I can tell you everything there is to know about water – its whole chemistry, how it is composed of oxygen and hydrogen, its different properties, at what temperature it becomes vapor, at what temperature it turns into ice – but that will not quench your thirst. Your throat will remain parched and dry. No matter how great or how complete the information may be it will not quench your thirst. Mere information about the chemistry of water will not help you.
Understand what the master is indicating first – then go in search of water and drink. Then you will have the experience of water for yourself. Then the dryness will disappear and your throat will feel cool; then the fires of deprivation and of uneasiness will vanish, and a kind of peace, a kind of satisfaction will well up within you. No one else can give you this experience, but you are quite capable of having it for yourself if you want to.
So far you have tried to obtain this experience from someone else. You do not even wish to exert yourself enough to drink. It is your thirst, so how can my water help you? You will have to find your own water. This is why all the enlightened men, all those who know, say there is no knowledge except that which comes from experience.
So free yourself as quickly as possible from whatever knowledge you have gathered, from whatever information you have accumulated that is not from your own experience. You will never start out in search of that spring of fresh water as long as this burden is on your head; because you are under the illusion you have known, without really having known; under the illusion you have drunk, without really having drunk; under the illusion you have acquired something, without really having acquired anything. This is an impossible situation.
Kabir is saying that you have read a lot, that you have accumulated much information, and that many people are satisfied with this kind of knowledge.
Kabir lived in Kashi, a place abounding in scholars. They believed it was enough to read, to accumulate knowledge from books. They were well-versed in the Vedas, in the Upanishads and in the other scriptures, and they looked upon Kabir as ignorant, as an illiterate man. In one sense, you can say Kabir was illiterate. If you consider a scholar as literate, as a well-educated man, then Kabir was definitely illiterate. But of what value is the scholar’s knowledge? A scholar will go on and on about the immortality of the soul, but when death approaches you will find him trembling and weeping and wailing. All this talk of immortality will crumble into nothingness because he has not know it. He has only read about immortality; he has only heard about it from someone else. It may be someone else’s experience, but it is not his own.
When you possess the pure gold of your own experience you will be fully prepared to face the test of life, but the gold of another’s experience will turn to clay in your hands. It will not help you face life at all. The knowledge you gain from others may help you pass tests in logic and reasoning, may help you to obtain a university degree, may earn you the world’s respect as a man of letters, but you will know inside yourself that you have not attained true knowledge. Inside, the lamp will be unlit; inside, there will be no flame.