Borrowed knowledge refers to stuff we take from other people: from Plato and Descartes, say, or the Bible and Eat, Pray, Love, or dear Aunt Millie. Textbooks are filled with it, so is this blog. Borrowed knowledge contains another person’s understanding of the world. At minimum it represents ready-made answers; ideally it helps us reflect on our own experience and turn towards doors of unique insight. And that’s where we gain another kind of knowledge: self-appropriated or self-discovered. It’s harder to come by, can’t be googled, and requires putting aside expert opinions and trusting the wisdom that grows within.
This little story* illustrates this very nicely:
Zen master Mu-Nan sent for his disciple Shoju one day and said, “I am an old man now, Shoju, and it is you who will carry on this teaching. Here is a book that has been handed down for seven generations from master to master. I have myself added some notes to it that you will find valuable. Here, keep it with you as a sign that I have made you my successor.” Shoju took the book and burned it immediately!
*source: Kornfield, J. & C. Feldman. (eds.) (1996). Soul food: stories to nourish the spirit and the heart. HarperSanFrancison, p. 233.