POVERTY OF CONCEPTUAL LEARNING
All religions distinguish between intellectual study and the
apprehension of spiritual knowledge that is conducive to salvation.
Intellectual and conceptual knowledge, for all its utility in the world,
does not profit the spiritual seeker, and may even impede the realization
of Truth. The gulf between Athens and Jerusalem--between the conceptual
systems of secular philosophy and the scriptural truth of Western
religions--is the subject of the first group of passages. Against the
apparent knowledgd through philosophy and scientific reason is placed the
seeming folly of the cross, the absurd minutiae of sacrificial lore in the
Torah, and the absolute claim of the Word of God. We include several
passages on the evils of knowledge that is not restrained or directed by
spiritual wisdom: it leads to arrogance, and excessive domination by which
people are oppressed and the environment damaged .
Turning to Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Taoism, we
find that the truth which is realized in the experience of enlightenment
is too profound to be stated in words. Words themselves become
impediments to enlightenment when they lead to discriminative thought,
attachment to one thing, and aversion to another thing. Thus the Zen
koan, "Has a dog the Buddha nature?" only leads the questioner into a
welter of mental confusion until he realizes that the way out is beyond
any "nothingness" uod as a concept. Words can be at best a vehicle to the
meaning that lies beyond, as a finger points to an object beyond itself,
or as a raft that carries a man across the stream is discarded once he
reaches the other shore.
The poverty of conceptual learning extends to the concepts in
scripture. Knowledge of scripture according to the letter is, like any
other intellection, defective by itself. Direct intuitive knowledge or
inner realization of God is far superior.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the
Judaism and Christianity. Ecclesiastes 12.12
A thousand and hundred thousand feats of intellect shall not accompany man
in the hereafter.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Japuji 1, M.1, p. 1
Whoever goes after unreasonable and unnecessary rationalization will never
be able to reach truth.
Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Saying 30
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Judaism and Christianity. Proverbs 9.11
This is true knowledge: to seek the Self as the true end of wisdom always.
To seek anything else is ignorance.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.11
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows
something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves
God, one is known by him.
Christianity. 1 Corinthians 8.1-3
Rabba ben Rabbi Huna said, "Whoever possesses knowledge of the Torah
without having fear of the Lord is likened to a treasurer who has been
entrusted with the inner keys of the treasury but from whom the outer keys
Judaism. Talmud, Shabbat 31a
Ecclesiastes 12.12: Cf. Isaiah 64.6, p. 411. Japuji 1, M.1: Cf. Ramkali,
M.5, p. 62. Proverbs 9.11: Cf. Isaiah 7.9, p. 750; Abot 3.11, p. 770. 1
Corinthians 8.1-3: Cf. Mark 7.6-7, pp. 489f.; 2 Corinthians 3.6, p. 804;
Sutta Nipata 798, p. 65; Tao Te Ching 71, p. 915; Kena Upanishad 2.1-3, p.
Rabbi Eleazar Hisma said, "Offerings of birds and purifications of women,
these, yea these, are the essential precepts. Astronomy and geometry are
but fringes to wisdom."
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 3.23
My now-deceased mother really scolded me. She said, "Go away somewhere
into the wilderness, since all you seem to do is look at books. For all
the days to come you will be pitiful because the book blocks your path.
Never will anything be revealed to you in a vision, for you live like a
Native American Religions. Delaware Testimony
Perfected is the Word of your Lord in truth and justice. There is naught
that can change His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower. If you obeyed
most of those on earth they would mislead you far from God's way; they
follow naught but an opinion, and they do but guess.
Islam. Qur'an 6.115-16
True words are not fine-sounding; Fine-sounding words are not true. The
good man does not prove by argument; And he who proves by argument is not
good. True wisdom is different from much learning; Much learning means
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 81
Human philosophy has made God manlike. Christian Science makes man
Godlike. The first is error; the latter is truth. Metaphysics is above
physics, and matter does not enter into metaphysical premises or
conclusions. The categories of metaphysics rest on one basis, the divine
Christian Science. Science and Health, 269
The Unification Church is a school far greater than Harvard or Yale or
Princeton, and is a place where only the elite of the universe can enroll.
Harvard University can graduate a Ph.D., but that person can only turn
around and teach theories on a blackboard. Even a thousand Harvards
cannot create one son of God, but our school turns out sons of God every
Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 5-1-77
Abot 3.23: Offerings and purity laws are God's commandments in scripture,
while the sciences are knowledge of human devising. Qur'an 6.115-16: Cf.
Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 1, p. 87. Tao Te Ching 81: Cf. Tao Te Ching 71, p.
915; Chuang Tzu 2, p. 181; 13, p. 220; Gauri Sukhmani 12, M.5, p. 915.
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this
age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the
wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God
through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For the
Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ
crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those
who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the
wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the
weakness of God is stronger than men.
