Knowledge versus understanding

“There is a great difference between talking about something that you know all about, but that you have not seen, and something you have actually seen. A learned professor who has studied everything about Lhasa and never been there, and somebody who has actually been there, will talk differently about Lhasa. In the same way, if we come to a conclusion through our logical, rational analysis, and if we come to a conclusion through our experience, these two will have  many differences.

Therefore, what we need to do here is not just leave this understanding at an intellectual level, but bring it deep into ourselves so that it becomes a real experience.”

The above quote is from Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s book, The Ngöndro: Foundation Practices of Mahamudra.

I bought the book yesterday at the Buddhist centre (Palpung Changchub Dargyeling in Brynmawr). Ringu Tulku Rinpoche visited the centre recently, and although I was unfortunately not able to attend his teachings, at least I benefited from the new stock of books in the bookshop following his visit!

The above quote struck me because I have always been very much of the intellectual persuasion. I like to read and understand things. I have always been this way. However, one big change Buddhism has brought about in me already is that it has made me much more open to the emotional and experiential sides of human understanding, areas in which I have not previously had a lot of interest.

Already, through meditation, I have discovered things about myself experientially that I only previously knew intellectually, and it has been a revelation to me.

When I was a young boy in the 1970s, my parents had a black and white TV. My father loved watching sports, and his favourite was rugby. I remember one time when Dad was watching Wales play rugby, I think against Ireland. At the time I wasn’t very interested in rugby, although that changed as I got older. I just remember wondering how on earth he could follow what was happening when both teams looked like they were wearing the same shade of grey!

When we got our first colour TV, suddenly it was easier to follow what was happening in team games. Now when Wales played Ireland, I could see that Wales wore red and Ireland wore green. That made it far easier to follow the game than when both sides appeared to wear the same shade of grey.

This is what it’s like for an intellectually-minded person to discover the emotional and experiential aspects of understanding. It’s like switching to a colour TV after years of watching only in black and white.

I have read a lot of Buddhist books, and I will no doubt continue to do so. From those books I learn a lot, intellectually. The same is true of listening to teachings. However, I feel that I am only beginning to understand things experientially, with my whole being. Truly there is a huge difference between knowing and understanding, and it is humbling to realise that I still understand very little on the deeper level. I’m looking forward to increasing my understanding in the years to come.


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