Last evening I was reading from a book of Taoist meditations. The reading for the day was entitled “Sage.” It’s short enough to excerpt most of it here:
Ancient sages lived in forests and
Wandered from village to village,
Sharing openly, teaching the people
Without profit or ownership.
There were more holy aspirants in ancient times. These men and women cultivated themselves in the mountains or wandered among forests and streams. When they came to a village and saw that there was some knowledge that could be imparted to the people, they did so openly. Once they taught what was necessary, they disappeared, knowing that others would follow behind them. They did not establish religious schools, temples, or philosophies bearing their names. They knew knowledge did not belong to anyone. It could not be owned, parceled out for profit, or withheld selfishly.
Nowadays, many people regard knowledge as a mere commodity to be packaged, marketed, and sold. Their interest is not in benefit for others’ souls but for their own pocketbooks. … We live in a world where the selfless sharing of knowledge is no longer a virtue. The more knowledge that you give away, the more will come to you. The more you hoard, the less you will accumulate. Be compassionate to others. What do you have to fear by being open?
365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao.
New York: HarperCollins Publishers Harper San Francisco, 1992, p. 168.
The ancient sage was not so much a religious figure (in the modern sense) as he or she was a scholar, philosopher, and a scientist. The sage apprehended knowledge of the workings of the world and of relationships through observation, experience, and study. To freely share this apprehension of knowledge was a sacred privilege and responsibility. They did not seek to create or enhance their own reputations, yet those who followed and benefitted from their knowledge conferred reputation upon them through attribution.
Knowledge belonged to everyone because it belonged to no one. It is interesting to read in the writings of classic Taoist masters how they often lament—like Deng Ming-Dao above, from a modern perspective—that values of the ways of the ancients have been lost. “Nowadays, many people regard knowledge as a mere commodity to be packaged, marketed, and sold.” But perhaps an ancient value in free knowledge sharing is being rediscovered. “The more knowledge that you give away, the more will come to you.” It’s called open access.