Court jesters were highly valued by kings and emperors, trickster gods were an important part of many religions and cultures, and the Bible tells us that, “God chose the foolish things of the world.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) Even in our society, which has enthroned the logical brain, the fool is still held in high esteem by many. We may call them comedians, satirists, wits or artists, but they serve the same important function as the jesters and tricksters of the past: exposing absurdity that masquerades as wisdom. When we assume that the accumulation of information is synonymous with intelligence, and great learning is confused with wisdom, the trickster cleverly, and courageously, reveals the difference.
If those who are considered ‘wise’ can become blinded by their own knowledge, how can the trickster see through it? The fool sees past the complex because their mind is simple. However, it’s vital to realize that there’s a vast difference between being a simpleton and having a simple mind. In an essay titled “On Scholars,” Nietzsche labeled babies and young children as ‘prerational.’ In other words, they don’t approach the world with reasoning because they haven’t acquired the knowledge necessary to reason and logic their way through what they observe. Not only are they unaware, they’re also oblivious of their own ignorance. In this state, which we associate with innocence, everything is seen with new eyes. We could also say that the baby or child is a ‘simple fool’ because their lack of knowledge and reasoning ability can easily get them into difficulty.
As we take in knowledge of the world around us, we become rational, the second step in Nietzsche’s essay. We name, measure and categorize, but as we gain knowledge, we also lose the innocence of the child. We become confident that our rational mind and the information we’ve absorbed gives us the power to intelligently meet life’s challenges. At this point we could be considered a complex or learned fool. Why? Because we’re convinced that information/knowledge alone is sufficient to deal with whatever problems we might face. But as Rubén Blades accurately observed, “I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance.” We often see learned fools who are blinded, or blind-sided, by the monumental pile of information they’ve collected. Instead of admitting their logic isn’t working, they come up with one solution after another, which digs a deeper and deeper hole. To avoid this problem, wise rulers kept jesters/fools in their court.
The fool, trickster, jester has gone beyond the rational, beyond logic and has begun to see a bigger picture. The fool is aware that they do not know. This is the key that allows them to see the absurdity in the world’s wisdom. But the fool is no mere finger pointer. The fool understands that pulling the rug from under society requires a certain finesse. For that reason, the tricksters of mythology often made themselves look ridiculous, played roles, wore disguises or used unorthodox methods to covertly get their message across. Although laughter is one of their favorite tools, they often walk a tightrope between angering the complex fool and waking them up. And obviously, the same is true of modern day jesters who serve up the day’s news with a large dollop of irony.
There’s one more stage that Nietzsche described, and that is the transrational, the divine or blessed fool. The word transrational, meaning beyond rational, sounds misleading. On the surface it seems to imply the divine fool is a simpleton who is no longer in his or her right mind, but Nietzsche gave the word a very different meaning. The divine fool doesn’t regress to childhood or become irrational, but instead transcends the rational. The fool’s brain is as competent as ever, but instead of relying on the world’s faulty knowledge, the fool has transcended their own limited perception and tapped into infallible spiritual vision. In other words, the transrational mind has reconnected with the One Mind of Ultimate Reality.
The transrational state was what Jesus was referring to when he told his followers to become like little children. Many mistake what he was saying and believe they should go back to the stage of innocence and live as a simple fool. No, Jesus meant for his followers to become mature and rational, but then wake up to their indivisible connection with All That Is. The rational mind understands the world through its own perception; the transrational mind has reconnected with the One Mind and sees the world through spiritual vision. Those who have transcended this world seem foolish to the rational fools that judge them, but the world’s wisdom also appears ridiculous to the divine fool who easily sees through its many illusions. Far from being foolish or simple, the divine fool has conquered the world.
Simple is he, without distinction. To all appearances he is a fool. Such is the perfect man—His boat is empty—Chuang Tzu
Lee & Steven Hager are the authors of several books exploring the dynamic synergy of science, spirituality and gnosis including The Beginning of Fearlessness: Quantum Prodigal Son and The Gospel of Thomas: Where Science Meets Spirituality. To learn more, they invite you to visit their website: http://thebeginningoffearlessness.com or follow on Twitter @LSHager