On the wise ones of old, Lao Tu says:
The wise ones of old had subtle wisdom
And depth of understanding
So profound that they could not be understood.
And because they could not be understood,
Perforce must they be so described:
Cautious, like crossing a wintry stream,
Irresolute, like one fearing danger all around,
Grave, like one acting as guest,
Self-effacing, like ice beginning to melt,
Genuine, like a piece of undressed wood,
Open-minded, like a valley,
And mixing freely, like murky water.
Who can find repose in a muddy world?
By lying still, it becomes clear.
Who can maintain his calm for long?
By activity, it comes back to life.
He who embraces this Tao
Guards against being over-full.
Because he guards against being over-full
He is beyond wearing out and renewal.
Socrates was dying.
A disciple asked, “Why are you not afraid of death?”
Death was certain, within minutes he would die. The poison to kill him was being prepared. But Socrates said, “How can I be afraid of something which is unknown? I will have to see. When I die, only then can I see. Two possibilities are there. One is that I will die completely, no trace of me will be left. So there will be nobody left to know it, nobody to suffer it. So there is no question about my being worried about it if this first alternative is going to happen. And the second possibility is that I may continue; only the body will die, but the soul will remain. Then too I don’t see any point in being worried. If I am to continue, then death is irrelevant. And only these two possibilities exist. I cannot say anything right now about what will happen. I don’t know. I don’t know yet.”
Socrates was a wise man, not a man of knowledge. A man of knowledge would have given a certain answer. Men of knowledge have certain answers, absolute certainty – that is part of their stupidity. In fact, only stupid minds can be certain. Life is such a vast mystery, unfathomable, unknowable; if you are wise you cannot be certain.
Wisdom is cautious. Wisdom hesitates. Wisdom is never certain. That’s why wisdom can never be confined to a theory. All theories are less than life, all theories are narrow, and life cannot enter into them – life is so vast, so tremendously vast and infinite. A wise man only knows one thing: that he does not know. A man of knowledge knows a thousand and one things and knows that he knows – and therein lies the foolishness of the man of knowledge. He goes on accumulating facts unlived by himself: theories, words, philosophies – untouched by his own being. He goes on accumulating them in his memory. He becomes a vast reservoir of knowledge, he becomes an Encycloapedia Britannica – but a dead thing.