Christianity. 1 Corinthians 1.20-25
Know verily that knowledge is of two kinds: divine and satanic. The one
wells out from the fountain of divine inspiration; the other is but a
reflection of vain and obscure thoughts. The source of the former is God
Himself; the motive force of the latter the whisperings of selfish desire.
The one is guided by the principle: "Fear God; God will teach you"; the
other is but a confirmation of the truth: "Knowledge is the most grievous
veil between man and his Creator." The former brings forth the fruit of
patience, of longing desire, of true understanding, and love; while the
latter can yield naught but arrogance, vainglory, and conceit.
Baha'i Faith. Book of Certitude, 69
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show
his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and
selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly,
unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there will be disorder and every vile practice. But wisdom from above is
first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good
fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of
righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Christianity. James 3.13-18
"Some say that broad learning is an impediment in the study of
Shinto; is that really so?"
"It is not extensive learning itself which is an impediment. It
all depends on the mind of the scholar with such erudition, whether it
becomes a benefit or a hindrance. Learning has as its original function
knowledge of the way of mankind, becoming familiar with all the things
within the realm, and producing human virtue. In spite of this fact,
current scholarship concerns itelf with matters of absolutely no value to
the way of man, aiming merely for the approbation of fellow scholars,
becoming merely a tenacious attachment to books, and thus dark and
confused, without any illumination at all. Such is an evil to Shinto."
Shinto. Ieyuki Asai, Precepts of Divine Learning
1 Corinthians 1.20-25: Cf. 1 Corinthians 2.6-10, p. 538; Dhammapada 63, p.
915. Book of Certitude, 69: Cf. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 128, p.
793; Book of Certitude, 68-69, p. 805. James 3.13-18: Cf. Galatians
5.19-23, p. 465; Mark 7:6-7, pp. 489f.
Of all things seen in the world
Only mind is the host;
By grasping forms according to interpretation
It becomes deluded, not true to reality.
All philosophies in the world
Are mental fabrications;
There has never been a single doctrine
By which one could enter the true essence of things.
By the power of perceiver and perceived
All kinds of things are born;
They soon pass away, not staying,
Dying out instant to instant.
Buddhism. Garland Sutra 10
As long as men in high places covet knowledge and are without the
Way, the world will be in great confusion. How do I know this is so?
Knowledge enables men to fashion bows, crossbows, nets, stringed arrows,
and like contraptions, but when this happens the birds flee in confusion
to the sky. Knowledge enables men to fashion fishhooks, lures, seines,
dragnets, trawls, and weirs, but when this happens the fish flee in
confusion to the depths of the water. Knowledge enables men to fashion
pitfalls, cages, traps, and gins, but when this happens the beasts flee in
confusion to the swamps. And the flood of rhetoric that enables men to
invent wily schemes and poisonous slanders, the glib gabble of "hard" and
"white," the foul fustian of "same" and "different," bewilder the
understanding of common men. So the world is dulled and darkened by great
confusion. The blame lies in the coveting of knowledge.
In the world everyone knows enough to pursue what he does not
know, but no one knows enough to pursue what he already knows. Everyone
knows enough to condemn what he takes to be no good, but no one knows
enough to condemn what he has already taken to be good. This is how the
great confusion comes about, blotting out the brightness of sun and moon
above, searing the vigor of hills and streams below, overturning the round
of the four seasons in between. There is no insect that creeps and
crawls, no creature that flutters and flies, that has not lost its inborn
nature. So great is the confusion of the world that comes from coveting
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 10
Lord Mahavira said to Gautama, "When Dharma is not seen by the seer
directly it is seen through the wire mesh of words. Conjecture is the
wire mesh that covers that window. Multiple sects and systems result from
such an indirect observation. The path suggested to you, Gautama, is the
direct path of the seer. Be vigilant and a seer of Dharma."
Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10.31
Garland Sutra 10: Cf. Lankavatara Sutra 63, p. 155. Chuang Tzu 10: Cf.
Tao Te Ching 18-19, p. 294; Chuang Tzu 13, p. 220.
Knowledge is of five kinds, namely: sensory knowledge, scriptural
knowledge, clairvoyance, telepathy, and omniscience. These five kinds of
knowledge are of two types: the first two kinds are indirect knowledge and
the remaining three constitute direct knowledge. In sensory knowledge...
there is only the apprehension of indistinct things.... But clairvoyance,
telepathy, and omniscience is direct knowledge; it is perceived by the
soul in a vivid manner without the intermediary of the senses or the
Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 1.19-29
The kami-faith is caught, not taught.
A monk asked Joshu, "Has a dog the Buddha nature?" Joshu answered, "Mu."
Mumon's comment: To attain this subtle realization, you must completely
cut off the way of thinking.
Buddhism. Mumonkan 1
Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata conceives the idea: I must set
forth a Teaching. For if anyone says that the Tathagata sets forth a
Teaching he really slanders Buddha and is unable to explain what I teach.
