Zen Talk: For How Long Will I Be a Fool?

He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.

– famous Chinese proverb

I consider myself to be a very curious fellow. I have lots of questions, and I’m always reading a dozen books and learning whatever I can. Does that make me a life-long fool or a life-long learner? Maybe both.

I accept that there is tons that I don’t know and tons I will never know. Compared to what there is to know, I know nothing. I feel very much like Socrates in that fashion – no, not like a brilliant philosopher, but like Socrates claimed he felt: as if he knew nothing and that was all he knew for sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I know plenty, but that plenty is plenty of facts about certain subjects that I fancy myself savvy in. Bigger picture, though, and bigger issue, I think that I know so little that it’s disturbing. That doesn’t stop me from consuming whatever knowledge I can with a voracious appetite, but it is somewhat humbling to realize that I will never know as much as I would like.

Then again, I know certain things that I wish I didn’t – that I truly wish I had no knowledge of. And that’s, perhaps, more disturbing still: to know that I would rather remain in absolute ignorance until the day I died than to know, when I value knowing and knowledge so highly.

Life-long fool it is, I suppose.

What do you think about this quote?

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Zen Talk: Who’s the Fool and How Can He Become Wise? Let’s Ask Buddha

“A fool who is conscious of his folly is thereby wise; the fool who thinks himself wise is the one to be called a fool.”

So sayeth Buddha.

This reminds me of what Socrates used to say: the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing. Yes, the statement is a little contradictory but it’s meant to illustrate a very important point about the difficulty of actually having knowledge.

Socrates spent his life in the pursuance of knowledge, asking everyone to explain anything at all to him. His questioning, known today as the Socratic method, was ultimately designed to remind everyone that he also knew nothing for sure. The sophists, his intellectual rivals who insisted that they knew a great deal, were constantly thwarted by Socrates’ own pursuit of knowledge.

Buddha tells us something similar – and not particularly far away from Socrates in time – which is that a fool aware of his foolishness is actually wise and the only real fool is the one who thinks he’s wise.

What do you think about this saying? True? Trite? Silly? Do you have a favorite Buddha quote? What’s your favorite Socrates moment (all Platonic dialogues are up for grabs!)?

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