“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” -Lao Tzu
A concept often taught in karate is to have a mind like water. If we throw a pebble in water it acts totally appropriate to the force and mass of the input, it doesn’t overreact or under-react to the situation. Responding like water in one’s daily life, then, is a helpful way to conduct oneself. Indeed, sometimes no action is required. And if it is, we can take action and return to calm immediately after responding, much like the water returns to calm shortly after the pebble disrupts the stillness momentarily.
Bruce Lee, who is widely regarded as the most influential martial art experts of our era, put it thusly:
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
The idea posited above was derived from the Tao Te Ching, which is considered to be one of the most prominent philosophical doctrines of all time. Water is free flowing and adjusts to its environment. This is what it means to have an “I don’t know mind,” recommended in Buddhist ideology. It means to be open and fluid, adjusting to the environment as needed, much like water. It means we come to accept that we really don’t know anything for certain, and therefore, we must be flexible. Everything is a matter of probabilities and possibilities. That is why some of the key teachings of Buddhism are in relation to the “I don’t know mind.”
A story that highlights this idea is of a Rabbi who was crossing the street, heading in the direction of the synagogue to pray, as he had done many times in the past. A police officer (who seemed to be in a bad mood) confronted the Rabbi and said, “Hey Rabbi, where in the hell do you think you’re going?” The Rabbi responded, “I don’t know.” This infuriated the officer as he had seen the Rabbi go to the temple to pray the same time every day, so he took him to jail. Just as he was about to put the Rabbi in his cell the Rabbi turned to him and said, “You see, you just don’t know.”