A new friend asked me for guidance the other day. She asked me if there is a structure to knowledge, and I replied that there was.
Knowledge comes in many different forms – data, information, knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment. Often, the same basic data can be both information and wisdom; knowledge and enlightenment.
What is the difference? The difference is the depth of meaning that we can ascribe to that raw, empty, meaningless data: the layers of meaning that we add on, like layers of mother of pearl about a piece of grit in an oyster’s stomach.
So I began by sending the person into a light trance, enough to alter her perceptions, and I intended to run her through this script.
You smell the chalk, and hear the sounds of children walking outside, the squeak of sneakers on polished floors, and the sound of a river outside. When you open your eyes, you are in a classroom and you are in the teachers chair, at the teacher’s desk. You can get up if you like, and look around the classroom. There is a playground outside, and a river flows just past the fence, with fields just past the river. And the chairs and desks in the classroom are all lined up, facing the teacher’s desk, waiting for the pupils.
Go back to the teacher’s desk, and sit down, and think about what it means to be a teacher.
When a pupil comes to a teacher, she is expecting to receive … what? Lists of facts and figures. The names of kings and princes, of battles and of people who have long ago turned to dust. Or maybe she receives a long list of countries that she will hear of, but maybe never get to visit. Germany. Japan. England. America. China.
Your job, as a teacher, is to show the pupils these simple, empty facts and figures. These are things of the world. There are also other worlds – Mercury, Venus. Mars. Jupiter, and planets out to Pluto. Other stars, and a vast cosmos, all out there ready to teach you … everything.
You realise that you are there to teach the pupils that there is a great joy in understanding. There is meaning to everything: but we humans must apply meaning, in layers, over these empty facts – like layers of silt in a river bed, steadily accumulating like the mud in the river outside that classroom, just past the fence.
You are outside, watching the river. Listening to the cool waters trickling past, slowly depositing layers upon layers of silt on the bed. Sometimes the river speeds up, and the silt washes away, and the river bed becomes shallower; when your life is lived in a rush, things gradually lose their significance, and become less and less meaningful in your rush to go about to your distant destination that lies beyond your sight, like the river. You know that, way out beyond that next bend, the course of the river just goes on and on, the length of it eventually ending in the sea – and you can feel the connection, like a road of water, all the way from the source to the end, and you are standing where you are right now, at this point, feeling its flow pulling you along, and you can control its speed, and you can slow it down, enough for the silting to take hold properly.
Slow it down to let the river bed become properly fertile and deep and meaningful, and for the waters to become clear so you can see the whole thing.
And now you return to the classroom, and sit down, and there is a meaning to what you have just learned; but it will come to you, because while I can walk you through and show you the river, only you can tell me what it means to you. And if you do discover that meaning, then you can look about the empty classroom, and realise that it is not empty – that while you have been waiting for a pupil to arrive, she has indeed arrived, and she has been in the classroom all along.
And now close your eyes, and wait a moment, savouring the silence.
And now take a deep breath, and you are back here, in the room. And the meditation is over.
But its lesson … will go on forever.