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way of knowledge

Intellect and knowledge, like action, are usually utilized for acquiring happiness, power, control, achievements in the ordinary life of the mind. However, like the way of action and of meditation, the way of knowledge can be used to feed the soul instead of the ego-self. It absorbs the mind more and more in the truth of the spirit, feeds the soul with thoughts that sustain and strengthen it. It is a path which uses the intellectual skills of the mind to make the mind forgetful of everything but the Truth at the heart of everything, the home of the soul.

The way of knowledge is very difficult for several reasons. The first is that the goal of the spiritual life is to disentangle ourselves from the ego-life and begin to experience life from the living spirit. But with the accumulation of knowledge, it is very hard to avoid the thoughts and even deeply unconscious attitudes of “I have great knowledge”. And whenever the “I” is present, the spirit is absent.

The second difficulty is that the desire of the spirit is to experience the continual conscious presence of God, universal Reality, the One behind the many. But all the accumulated knowledge of God or eternal Truth, found in all the scriptures and sacred texts and oral traditions throughout all of history in every religion, contains only whispers and shards of the knowledge of the actual truth of that One whom our hearts long to reach. All the rest of it is groping intellectual speculation, mis-comprehension, dog-eared habits of human thinking that have accumulated around and over and under those specks of truth hidden amongst the rubble.

The third and most problematic difficulty is that all those who have reached the doorstep of God agree that one cannot enter the place of that One Reality by means of the intellect. The door is so narrow, the way so thin and fragile, the spirit must become naked of all else but the singular desire for God, eternal Truth. The intellect cannot enter there. It must be left at the threshold and only the pure heart can pass through. One cannot know God through the mind or the intellect, only experience God through the heart.

So at the very best the way of knowledge can only take us to the edge of ourselves, it does not know the way to the final goal. But the purpose of the way of knowledge is to bring us to that doorstep, to that edge so that the heart can carry us across. For that last step, the mind and intellect and knowledge must be utterly and finally abandoned.

We can use the way of knowledge to become more and more attached to the beauty, wonder, and awe of God and less and less attached to our selves, our interests, our desires. Taking this path requires vigilance in remembering to recognize and realize at each step that it is not That actual supreme Reality that we are knowing, but only the fragments of That which our limited mind can conceive. Yet this path has the capacity to engage our minds in thinking of something that exceeds our limited self with its self-interests and ego attachments. The way of knowledge sets our focus to the Transcendent itself and draws us out of ourselves.

Some use the way of knowledge to disengage the focus of the mind from its incessant chasing after imagined fulfillments. We can employ the capacity for detailed thought on a minute examination of the impermanence of all that is, on the limitations and ultimate unreality of the ego-self as just a construct of the mind, on the ultimate dissatisfactions of even the most cherished objects of desire. We can focus the thoughts on remembering that the truth of my living spirit is not this body or this mind. “I” am not this ego-self; “I” am not this experience or that sensation. We can engage the mind in careful study and observation, to discern that which brings us to lasting truth and distinguish that from all the rest that we take to be true, wish to be true, imagine to be true.

On the way of knowledge we must always keep aware of and responsive to the living spirit. There is a tremendous human heritage of knowledge of ourselves, God, and Truth that we can use. But the intellect only knows how to know; it is the spirit which recognizes the knowledge that will bring it into its ultimate Truth.

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