Heartspeak - The Two Learned Men
by Narendra Murty
There lived in the ancient city of Afkar, two learned men, who hated and belittled each other’s learning. One of them denied the existence of God and the other was a believer. One day, the two met in the marketplace, and amidst their followers, they started a dispute and argued about the existence or the non-existence of God. After hours of contention, they parted.
That evening the unbeliever went to the temple, prostrated before the altar and prayed to God to forgive his wayward past. At the same hour, the other learned man, he who had upheld God, burned his sacred books, for he had become an unbeliever.
This story is from The Madman, one of Kahlil Gibran’s lesser-known books. We often mistake our opinions for knowledge. We cling vehemently to our opinions thinking that we have knowledge in our possession. If we seriously examine our so-called ‘knowledge’, we are in for a real surprise. We will find that what goes by the name of knowledge is nothing more than a collection of opinions. A good number of them come from our parents. A few come from our teachers, especially the ones who have made some impression on our tender minds when we were young. Some come from our friends. Some come from influential personalities and quite a few from books, movies, newspapers and the television. We are great collectors – not only of material possessions but also of ideas and opinions. When we look into ourselves, the uncomfortable truth revealed to us is that we are nothing but an amalgam of opinions – collected from outside. If we were to discard the mental junk (because an opinion that is not corroborated by our own experience is as good as junk) that we have collected, what would remain? What is our real identity?
The illusion of ‘isms’
A young man in the prime of his youth sees the injustice resulting from inequality of wealth. He is brimming with a sense of outrage. He is exposed to the ideas of Karl Marx and is converted to Marxism. Now for him, Marxism is ‘knowledge’ with which to define the world.
Another young man is hypnotised by the material prosperity promised by the market economy. He becomes a convert to unbridled capitalism. Since the world is full of such ‘isms’, which claim to have found the road to the Promised Land, each one has its own rabid followers. Instances are common where men have dedicated their entire lives to a particular ideology. All such ideologists get disillusioned when their particular ‘ism’ fails to get results. They feel cheated and betrayed. This is bound to happen since no ‘ism’ can govern life. Life cannot be reduced to an intellectual formula.
Now, what does this conversion to an ideology really do? It leads to a thorough agreement with a particular opinion – because in the final analysis, an ‘ism’ is nothing but an opinion. Had it not been so – by now – at least some ‘ism’ would have delivered salvation to mankind!
Verily, in the absence of true knowledge born out of experience, being an atheist or a believer amounts to nothing but holding on to a particular opinion. Conversion to an ideology involves a process of logic. However, logic is an unreliable guide because you can prove anything by using logic. The Sophists of ancient Greece were masters of this art and they incurred the wrath of Plato as can be seen from this passage from Euthydemus:
The Sophists trapped a simple-minded man with the following puzzle:
You say that you have a dog.
Does he have puppies?
Is the dog their father?
Yes, I certainly saw him and the mother of the puppies come together.
Is he not yours?
To be sure he is.
Then he is a father, and he is yours; ergo, he is your father, and the puppies are your brothers.
Therefore, logic is an unreliable guide. The one who becomes a Marxist, follows a process of logic. Logic is however a double-edged sword. What can be proved by logic may also be disproved by counter-logic. Logic cuts both ways. You cannot arrive at the truth by a process of logic because truth is too vast and multi-dimensional.
The atheist in Kahlil Gibran’s story becomes a believer through his opponent’s logical arguments. The same method of logic converts the believer to an atheist. Since both stances emerged from the level of opinion, the conversion was easy. Should we also examine our lives to see whether we too are operating from the level of mere opinion?
When we have knowledge born out of our own experience, that knowledge is unshakable. It is a conviction. Truth is too vast and grand to be contained by logic. The life of the spirit and the Divine magnificence cannot be a matter of opinion. We must grow in our consciousness to awaken to its truth. Sri Aurobindo wrote in a letter to one of his disciples, “When the peace of God descends on you; when the Divine presence is there within you; when ananda rushes on you like a sea; when you are driven like a leaf before the wind by the breath of the divine force; when divine knowledge floods you with a light which illuminates and transforms all that was dark, sorrowful and obscure…by the illuminated and seeing thought, everywhere you see only the divine. Then you can much less doubt it or deny it than you can deny or doubt daylight, air, or the sun in the heaven. In the concrete experience of the divine, doubt is impossible.”
Narendra Murty works as an administrative officer in LIC. Study of different religions and philosophies has been his lifelong passion
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