To some, being agnostic, or admitting you don’t know, seems a position of weakness. But let’s think about it. Being uncertain is uncomfortable. Not knowing – whether we’re talking about the existence of ‘God’, the love someone else feels for us, or the nature of reality, is uncomfortable. It’s not for the weak of heart.
Being uncertain means admitting that you may not have all the information. It means that your mind and heart are open to receiving new information that might change the way you see things or feel about them. Your whole life could change based on new data. Being uncertain is therefore a little risky, isn’t it? Doesn’t that mean that you have to be strong and humble to admit that you don’t know, and to live open to learning more?
“I know that I know nothing.” – Socrates
Buddhism is essentially Agnostic. In Mondo Zen, we ask thirteen questions, called koans, of the participant(s) in a special dialogue format. These koans in Mondo Zen are designed to cause the mind to open and transcend itself, creating an experience of what we call Emptiness, or Sunyata. This experience of Emptiness is the foundation of all spiritual living and practice, for it gives us the most useful perspective through which to view all of life. Interestingly, the key question which brings about the experience of emptiness requires the participants to be agnostic, to NOT know. It is only within this space of Emptiness — non-assertion of egoic ideas that true growth is possible. In Mondo Zen, we ask:
1. Is it possible to just purely listen, without an opinion?
2. Where is this listening located within your body?
3. Who are you, who am I, who are we within this deep listening space?
Each koan has a correct answer, which, when achieved by the participant(s), helps them to transcend their former ideas and limitations and reach new understandings, including new ways to get information from the universe, by reaching in internally rather than out, externally. It is from within the depths of our being that we can feel the rightness or wrongness of things, and from which solutions arise.
“I don’t know” is the key to this breakthrough. One has to admit that one does not know.
If we were to watch only mainstream media television, we would have a completely different view of the world than someone who only gets their information from independent journalism, or someone poor who has no access to electronics, or books. Of course, I’m not certain about this, but perhaps it’s helpful to admit that we might not know, because then we might actually learn something!