only know that I know nothing
It was Socrates, the philosopher who lived in Greece from 469 - 399
BC, who had pronounced thus. I have taken it as my theme for today. At
that period in history, Greece was the home of several city-states and
Athens, the present day capital of Greece was the predominant
Modern belief is that democracy evolved in the city-state of Athens
in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC following a popular uprising in
Though this article is not about democracy, I wish to state that, in
my view, most of our ancient kings of South Asia ruled justly and more
democratically long before the Athenian clamour for rule of the people,
by the people, for the people.
Socrates lived at a time of transition when Athens sought to
stabilize and recover from its humiliating defeat by Sparta, a rival
city-state; and when, in all probability, the Athenian public may have
been entertaining doubts about democracy as an efficient form of
Socrates appears to have been a critic of democracy, and some
scholars interpret his trial as an expression of political infighting.
Rather than upholding a status quo and accepting the development of
what he perceived as immorality within his region, Socrates questioned
the collective notion of “might makes right” that he felt was common in
Greece during this period.
He was found guilty of both corrupting the minds of the youth of
Athens and of “not believing in the gods of the state”, and subsequently
sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing poison hemlock.
In these blessed days in Sri Lanka, sanctified by the elimination of
terrorism, yet ravaged by nature, we are contented to live with the
presence of a large mass of people who seem to know everything about
And yet, in spite of such august company, the majority of Sri Lankans
remain impoverished of knowledge and wealth - perhaps as living proof of
too many cooks spoiling the broth.
These know-alls; philosophers, scientists and professionals;
professing infinite wisdom, have failed to ensure prosperity in a land
prosperous naturally. Why? Perhaps because the only thing they truly
know for certain is that they know nothing.
My late father, a teacher by profession during the times when
educators were considered as only next in importance to one’s mother and
father - gods and religion coming thereafter - had a definition for
these philosophers and scientists.
He used to say that: a philosopher is a person who knows less and
less about more and more, until he knows nothing about everything; and,
a scientist is a person who knows more and more about less and less
until he knows everything about nothing. Well, I suppose, we can now
surmise as to why our people remain in a constant state of flux - a
plight that depicts everything and nothing at the same time.
Many people are confused by the term knowledge, intelligence and
wisdom. Most; mostly out of ignorance, assume it to be one and the same
In reality, knowledge is a fancy name for the conditioning we have
been subjected to; whereas intelligence is a measure of how well you can
use your intellect to help yourself deal with the situations that you
are confronted with in your life; and, wisdom is something that you
start to have once you realize that it was just conditioning.
Ardriana Cahill best describes the difference between knowledge and
wisdom when she says: “Knowledge is but the messenger that calls you to
wisdom, but it is not wisdom. One can gain knowledge, but one does not
seek wisdom - one meets it when one often least expects it and
recognizes it as kindred.
Knowledge puts us in the way of wisdom, but wisdom is experiential;
it is a truth one recognizes in the external world that already resides
in the internal one. One cannot learn wisdom - one must awaken it.
Knowledge gives you the tools but never mistake the tools for the
Knowing nothing is where a new born child commences the journey in
If a new born is the symbol of innocence, it would seem logical to
accept that the absence of knowledge is bliss. That is why I suppose
children are considered a blessing in life.
Most people don’t seem to realize that children are as intelligent as
adults. Adults have more information in the heads, but no more
intelligence than children. Of the two levels of mind,
I prefer that of children. They are innocent and open to life fully.
When they pretend, they know it is only pretending. Adults are
pretending all the time and are rarely aware it is just pretense.
Adults think they should teach children, but there is more for adults
to learn from children than they have to teach them. Not that we should
not do our best to prepare the little ones for the life they will have
to take part in; but before we do so, as adults, it is necessary to
unlearn much of what we have been miss-taught.
We need to become sane again. Last night, before I sat down to write
this article, I was thinking about what real spirituality is all about.
A child equates pure awareness, a consciousness that has not been
contaminated by conditioning, and is free to accept what reality has to
offer. Then as we start to teach, or condition the child, we create all
sorts of nonsense and misidentification in these wonderful little
We program them with our religions, our nationalism, our racism, our
fears, insecurities, and all manner of other viruses. We contaminate the
purity of these bright wonderful little beings, all in the name of love;
and, think that we are doing the best for them.
As adults, and too late in life, we come to realize what a messed up
piece of junk we have become.
We feel one thing, do another, hide our true feelings, and lie almost
constantly to ourselves and those around us.
This is normal; and common, for a sick society.
If society is to rejuvenate and rediscover ethics bound happiness,
which is just what we need, we have to erase clean our confused minds
and start fresh again. As we start to question our beliefs,
conditioning, and concepts; we are in fact effacing a lot of the fallacy
of irrelevant conclusions from our minds.
Each time we go a little deeper we are becoming more childlike with
the openness and wonder that fills their hearts. As our pre-conditioned
concepts fade away, we find ourselves in a void. That state can frighten
some of us who still carry the ego image of who we think we are.
It makes us feel insecure to face the fact that we ourselves are only
a complex concept - an illusion at best. Once one is able to pass that
level of fear and let ourselves go; not as an act of ego, but to seize
and cherish the simplicity of life; then the door to Reality can and
will open. You will find yourself a child again with the innocence that
we all once had and still love to savour in children.
You will not have to pretend you love when you do not. You cannot
help but love, not as an act, but as an expression of the Life that you
See you this day next week. Until then, keep thinking, keep laughing.
Life is mostly about these two activities.
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