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What Is There To Understand?

What is there to understand?

One of the main obstacles for understanding might be the very idea of having to understand itself. When we think about the word itself, we often refer to a rational intellectual understanding. We have been taught how to collect knowledge. This involves a certain effort directed outwardly, and it involves time. What we are seeking is not here, nor is it here at this very moment. However through meticulous work we might be able to reach it someday. What we might fail to notice is that we are moving away from where we are, away from where the true knowledge is to be found. Do we have to be seeking like this, or is it just an idea that has caught our attention?

When I first encountered the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass, I became aware of different way of understanding. One day I found this lecture on the internet entitled “Here we all are”. This particular lecture dealt with his transformation from being a professor at Harvard ending up being a spiritual teacher having a Guru in India. The lecture opened with him addressing the different ways of transmitting wisdom. Some use music, some painting, while his method was words. The only problem was that someone might listen to them. When he said this, I did not have a clue what he was talking about. But it did startle my curiousness. 

From then one I studied every lecture of his that I could find along with his books and documentaries. And one day I suddenly realized what he had meant. The words, like everything else are just pointers. It is not the words themselves that has to be understood, but what they are pointing towards and from where they are coming. The idea that there is something that has to be understood is merely a hindrance. If we only pay attention to the words themselves, we risk missing the point. This realization came to me all by itself. It was not the fruit of my hard work. There was no that understood. There was understanding.

When I studied Hinayana Buddhism at Karma Tasha Ling Buddhist center in Oslo, I stumbled across the book “Zen-Mind, Beginners Mind” by Suzuki Roshi. I had heard about it, and I knew it was a classic within the Zen literature. I therefore decided to buy it. When I got back home and started reading some paragraphs here and there, I did not understand anything. There was a notion of it containing something valuable, but I was unable to intellectually grasp any of it. I immediately started belittling myself. “I should be able to understand this by now.” “I see myself as a wise person, but look at me now!”. I placed the book on my bookshelf, and forgot all about it.

A year went by. One day I was tidying my flat, and part of that was getting rid of everything that was of no use to me. That also included the few books I had in my shelf that did not have any special meaning to me. Once more I found myself with Roshi´s book in my hands. I decided at least I had to give it another chance. I laid down on my couch and started reading. The same thing happened as with Ram Dass. Suddenly it made sense to me. I had not spent one single moment trying to figure the book out. All I had done was to put it away. And now I was picking it up again. That was all. Again – no effort, no attempt to understand. Just understanding.

“Knowledge is of things that are some distance away from you. When there is no distance, there can be no knowledge. By not knowing, by not thinking, by not understanding, you find out something that is no distance away from you.”

– H.W.L Poonja

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