The wisdom of cleaning (our mental) house

“I know some of you are well educated and very knowledgeable. People with little education can practice [meditation] easily. But it is as if you Westerners have a very large house to clean. When you have cleaned the house you will then have a big living space. You can use the kitchen, the library. you must be patient….”

This is a quote from Achaan Chaa in Jack Kornfield’s fantastic book Living Darma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters. I purchased this book last month, after my meditation retreat. I highly recommend it as a very practical guide to meditation in general, as well as to the meditation masters of Southeast Asia.

The quotation cited above is provocative. Knowledge and insight for those of us in the consumeristic West can become like any material commodity: an endless pursuit of more. We seek to attain more and more knowledge, using our minds like storage units, cramming them full of insightful information and clever observations. But the path of wisdom is the path of unlearning, of unknowing.

The wisdom of the ancients was that knowledge tempts us to pride and arrogance. It becomes a false look-alike for true insight. For the ancient masters, like Jesus, the Buddha, and so many others, wisdom must be gained by direct experience, not by superior education or greater accumulation of knowledge. For me, this is where Chaa is going when he talks about having “a very large house to clean.” We mistake the accumulation of knowledge for true wisdom.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

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Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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