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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
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David Christopher Lane, Mt. San Antonio College Press, 5th edition, 2014.
The Honest Guru
Reflections on Unknowingness
To read Faqir is to read yourself; to end up where you started in the first place: not knowing.
Honesty is a virtue that is hard to come by. Sure people claim to have it or at least aspire to it, yet very few of us can be totally frank about our lives, our motivations, our hidden desires. It is particularly difficult for those who are in positions of authority. Why? Because it is precisely when we have some social status, some social leverage, and some social mobility that we run the risk of hurting another's feelings. Is a mother totally honest to her child? Does she not lie or deceive on occasion to avoid hurting the feelings of her tiny beloved? Is a teacher completely forthcoming to his student? Does he not blind himself occasionally from the obvious drawbacks of his pupil? Naturally, we would all admit to lying or deceiving at one time or another. The problematic issue in this is where we draw the line between harmless social lying and damaging personal dishonesty. It is a difficult issue, no doubt, and one which each of us faces moment-to-moment, day-to-day, and year-to-year.
This brings us to that most remarkable of 20th century Indian mystics, the late Baba Faqir Chand. One would be hard pressed to find a guru as disarmingly open as Faqir, who, unlike most of his colleagues in the Punjab, had repeatedly confessed to his human failings and his intellectual limitations. And it is exactly Faqir's honesty that sets him apart from other spiritual leaders; it is also Faqir's honesty that raises the question of Truth. Could it be, as Faqir would have us believe by his own life and example, that no saint or guru or mystichowever enlightened, however revered, and however populartruly knows the secret of human existence? For skeptics the answer is already self-evident: nobody does know, especially religious leaders who are more often than not caught in mythic or pre-rational modes of thinking. For believers in religious truth, Faqir's confessions may be viewed as revelatory or misguided.
But in both camps, Faqir's honesty will most likely not be an issue. There is a certain trustworthiness about Faqir's confessional attitude which automatically endears the reader. But perhaps it is more than that, perhaps deep within our own hearts and minds we intuit that Reality is indeed greater than we can conceive; that Godand I am using the term to denote Absolutenessis not something to be talked about, or theorized about, or even proven. God is that which begins and ends in the Unknowable, and thus agnosticism is closer to our own bone than we might wish to admit. We really don't know, do we? Maybe what makes Faqir Chand 's confession of ignorance so appealing and so believable is that he is stating a universal facta fact which is evident to every human being who has ever lived: we simply don't know the why of our own existence, much less the reason behind the universe. And this unknowingness may not be a cultural product at all, but rather an inherent, even biological, response to the very wonder of the cosmos.
In any case, what we have in the writings of Faqir Chand is a unique autobiographical confession about the inner workings of a well-regarded mystic. What we have, in sum, is an honest guru. Although for Westerners the term "honest guru" may seem to be an oxymoron, in Faqir Chand the phrase is perfectly apt and attests to his distinctive style. How many gurus are there who say that they don't know what happens after death? Or that they may just be plain wrong in their observations? Or that they have no power whatsoever to perform miracles? Or that they suffer from the same weaknesses as other human beings? Certainly there may be some, but the number is exceptionally small. Moreover, out of this small circle very few have spoken with the clarity and conviction of Baba Faqir Chand.
To read Faqir is to read yourself; to end up where you started in the first place: not knowing. Not knowing may be undesirable, it may even be frightening, but it does have one immeasurable advantage to those who feel it, who contemplate it, and who don't resist it: it is a truthful and honest human response to the mystery of the universe. Faqir Chand, unlike most of humankind, dove daily into the very mystery of his being, and each time he emerged he came out with the same message: "I don't know." But instead of finding that discovery to be useless, he found it, along with Socrates, Lao Tzu and others, to be the greatest wisdom of all.
I have never seen two people fight over their "unknowingness"; however, I have seen wars fought and millions of humans exterminated over people claiming they "knew"whether that knowledge be cloaked in the guise of Communism, Racism, or any host of isms. True knowledge is knowing that you don't know; true wisdom is knowing that nobody else does either. Faqir Chand can be regarded as an enlightened being in the sense that he came to grips with the Unknowable. Not by super imposing order or meaning upon that Mystery, but rather by surrendering to its transformative implications: Transcendental Unknowingness creates natural humility and an inherent openness to the vagaries of Being.