The Centerpiece Anchor of I-Don't-Know: The Word of God And The Wordless Tao

By definition, original sin implies that our faculties for knowing sin are inherently impaired with sin also. Perhaps our capacities for truly knowing anything are intrinsically skewed, and the fall in Genesis 3 leaves us completely blind when it comes to seeing divinity. Going forward in blind faith, then, implies that we cannot see the path ahead, or, at least, cannot see it very well. And yet the path is there, here: whether the Tao or the Word, whether a road or a gravitational pull, something guides us. We may have our ideas as to what this something is (we may even call it God), but we are limited in our capacity to formulate ideas about something that is beyond ideas.  And God is surely much more than just our ideas.

So why struggle on an uphill angle for intellectual certainty? Why not just surrender before the vastness of God and admit, "I don't know. I don't understand all of this exactly, but I don't have to figure everything out."   This lack of knowing isn't meant as a counter-suggestion against one's personal beliefs, nor is it an anti-intellectual stance against learning. In fact, education and training are often the best preparations for learning how to UNlearn.   Most of the time our minds are racing, though, to figure out and make sense of our immediate circumstances, not to philosophize about the hereafter. In daily life, to be caught, "not knowing," is to feel unprepared.  Some sense of preparation appears vital in an overloaded culture where the average introvert is under a daily attack of stimuli.  To be caught unprepared, and rest in I-don't-know," could leave us way too vulnerable.  But vulnerable to what?

The nature of sacred paradoxes* is such that detachment from certainty gives us true certainty, and detachment from wanting to know allows us to know only the things we really do need to know.  Nevertheless, the mind circulates in loops, trying make sense of things, trying to decide, wanting to control, needing to secure all its concerns in some guise of safety and certainty.  But what if we stopped playing along? What if we cut off our inner dialogue by simply returning to the fundamental, centering truth of I-Don't-Know.  Perhaps all our racing thoughts come down to just one question, and the answer to that question (which is really a plea for help) is I-don't-know.  It's simply a different form of "turning it over to God."  After all, we turn it (our will) over to God because we humbly accept the fact that we cannot carry it.   Thomas Merton equated the Tao of ancient mystic Lao Tzu as meaning, if anything, literally, "I don't know."  Likewise, he cites a Chinese translation of the beginning of the Gospel of John as "In the Beginning was Tao, and Tao was with God. And Tao was God."   The "word" is "Tao" is "I don't know."  Far from being a literal interpretation of cultural language, Merton understands The Word as the same as the ancient Greek Logos; it is a wordless Word, an unseen, illogical logic, something beyond language.

 If there is a correct answer to the question: ‘What is the Tao?’ it is: ‘I don’t know.’  It is like an ‘empty bowl that can never be filled.’ It is like the hole in the center of the hub of a wheel, upon which all the spokes converge.....
— Thomas Merton, "Mystics And Zen Masters"

Ultimately, what could be an endless exposition on metaphysics is really just solid, practical advice.  Practice "don't know mind," as Jack Cornfield's teacher called it.  The next time you catch yourself churning in your head, trying to figure something out, just tell yourself, "I don't know."  The next time it happens, do it again. And again, and again. Maybe we could even quiet all of our thoughts with this simple phrase.

For more reading in mystery, paradox, and mysticism, check out our course: The Devotional Practice Of The Jesus Prayer: A Journey Into The Highest of The High