A true master knows nothing

Posted by Leslie Lau on

Photo by Alexander on Unsplash

For the past five years, I've felt an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and growth. Not until I opened myself up to the bottomless well of 'every-thing' that, to this point, our known human existence has (past and present) to offer, did I realise that I had barely scratched the surface.

These words, from the great philosopher Socrates, describe this 'a-ha' moment for me perfectly:

 "The more I learn, the less I realise I know."

But why is this such an important realisation?

When you analyse this statement simplistically, solely from the standpoint of its semantics, then it can easily be something that is reflexively accepted and, perhaps, considered to be pointing out what is obvious.

But perhaps this attitude in itself is part of the collectively-adopted modern mindset which is so driven by egoic urges and the perceived need to continually posture-up.

Through deeper awareness, I have certainly recognised this in myself.

It feels great to learn new things; to be a student. When you immerse yourself in something with which you resonate greatly, you expand with such capacity and velocity that, only when you give yourself the space to reflect upon the fact do you realise, you've grown to an exponential degree.

I at times would catch myself feeling mighty proud of myself, even occasionally thinking, "Yep, I know that already..." or, "Man, they don't know anything..." I've been conditioned to uphold such an attitude within me for thirty-plus years, so it would be naive of me to think that it is easily conquerable after a single lightbulb moment.

I do, of course, acknowledge the importance of being confident in oneself, but in saying this, I also recognise the fine line between it and arrogance and ignorance.

We revere, so much, those who we adorn the coveted label of "master," as if they are the physical representation of perfection within their field of excellence. 

We believe they have mastered their craft, learnt all there is to know, completed everything there is to be done.

But if we examine these "masters" closer, you will find that they are never content with what they have or know when it comes to their chosen field. They are always honing their craft and looking for ways to improve and adapt, given that the environment with which they operate will always be in flux.

"For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future." - John F. Kennedy

These principles are universal - if we pull ourselves out from the detail and apply them at a macro level, where the environment is the world in which we live, and the field of practice is life itself, they are equally applicable in this greater context.

It would be impossible for anyone ever to know everything there is to know about life, so by this rationale, there would be no masters.

And, even if one claims to have understood everything there is to know about life, that would be a proclamation at a point in time; a moment which would lapse in an instant and, knowing that the world around us is in constant flux, new lessons would perpetually arise, thus, almost immediately, revoking their master status.

Every single moment in each of our lives, we have an opportunity to learn sometime new. Each lesson may not be ground-breaking or life-altering, but nevertheless, something we did not previously know or understand.

A master isn't someone who has reached a certain height of understanding; rather, a true master simply makes the commitment of being a student for life.

Achieving mastery isn't about 'knowing everything'; rather, true mastery comes from the recognition that one knows nothing.

For each of us, our greatest teacher will always be life itself, and the pinnacle of this experience we call 'living' will be when we truly commit to this life-long apprenticeship.

This is not just an exercise in humility and open-mindedness, which are more subsequent benefits than the ultimate goal.

This is a way of life; it is character-building and foundational to good human beings.


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