Knowledge As an Impairment

So now at last we’ve come to this… great problem, this question. The problem of mutual understanding. How can blind and sighted people truly understand each other? How can men understand women? How can the rich understand the poor? How can the old understand the young? Can we have insight into other people? This is the great question upon which the unity of our humanity hangs.

Auditing a list of facts is no way to resolve conflict in a relationship. Like tires spinning in the mud, cyclical disagreements sink the vehicle deeper into the mire.

When the vehicle no longer does its job, it has transformed from carrier to obstruction. It is time to let it go. This includes all the precious facts and past mistakes.

In The Lankavatara Sutra, Mahamati asks the Buddha, “Please tell us [how we] explain the Dharma to others, namely, the two kinds of no-self and the elimination of the two obstructions.”Red Pine, The Lankavatara Sutra (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012). Section XLIX.

The two kinds of no-self are another subject for another day. The two kinds of obstructions are the point of this entry: they are passion and knowledge.Geshe Lhundub Sopa asserts that the obstacles of passion include ignorance, attachment, anger, jealousy, pride, and other delusions in Steps on the Path to Enlightenment: Commentary on Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo v. 1 (508). He continues, “Knowledge obstacles are more subtle. They remain in the mind even after we rid ourselves of the mental afflictions through meditation.” For example, an expert meditator may have removed all the obstacles of passion. But they must also realize that the “meditation, meditator, and object of meditation” are also “nothing but projections” according to The Lankavatara Sutra (XLIX). In other words, belief in meditation itself is an obstacle to achieving enlightenment. Meditation is just a vehicle.

I’m a person that falls in love with ideas and knowledege. I love books as much as I love people. It has taken me a long time to see that knowledge itself can be an obstacle.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I have made the mistake of sorting through information looking for answers. There are no answers, only vehicles to take us to the next place. Wisdom is gained by our experiences along the way.

I watched the fantastic documentary Notes on Blindness two nights ago.Available on Netflix as of this writing.

The subject, theologian John Hull, completely loses his sight as an adult. He documents the process throughout the 1980s on audio cassette. The film is created from these voice recordings. He offers a beautiful insight into understanding, the spirit of which was captured in this interview with Mary D’Apice.

My works, are, in a way, a yearning to overcome the abyss which divides blind people from sighted people. In seeking to overcome that abyss I’ve emphasized the uniqueness of the blind condition—blindness is a world. I’ve also sought to show that it’s one of a number of human worlds. That sight is also a world. And that to gain our full humanity, blind people and sighted people need each other.

Humanity is an experience. It is not a truth or an amalgamation of knowledge. Our goal as engineers and artists, caretakers and citizens, is to facilitate the communication of this experience with others.

Trailer: James Spinney and Peter Middleton, Notes On Blindness, video (ARTE, Creative England, Impact Partners, 2016).