The True Goal of Knowledge

It is with some irony that the explicit goal of Buddhist teaching, as well as the implicit goal of most invocations of the rest of the world religions, is at first blush the antithesis of the experience based knowledge founded on these three truths. The threefold knowledge of the destruction of the biases towards the satisfaction of pleasurable desire, towards existence in whatever manner facilitates that pleasure, and towards identification with any terrestrial power or agency deemed capable of maintaining such pleasurable experience is the final rung of the Buddhist ladder leading to enlightenment and nirvana. A Christian claim to this same knowledge can be found in the admonition that no man can serve both God and mammon, and that we are beings in the world but not of it. 

This metaphysical development is not because such experiential knowledge is unworthy of pursuit, but rather that in the end a bias toward this knowledge, based on pleasure, freedom and association with others who pursue it as we might, is distracting of a more fundamental, essential Truth; the truth that we are souls for whom conscious identification with the source of all Living—with the One who can say “I am that I AM”—is the principal principle. Souls who view the world of human experience through a mental connection forged, at or prior to birth, to the mechanism of the physical brain and body until death and dissolution of that body breaks the bond, in analogous fashion to the way a game enthusiast looks at a virtual world through the mechanism of their computer aided goggles once they put them on and until they take them off. 

We will delve into this later in a manner that is intended not as proof for this assertion, since proof is a matter of subjective understanding requiring individual acceptance based on individual experience and is not a matter of demonstrable knowledge of objective facts; it is intended solely as a working hypothesis based on the stated experience of others. After all, the same evidentiary experience can be interpreted as validating by one individual and dubious by another.

Such knowledge of bias destruction—it is really more of an evaporation of bias over a considerable mediation of meditated time—is not as mysterious as it may at first sound. Any one motivated to learn a new skill starts with creating—often hands on—some mental pattern of performing the activity, followed by thorough practice, and eventual repeated application, until over time the skill becomes perfected. In the process of the application of such skill, the individual may try to tweak the practice to increase performance, resulting in a temporary setback in skill level prior to the establishment of an improved standard of application. This education in skill towards any given activity evolves and involves the life in a multitude of forms from the cradle to the grave.

Any golfer who has tried to improve his game, picturing himself with the nuanced changes to grip, to stance and body alignment, to arm rotation in the swing, knows the frustration of this process as long as he continues to picture himself in the activity. Eventually when successful, the sensation of mental involvement in the process is gone, the golfer addresses the ball, back-swings, releases and strikes the ball with the pleasure of hitting a good golf shot. It is all process and though there is a sense of satisfaction, there is no personal drama in the activity. 

Enlightenment—leading to nirvana—is like that, but enlarged, taken to encompass the experience of life as a whole. Such knowledge of bias destruction is an aspect of the extinguishment of self-consciousness, the feeling of individual existence and initiative as something qualitatively distinct from one’s environmental context; of incorporation of the individual’s interests with the cosmic creative process of which he or she is a part; of the ‘death’ of the ego, not so much a death as the creation of the ego’s faithful transparent view of reality. It is not the extinguishment of the individual per se; rather it is that individual’s recognition of the end of his identification with the persona, the mental/emotional mask, the interface which he has created over time to facilitate his experience of living a pleasurable life. In this awakening, the individual gains the clear knowledge that there is really only one objective Life, one Being, one Self, of which he is a subjective facet. He gains the clear knowledge that all pleasure is an expression, a reflection as dim as it may sometimes be, of the essential blissful awareness that pervades the Whole Being.

The effect of such essential or spiritual knowledge is an intuitive conscious experience that is not directed primarily by considerations of pleasure or pain, while understanding the sources of both and developing the wisdom to navigate between the extremes in blissful serenity; is not constrained by mental and emotional perceptions of spatial and temporal limitation, while understanding their necessary physical part in framing that experience; and is not intimidated or mesmerized by derivative sources of physical and societal power, while understanding how to co-inhabit the ecosphere with them.