“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.

2 thoughts on “The wisdom of cleaning (our mental) house

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