I have always looked upon other people as being like threads that are woven together in intricate patterns to form the fabric of the communal world we live in. Take, for instance, the fact that in the collective life that we all share, we are surrounded by many people, of different backgrounds, with varying opinions, from various walks of life, with diverse areas of individual expertise. I am so grateful that our life offers us this. The way I see it, this means that life affords us a wealthy existence through the rich value of information and knowledge we can gather from others. We all live in our own world, but as long as we don’t walk around with our minds and eyes closed, everyone’s world can be positively enhanced and enlightened by the ‘worlds’ of others.
It pleases me that many of these important ‘threads’ are people whom I consider to be Greater Authorities. Greater, or higher, authorities are, to me, people who have an area of knowledge in which they excel, and they share this information with others. I am thankful for these people, as they allow me to be continually learning. Because in life, if we are not learning, we’re not really living, are we? When you say, ‘I know everything’, you stop learning. Admitting to what you do not know takes a lot of humility. To say you know everything is the height of arrogance.
Recognising, listening to, and learning from greater authorities allow us to learn things that would otherwise be outside our own realm of experience and knowledge. The knowledge these people share is of the sort that we should accept, even though we may not be able to test that knowledge ourselves. If we are smart and humble, we will learn from this knowledge. This is learning through the process of ‘descending’. We allow knowledge to descend to us from higher authorities. But, if we are arrogant and closed minded, we will disregard anything that we have not experienced ourselves, to our own detriment. This is the process of learning through ascending.
Allow me to illustrate the perils of learning through ascending.
There was a frog who lived at the bottom of a well. This frog had never left his little world in the well, and he had no intention of ever doing so. One day, the frog’s cousin – who had been hopping around the globe, sightseeing and having adventures – stopped in to visit his cousin in the well. The cousin was telling spectacular stories about the mountains he had seen on his travels. But the frog in the well looked confused.
“These mountains can’t be any taller than the walls in my well. These walls are the tallest things I’ve ever seen. They are the tallest things in the world,” said the frog in the well.
The frog’s cousin continued his tale, telling the frog in the well about the amazing shades of green and brown he had seen on these mountains.
“What are these silly shades you talk about, cousin? I know that there is only one colour green, and it is the colour of the moss here in my well. And I know for a fact that the only brown is the colour of these rocks here in my well.”
The frog’s cousin was not discouraged, but decided to stop talking about mountains. Instead, he started to explain about the big, wide oceans he had seen. The cousin said that even if there was no rain, the oceans could never dry up because there was so much water!
The frog in the well started drinking as much water as he could from the well.
“Is there this much water in the ocean?” he said, pointing at his big belly, now full of water.
“Oh no, no,” said the cousin. “The ocean is so huge with water. Much, much more water than could fit in your belly!”
So the frog in the well drank even more water, and his belly became more bloated. “Is it this big?”
“Oh no, no. You could never drink as much water as the ocean. It is much bigger!”
But the frog in the well, with his limited perception of how ‘big’ something could be, did not believe that he could not drink more water than the ocean. He did not believe what his cousin, who had seen the ocean, had told him.
So the frog in the well drank more and more water. And more, and more, and more as he tried to drink as much water as the ocean.
And then he exploded.
I remember that story from when I was growing up in the ashram. I remember thinking to myself, ‘How can the frog be so dumb!’
Now that I am older, I realise that the frog in the well was arrogant, and that made him dumb. He was not willing to listen and learn from a greater authority. Because he had not seen mountains with his own eyes, he was not willing to believe someone else when they told him that mountains were higher than the tallest thing he had seen: the walls of his well. And instead of learning something by allowing knowledge to descend to him from someone who was a greater authority on what the world was actually like, he was trying to learn by ascending. He had to drink enough water to match the ocean so he could learn how big the ocean really was. And this was his downfall.
Please take a moment to ponder… Even if we are in our own well – our own little ‘world’ – we can still learn. Be wise enough to admit that you do not know everything. Be humble enough to realise that some things in life are beyond your own imaginations, scope, or reality of experience. Be open minded enough to learn, even if you can’t experience it for yourself. Be aware enough to recognise greater authorities when you meet them. Learn from them by allowing their knowledge to descend to you. Be sure that you go to the right authority for the right knowledge.
Analyse each colourful thread in the fabric of life. Rationalise it. Evaluate it. And add to it.
Group Managing Director, QI Ltd