As to any Truth-declaring system, Truth is undeclarable; so "an
enunciation of Truth" is just a name given to it.
Buddhism. Diamond Sutra 21
Tattvarthasutra 1.19-29: Omniscience, the highest form of knowledge, is
attained only by a perfected soul. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3.6, p. 804.
Mumonkan 1: 'Mu' means emptiness, but emptiness cannot be realized
conceptually. Proper meditation requires complete denial of the
intellect. Cf. the commentary to this koan, p. 841; Lankavatara Sutra 63,
p. 155; Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 5, p. 90. Diamond Sutra 21: This and
all the Perfection of Wisdom sutras are written for the student who is
aspiring for truth; there is nothing nihilistic about them. But since
truth is based in sunyata, this text advises that 'an enunciation of
truth' is also empty and not to be made an object of grasping. Cf.
Lankavatara Sutra 61, p. 634f. Mumonkan 6, p. 819; Holy Teaching of
Vimalakirti 5, p. 90; Kena Upanishad 2.1-3, p. 87; Seng ts'an, pp. 221f.
Mulamadhyamaka Karika 24.8-12, pp. 1021f.
It is because every one under heaven recognizes beauty as beauty that the
idea of ugliness exists.
And if every one recognized virtue as virtue, this would merely create
fresh conceptions of wickedness.
For truly, "Being and Not-being grow out of one another:
Difficult and easy complete one another.
Long and short test one another;
High and low determine one another.
Pitch and mode give harmony to one another,
Front and back give sequence to one another."
Therefore the Sage relies on actionless activity,
And carries on wordless teaching.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 2
Mahamati, the Tathagatas do not teach a doctrine that is dependent
upon letters. As to letters, their being or non-being is not attainable;
it is otherwise with thought that is never dependent upon letters. Again,
Mahamati, anyone that discourses on a truth that is dependent upon letters
is a mere prattler because truth is beyond letters. For this reason, it
is declared in the canonical text by myself and other Buddhas and
bodhisattvas that not a letter is uttered or answered by the Tathagatas.
For what reason? Because truths are not dependent on letters....
Therefore, Mahamati, let the son or daughter of a good family take
good heed not to get attached to words as being in perfect conformity with
meaning, because truth is not of the letter. Be not like the one who
looks at the fingertip. When a man with his fingertip points out
something to somebody, the fingertip may be taken wrongly for the thing
pointed at. In like manner, simple and ignorant people are unable even
unto their death to abandon the idea that in the fingertip of words there
is the meaning itself, and will not grasp ultimate reality because of
their intent clinging to words, which are no more than the fingertip....
Be not like one who, grasping his own fingertip, sees the meaning there.
You should rather energetically discipline yourself to get at the meaning
Buddhism. Lankavatara Sutra 76
Tao Te Ching 2: Cf. Tao Te Ching 18-19, p. 294; 48, p. 898; Chuang Tzu 2,
p. 67; 2, p. 181; Katha Upanishad 2.1.10-11, p. 588. Lankavatara Sutra 76:
Cf. Lankavatara Sutra 61, pp. 634f.; Mumonkan 6, p. 819; Zohar, Numbers
152a, p. 804.
"O monks, a man is on a journey. He comes to a vast stretch of
water. On this side the shore is dangerous, but on the other it is safe
and without danger. No boat goes to the other shore which is safe and
without danger, nor is there any bridge for crossing over. He says to
himself, 'This sea of water is vast, and the shore on this side is full of
danger; but on the other shore it is safe and without danger. No boat
goes to the other side, nor is there a bridge for crossing over. It would
be good therefore if I would gather grass, wood, branches, and leaves to
make a raft, and with the help of the raft cross over safely to the other
side, exerting myself with my hands and feet.' Then that man gathers
grass, wood, branches, and leaves and makes a raft, and with the help of
that raft crosses over safely to the other side, exerting himself with his
hands and feet. Having crossed over and got ten to the other side, he
thinks, 'This raft was of great help to me. With its aid I have crossed
safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It
would be good if I carry this raft on my head or on my back wherever I
"What do you think, O monks: if he acted in this way would that
man be acting properly with regard to the raft?"
"In which way, then, would he be acting properly with regard to
the raft? Having crossed and gone over to the other side, suppose that man
should think, 'This raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have
crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet.
It would be good if I beached this raft on the shore, or moored it and
left it afloat, and then went on my way wherever it may be.' Acting in
this way would that man act properly with regard to the raft.
"In the same manner, O monks, I have taught a doctrine similar to
a raft--it is for crossing over, and not for carrying. You who understand
that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up attachment to even
the good Dhamma; how much more then should you give up evil things."
Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.134-35: Parable of the Raft
The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you
can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once
you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because
of meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.
Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 26
Majjhima Nikaya i.134-35: Cf. Dhammapada 85-86, p. 541; Bhagavad Gita
2.42-46, pp. 805f.; Mulamadhyamaka Karika 24.8-12, pp. 1021f.