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Set Aside Knowledge, And Negate Experience

A merganser mother effortlessly plows her way upstream against the strong current, mostly underwater. Her three chicks dart just ahead of her as they hug the opposite bank.

The brown, baffled head and camouflaged body make the merganser hard to see at first in the bright afternoon light. But I watch in wonder as her streamlined form submarines five or more meters at a time against the rippling stream. Apparently she’s scanning for morsels along the stony bottom.

The mother merganser has complete mastery and confidence in her environment. Despite having a brood of chicks, she doesn’t alter her course from the middle of the stream even after spotting the human at streamside, indeed, even after I sneeze.

The mind falls silent with intense wonder and affection. We have no relationship to nature when we look through the screens and knowledge and experience. Relationship with nature only occurs in the newness of the present moment, when knowledge is set aside and the known falls away.

When I lived in Oregon I would go for day hikes with a fellow who had a great deal of botanical knowledge. In those days Oregon rained most days during the winter months, and remaining inside was a prescription for depression. So we hiked even in the rain.

Don could name every type of fern and fungi in along the waterlogged paths. At first I was pleased and impressed, glad to know the names of the flora we passed.

But the non-stop recital of plant names soon became boring. I realized that Don had no space for direct perception of the lush beauty that surrounded us on the slopes. He could only look through the lens of his knowledge.

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Knowledge is essential, but when it’s not set aside, it prevents perception of beauty. One may say that the knowledge of plants and stars adds to their beauty, but that isn’t so.

Knowledge can temporarily add to wonder, such as we learn about the incomprehensible number of stars in the Milky Way, and the unfathomable number of galaxies in the universe. But to feel unknowable mystery of life throughout one’s life, scientific knowledge has to be held in abeyance and experience has to be negated.

To most people, it seems nonsensical to ask, what is the place of knowledge and experience? The assumption is that knowledge and experience are all-encompassing features of human existence.

We can’t imagine seeing without knowledge or being without experience. However we don’t need to imagine it for the experiencing of direct perception. Indeed, imagination also prevents perception and insight.

Allow me to make a distinction between experience and experiencing.

Knowledge and experience are cumulative learning from the past to the present into the future. Unmediated perception and insight, on the other hand, are non-accumulative learning in the present without past or future. In other words, without the construct of time.

Scientific knowledge endeavors to be rational, whereas experience can be either rational or irrational. Unmediated perception and insight are always rational, but that isn’t their point and purpose.

It’s a tremendous paradox, but we grow as human beings to the extent that we’re able negate experience and hold knowledge in abeyance. That’s because we are then perennially seeing things afresh, which allows insight and understanding to deepen within us.

This is why the current fad of trying to combine the contemplative and scientific dimensions is futile. The goal is that by being “rigorously scientific and rigorously contemplative in our methods” contemplatives will become respected, and add to “scientific” knowledge about the inner life.

However there is no method or goal to the contemplative dimension. Therefore what such centers end up with is fake science and false contemplation.

The contemplative and scientific domains can complement each other, but not by trying to make the contemplative life scientific. They’re totally different, potentially overlapping spheres, each having their place.

Effortlessly gathering non-directed attention is the most important thing, for only it can bring about a spontaneous stillness of the mind.

Knowledge is important, and the more scientific knowledge the better. But science and knowledge have to be set aside, and the spirit- smothering accretion of psychological experience negated, for the silence of being to be.

Unguided attention is negation, a spontaneously combusting fire that incinerates thoughts and emotions as they arise. The mind as thought and time falls quiet, allowing a state of insight, accompanied by tremendous inner peace and joy.

More than anything else, isn’t that what we and the world need?

Martin LeFevre
lefevremartin77 at gmail

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