Rafed English

The Pride of Learning

One of the dangerous stages in the course of personal advancement and achievement where one may be affected with pride is that of scholarship.

One's learning may appear to be so important and precious that he comes to consider his scholarly capacity and merit as being superior to that of anyone else. It is interesting that most of those who fall prey to the pride of knowledge and consider themselves extraordinary beings with special rights, are those whose learning is of a low or mediocre level.

I knew a person who looked down upon the admirable learning and scholarly achievements of others, or basically he would not consider them noteworthy at all. His own learning and knowledge, however, were of a mediocre quality and his own personal worth was perhaps small. Whenever in a gathering there was a mention of someone's scholarship and achievements and everyone present expressed his opinion, he would nod affirmatively with a contemptuous smile. But when speaking of some of his own inconsequent achievements he would discuss the matter by giving such a long prelude and with such elaborate flourish as if no one had ever performed a greater service.

A Western scholar says:

Had we known the world better than we do and were it possible for us to compare what we know with what we are ignorant of, we would have believed differently. But it is a fact that our knowledge is no more than a minute fraction of what remains unknown. What elements are there all of whose uses are well understood by us? The complete natural history of which plant and animal is known to us from the beginning to the end? There are various forces and agents all around us about which we still know nothing. The thick curtain that has hung for ages before our eyes has not yet been removed. We are still like primary students in the great school of nature. We only observe many things, but we are unaware of their secrets.

The world of thought is like an endless ocean on whose shores one stands watching the immense waters and the unceasing waves. Those who slip and fall into the water struggle uselessly with the waves without hardly getting anywhere.

Man always tries to unveil the face of reality and take a step forward on the path of science and knowledge. But our problems increase with every step that we advance on this path.

What we know is like the diameter of a circle and the unknown like the area circumscribed by it. As we increase the diameter, the area of the circle increases several times. Perhaps, in the future, our posterity will be able to advance further on this path and discover new secrets of the universe. But we, despite our unfortunate pride and egotism, are forced to fall on our knees and confess that we are ignorant of the secrets of existence and know next to nothing in this regard. Why go far? We do not yet understand even ourselves. We do not know what we are and what relation do we have to nature. Yes, we don't know anything, and so are forced to put a question mark on everything that we come across, and pass on. 2

The first prerequisite in the quest of knowledge and for understanding any matter is that one's intent in study and discussion should not be negative and hostile But the proud and narcissistic person tries to take an unfair advantage of others' statements and argues in an unseemly manner. Actually his aim is not to discover the truth but to establish his superiority and prove his learning through debate.

In order to attain self-knowledge, it is necessary first to discover the facts through a correct method and to be make sure of their truth and correctness. We can reach the truth better in this way than through sterile controversy. In matters whose exact nature is unknown to us and which we understand only vaguely, our primary aim in discovering the truth should be to resolve the ambiguities surrounding the issue so that the matter can be seen in its simplicity denuded of complexities.

2. Dar justoju-e khushbakhti, pp. 58, 219.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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