I found myself reading Herman Hesse’s famous novel Siddhartha over my holiday break. The story follows the man Siddhartha as he goes along his quest for truth, stumbles into confusion and despair but eventually finds wisdom. There is one particular passage at the end of the novel where Siddhartha is trying to give his friend, Godvinda, wisdom while he nears the end of his life.
Godvinda had long sought teachings from many wise men but had failed to find wisdom himself. Siddhartha explains to his friend that wisdom cannot be taught, only knowledge can. That for every truth, the opposite is equally true as well. That by teaching something you must leave something behind.
It is easy to make someone out as your guru when you are learning something new. Their teachings can help you make new strides in understanding. But teachings cannot ever be complete or perfect. In explaining the world you have to cut off part of the truth. Only through experience can you receive that missing half.
A partial version of the truth can be better than nothing, that is why listening to teachings is important. But in order for you to fully understand, you have to experience things for yourself. See what parts are true and where it doesn’t fit.
Some speakers have told me that if you want to commit to something, burning your ships before moving on can ensure that you actually carry it out. But others have also said that keeping a safe path as well can keep you from unnecessary risk. Who is right?
Probably both are. They are both truths, if only partial ones.
So how can you learn anything from a teacher where partial truths are all that is available and the opposite of a profound truth is just another profound truth?
The answer to this difficult question is to understand that teachings may be part truth, part lie, but what really matters is the effect they have. If I tell you to get in shape, this may be a bad move if you have a medical problem. For enough people I am telling them the truth they need to hear even if the partial lie gets rushed in as well.
The teacher in any field is always trying to give you the truth they feel will be helpful, while hoping the lie that gets attached won’t be damaging. This is no excuse for not finding your own complete truths in life, but it can help you until you do.
Don’t hero worship. If you like an author, great. That person is just communicating a more helpful truth than a damaging lie. Learn from as many different teachers as possible. Everyone who gives you advice will give you this mixed package of truths and lies. Learn from a variety to prevent getting stuck in a dogma when the lie that is given hurts more than the truth can help.
There is no profound wisdom. Nothing I ever write is going to be wisdom. What little wisdom I have (and I assure you it is a lot smaller than I often get credit for) cannot possibly be communicated though words. I’ll try to give you some truths and some lies and hope that the truths help and the lies don’t hurt much. That’s all I can do.
Go out and get the full truth for yourself. Don’t live in a self-help book or an audio tape. Find your own wisdom through experience. You are the only guru out there. Seek the truths and understandings that are unteachable. You are the only one who can offer wisdom that’s profound.
P.S. In case you were wondering this post isn’t a complete truth either, so take it with a grain of salt…