes and do you know what you look for? – Recognition. The worst insult somebody slaps on us is when he is indifferent to us. Even walking past strangers you want a particular appreciation. Why? Because the stranger defines you. Because you do not have anything internal to define you. Even the stranger on the road has the power to affect your self-esteem. Has he not? A stranger on the road might throw some words, a gibe at you; will you remain unaffected?  You do not know that man, you do not know whether he has any credentials, you have no ostensible relationship with him.  Yet he just says something and you are shaken.

Why? – Because when you don’t have it within, then everybody outside is your master. You are so hungry that you are trying to get it from anybody and everybody.

Now you are afraid, because your identity is coming from outside. Your very sense of self depends on somebody else. So, you cannot be open to life, hence knowing, that beautiful movement in the present, that does not happen. How can you keep the gates of your house open, if you are worried that somebody may come in and loot you? So knowing does not happen. You live in a self-constructed enclosure and you are so afraid to come out of it. Hence you start living in an imaginary world, in an unreal world; as most of us do. With no contact even with facts, let alone the Truth.

For most of us even facts are strangers. Which means that the man who is not open to knowing, will sooner or later lose touch even with knowledge because knowledge is facts. What would he be left with? – Some incoherent, babbling piece of fantasy which he will call, euphemistically, as, “His world”. And he will say this is what the world is like! And don’t all of us have an image of the world? All of us have an image of the world.

That image is so resistant to change. Why don’t we want to change that image? – Because that image defines us. To change that image would be to change yourself, which is dangerous.

Getting it?

Listener 1: Sir, How can this locus that lies external to ourselves can be internalized? Sir, can it be cultivated?

Speaker: No, the other one has been cultivated. It’s a cultivated thing to start living dependent on knowledge. That is a cultivated thing. And if you try to cultivate its opposite; you will just end up redefining yourself. And many people think of that as a noble project. – Fed up of themselves, as most of us are, people want to ‘redefine’ themselves and that redefining appears nice, in the short run. “Let me loose a little bit of weight, let me change the way I dress up, let me get a new accent, let me get a new wife, let me get a new car or new job or can I shift abroad, change nationality, even change my religion, from leftist leanings, can I go centrist or even right?” All this is a part of ‘redefining’ yourself.

In fact, when we get up in the morning and we look at our face; our disheveled face and we find that shabby man staring back at us; we quickly want to use the comb and the soap, right? And the paste and after that we start feeling little more comfortable, have you noticed that? (Laughingly) Your definition has changed. “Who am I,” has changed. So when it comes to self-inquiry, to self-exploration or to freshness most of us go only this far; which is to comb the hair, splash some water on the face and wear a new shirt. “Now I have been re-defined, life is new! And a new hair style or drop all hair; that is easier.

Don’t get in to that trap. The word ‘cultivate’ is dangerous. But you like that word because the moment you bring in that word, the cultivator also comes into picture. So you get something to do, right? Now, you are not unemployed, now you have a job. “Who am I?” – The cultivator. “What’s my mission in life?” – To raise a new self.

Restlessness2The bugger has such energy, he isn’t tired of the infinite selves that he has already had, he want one more. Plus one. You don’t need to cultivate anything, whatever you have has come to you because of this false belief in yourself, in the power of ‘cultivation’, in the ego’s arrogance that it can do something about its own loneliness and restlessness.  

Don’t cultivate. Go close to this knowledge based self, go close to whatever you think you are and examine it for its Truth. Go close to the way you live, you think. Go close to the ordinary, continuous, normal movements that you keep making continuously throughout the day and examine them for authenticity. They are all coming from your self-defined ‘self’.  They are all coming from your knowledge based center. When you look at them and looking is an honest thing; looking is an honest thing, it does not go well with dishonesty. When honesty looks at something which is not authentic then something gives, something gives in, something has to evaporate, breakdown. So honestly, just look at the self that you already think you are; not with the objective of gaining a new self, not with the objective of redefining yourself, not with the objective of cultivating a fresh crop, tilling a new land, no.

Listener 1: Sir, but that does not work. The moment you say, “See, the inauthenticity of the self that you have cultivated,” the thing that pops up is, “Ok, then let’s make it authentic, erect the authentic one.”

Speaker: So look at this immediate reaction also and don’t be impatient with it. So you look at your inauthenticity and immediate the suggestion pops up, “It’s not alright, agreed. But I will be the one to fix it. I understand it’s broken but I will be the one who will fix it.” Right? That is the feeling that immediately comes. Alright, live with that feeling. Let that inner mechanic go to work. Let him try to fix it and then later on ask Mr. Fixit, “Have you fixed it? How many times will you promise me that you will fix it? How many times will you fail on your promise?”

DependencySo observation of the self doesn’t stop at any point, one needs to be patient. One need not be quick to dismiss something or judge something. The ego, the cultivated self has all the right to defend itself, let it have the rights. If it says, “One more chance,” be generous, give it five more chances but five is five, not five thousand. (Sarcastically) We are extremely magnanimous people. In spite of failing every moment we keep giving ourselves chance after chance. This is not Faith, this is terrible dependency, terrible dependency. You know that the one you are relying on is going to deceive you. Once again he is going to deceive you. You know you are going to end up disappointed yet again. But you end up knocking on the same door. You end up walking down the same road. This is not Faith. This is not Love. This is pure desperate dependency.

Like a man stranded on an island with a newspaper, reading the same newspaper since two years. Not that he is really in love with what that paper contains, what else can he do? That’s all that he thinks he has.

Do not forget, we all, in our own eyes, are somebody; none of us exist as nobodies. All of us are surely carrying a name, an address – a center. All of us are carrying a particular eye, using which we look at the world and using which we look at ourselves. I am saying, become the eye behind the eye. You are already looking at everything, now look at what you are looking at. Look at the entire process of looking, which includes what you are looking at and the looker.

Are you getting it?

That is the essence of non-duality. That is also the essence of witnessing.

Listener 2: So I change from one newspaper to the other, from one cloth to the other, from one hairstyle to the other because I do not know what is the real hair style, the real newspaper, so I keep looking…

Speaker: Because you think that the hair style, the newspaper, the new car will be able to provide something essential to you, that it will be able to cure some very important deficiency within you. You think there is a hollow in the heart which can be plugged by the new car. Are you getting it? You feel you have a disease which can be cured by popping the new pill.

So, all change that man looks forward to, all his dreams and hopes are essentially nothing but attempts to gain a better identity, to come close to his True Self. But instead of coming to the True Self, (laughingly) man’s ‘ingenuity’ leads him to creating a new self. Which are two extremely different things; you are not coming close to your vast nothingness, instead you have created a second false center. You already had one. But you believe in the power of ‘cultivation’, so from one center you have hoped onto another center and this second center too is self-created, of course like the first one. (Laughingly) And because this second center is self-created, created by you, you have toiled, you have invested in it, and so your stakes in it are even more. You can’t give it up!

The first identity might have been given to you by parents, by religion, by situations, circumstances you find it easy to give them up, at least relatively easy. But the second identity that you have has been earned by you. It’s a product of your toil and strife, now how can you give it up? You have invested your whole life in just earning this identity. This second one, the self-cultivated one is stickier, more difficult to give up, you are far more attached to it. So be extremely vary of these cultivated things.

~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: Knowing is to the Self what knowledge is to the ego

Read more articles on this topic:

Article 1: Knowing is more crucial than knowledge
Article 2: Knowing ego is freedom from ego
Article 3: How do I know whether I am aware?

2 thoughts on “Knowing is to the Self what knowledge is to the ego

    1. Acharya Prashant (आचार्य प्रशांत) Post author

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