A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent,
but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed.
– The Buddha (Dharmapada Verse 63)
From the Dharmapada are these verses uttered by the Buddha, ‘Though all his life a fool associates with a wise man, he no more comprehends the truth than a spoon tastes the flavor of the soup. (Verse 64) Though only for a moment a discerning person associates with a wise man, quickly he comprehends the truth, just as the tongue tastes the flavour of the soup. (Verse 65)’ (While we might imagine these parallel but contrasting verses to be taught during the same occasion, they were not, as we shall see.) Though the verses seem common-sensical, they are good reminders against unmindfully tricking oneself into thinking we are close to enlightenment simply because we are surrounded by those who have practised and realised the Dharma well, because we immerse ourselves superficially in Dharma materials, or because we ‘hang around’ Dharma centres and temples.
While staying at Jetavana monastery, there was a pretentious elder monk called Udayi, who would often sit on a platform where learned disciples of the Buddha taught the Dharma. One day, some visiting monks mistaken him to be knowledgeable and asked him some basic questions (on the five aggregates). When Udayi could not reply as he did not know the answers, they expressed their shock that one who stayed with the Buddha in the same place knew so little. The Buddha then uttered verse 64 and instructed them, after which they attained arahatship. Even though one purposely keeps the close company of the wise and mimic their ways without understanding, the foolish will not realise the nature of the truth, just as a spoon never knows the taste of soup despite soaking in it. One must always learn and practise the Dharma diligently to personally know and see the truth.
On another occasion, there were thirty youths from Paveyyaka who were enjoying themselves with a prostitute in a forest. When she stole their valuables and ran away, they searched for her and came across the Buddha. Asking whether it was better to look for her or themselves, the Buddha caught their attention and delivered a discourse to them, after which they attained Sotapannaship and joined the Sangha at Jetavana monastery. While staying there, they learnt and practised the Dharma diligently, and attained arahatship. When some other monks remarked that the youths were very swift in attaining arahatship, the Buddha uttered verse 65. The opposite of those described in verse 64, even though the wise associates only briefly with other wiser ones, they will quickly understand the Dharma, just as the tongue directly tastes the subtle flavours of the soup – versus the spoon, which only stirs the soup round and round without digesting it. Remember to taste the true flavour of the Dharma!
Just as in the great ocean there is but one taste – the taste of salt –
so in this Dharma and Discipline there is but one taste – the taste of freedom.
– The Buddha (Uposatha Sutta)