The error of confusing one’s thoughts with one’s capacity to think is the basis of human ignorance. Collecting ideas is no proof of one’s ability to think. But what it can do, though, is compensate for one’s inability to think. There is no easier way to satisfy one’s ego than with false knowledge acquired in ignorance. The greater the lack of thinking-power a man senses in himself, the more he is inclined to hide it with the thoughts of others. It is hard work to acquire the ability to think for oneself, but it is as easy to amass the ideas of others as it is to collect shells on the seashore.
Although the power to think is innate within us, most of our thoughts belong to other people. Developing one’s power to think involves an inner search; borrowing the thoughts of others necessitates looking outside oneself. This is why I say there are two different approaches, two contradictory journeys.
The man who is preoccupied with the study of knowledge negates his own ability to think. Real knowledge cannot be acquired outside oneself. Only knowledge that grows out of one’s own consciousness is genuine.
When a man attempts to hide his ignorance, he does not eradicate it. Nor does he attain knowledge. It would be much better were he to face his ignorance in all its nakedness and try to understand it. Isn’t knowledge that is acquired in an attempt to conceal one’s ignorance more detrimental than ignorance itself? Surely a foe disguised as a friend is more dangerous than an out and out enemy! Knowledge that is not born out of oneself is the enemy. It is false knowledge.
Why do we want knowledge that is false? Why do we chase dreams? Nothing happens without cause, and in this case the ego is the culprit. To hide our ignorance we want instant knowledge, right away, and so we accumulate the ideas of others. The ego’s drive is strong, and this is what pushes people into memorizing scriptures, into blindly accepting all sort of doctrines. False knowledge makes the ego feel stronger. The awareness of one’s ignorance breeds humility; the illusion of being knowledgeable enhances the ego.
To acquire real knowledge it is essential to annihilate the ego. The core of the ego is possessiveness; it has no real existence, no real center of its own at all. Being in the state of non-possessiveness means the extermination of the ego, and so it wants to possess as much as it possibly can. As long as the mind has this tendency towards acquisition it cannot know itself. Its frantic race after knowledge does not allow it the time to come to know itself. Whether this race is after status, fame, religion, knowledge, renunciation or the nature of the soul is irrelevant, because wherever there is desire of any kind there is ego. And where there is ego there is ignorance.
The quest for knowledge is the same as the search for wealth. Wealth may be a gross possession and thought may be subtle, but all outer possessions are simply indications of inner poverty. It is this feeling of inner poverty that drives a man to explore the external.