How to Explore the Difference Between Knowledge and Understanding

Perhaps the "secret ingredient" of all wisdom is understanding, that near magical insight where not only the concept but its practical application make perfect sense. The complication however, is that understanding and knowledge aren't always the same thing. So, while a person may diligently study a philosophy, it might never create much benefit on a deep level, or ever make sense so the lesson remains deep, abstract and inaccessible. This common problem afflicts many and is a major obstacle towards being able to develop skills in life.

This tutorial explores the differences between the two and how to ensure you get maximum benefit from various religious and philosophical teachings and to reach a greater depth of understanding in your field of study.


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    Start at the beginning and look at what knowledge is. Knowledge, in effect, is the accumulation of facts, myths, trivia and beliefs. Its an all encompassing field of data that we use to live by from methods to complete a task, data to be able to plan as well as the ability to reflect on what was learnt.
    • Reflect on how you accumulated this great store of data. Data can be accumulated from schools and other people and the mind stores this if it has interest in it, be it trivial interest or functional relevance.
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    Consider how much of your knowledge you actually understand on a deep level. By and large, the amount of knowledge we have is far greater than the amount of it we really understand. For example, we may all know that placing a raw egg into boiling water will cook the egg, but we don't necessarily understand the process that affects the proteins in the egg, however a specialist who studies the process will not only learn how, but understand why. In the same way, we may know many pieces of wisdom but much of it we simply store as learnt, but not as understood as we seldom observe it or apply it in a mindful manner.
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    Explore the relationship with knowledge and the present moment. Knowledge when closely observed, reveals itself to be entirely linked to the past, but not the present moment. All our knowledge and information has been accumulated over a long period of time, the present moment simply is - there is just awareness and being.
    • It is important to consider this aspect. There is very little data- knowledge we didn't come across through education, experiences and from personal study, but this retention of data is simply the retention of data that is not obtained "now", but was obtained "then" and is now stored for our personal use in our minds.
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    Test what happens when you release the past. You may try this as a thought experiment, or during a meditation exercise. If you do let go sufficiently to be fully aware of the present moment, its likely only to be for a few minutes as the process of the mind depends on knowledge so it quickly reverts to the process it is familiar with using.
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    Consider now the relationship you have with your philosophy or religion. How much of it is knowledge learned as opposed to knowledge understood? It is a very surprising point to understand, that many of the methods to live well and be happy have already been discovered by the multitude of philosophers, saints and religious leaders over time. So why is it that we may hear the answer, but it still not make any difference, yet for some it does?
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    Start to explore individual facets of the philosophy. By contemplating its intention as well as its method of application as well as its alternatives and its non application, you can get a deeper insight. Its still not sufficient at this stage, but this is the foundation to building understanding. The greater deal of understanding happens when the knowledge learned is applied directly in the moment.
    • The fascinating part of the mind is that it can see the same thing and still learn something new. Just like when you look at a photograph or a painting many times, eventually more and more of it becomes apparent to you. You see more subtle effects of light and shadow, the brush-strokes and paint textures and colours and more subtle parts of the background which can give new meaning and interest. With this in mind, you can explore the philosophy or teaching, or more generally life and the mind itself to be able to comprehend it and find deeper applications and benefits.
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    Consider the benefits and possibilities of improving your understanding. In essence, understanding is a very deep process with great benefits, whereas simple book knowledge, rote learning or mnemonic style information occupies a very shallow level of the mind and so gives minimal benefits. It is only when a person has learned it well enough to apply it in the moment, can understanding then grow from knowledge. Finish the process by reflecting again on the difference between knowledge and understanding. Knowledge ultimately being the collection of past events and second hand knowledge obtained elsewhere. In the present moment, there is simply understanding and the opening towards serenity and happiness.

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Categories: Philosophy and Religion