Knowledge and the Sacred [4]

~Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Although Buddhism belongs to a very different perspective than Hinduism and, in fact, began as a rebellion against many Brahmanical doctrines and practices, it joins Hinduism in emphasizing the primacy of knowledge. The supreme experience of the Buddha was illumination which implies knowledge. The beginning of Buddhism is Boddhisattvayāna which means “birth of awareness that all things are void.” 

At the heart of Buddhism, therefore, lies knowledge that was to lead later to the elaborate metaphysics of the Void which is the foundation of the whole of Buddhism and which was championed by Nāgārjuna. Also all the virtues of the Bodhisattva, the pāramitās, culminate in wisdom or prajñā. They all contribute to the dawning of this knowledge which liberates and which lies as a possibility within the being of all humans.

The Buddha image itself reflects inward knowledge and that contemplation of the Void which is the gate through which inner peace flows and inundates even external manifestation while, from another point of view, this contemplation serves as the support and “seat” for supreme knowledge. One can hardly conceive of Buddhism without becoming immediately aware of the central role of knowledge, although of course the way of love and mercy could not be absent from such a major religion as can be seen in Amidhism and the figure of the Avalokiteśvara or Kwan Yin itself.

As far as the Chinese tradition is concerned, here again in both Confucianism and Taoism the role of knowledge as the central means for the attainment of perfection reigns supreme. This is to be seen especially in Taoism where the perfect man is seen as one who knows the Tao and lives according to this knowledge which means also that he lives according to his own “nature.”

As Chuang-Tzŭ says,

The man of virtue… can see where all is dark. He can hear where all is still. In the darkness he alone can see light. In the stillness he alone can detect harmony.

It is the principial or sacred knowledge which allows the sage to “see God everywhere,” to observe harmony where others see discord, and to see light where others are blinded by darkness. The man of knowledge goes beyond himself to reach Heaven and through this process the Tao of his own self which is none other than the sacred ground of his own being, the original “darkness” which is not dark because of the lack of light but because of the excess of luminosity, like the sacred dark grotto of medieval tales from which flows the spring of life.

From: Chapter 1, Knowledge and its Desacralization 
[Knowlegde and the Sacred]