Once, two pickpockets joined a group of laypersons on their way to Jetavana Monastery, where the Buddha was teaching. One listened attentively and soon attained stream-entry. The other, however, only with the intention to steal, managed to steal a small amount of money. After the occasion, they cooked at the house of the second thief, whose wife mocked the first thief, by saying that he is so wise, that he did not even have anything to cook at his own house.
Hearing this, he thought she was so foolish that she thinks she is actually very smart. When he visited the Buddha again with some relatives and related this to him, the Buddha uttered, ‘The fool who knows that he is a fool can, for that reason, be a wise man; but the fool who thinks that he is wise is, indeed, called a fool.‘ (Dhammapada Verse 63) Hearing this, his relatives attained stream-entry too.
As a somewhat parallel account, in ‘The Hunt’, Athena, who is the leader of a group of rich ‘elites’ who sadistically hunt humans for sport, when confronted by her nemesis, asked, ‘Who am I?’ Crystal replies, ‘Lady, I don’t know who you are. I just know that you’re crazy.’ Athena retorts, ‘I am crazy. But I know I’m crazy. And if you know you’re crazy, then you’re not crazy. So that just makes me really, really mad.’ It might seem that Athena makes some sense, but there is less than she assumed.
First, if she truly knows she is crazy, how can she also be not crazy at the same time? Second, it is possible to be crazy to some extent, and not crazy to the other extent at the same time too, though she conclusively claimed she is not crazy at all. Third, being really mad, as in angry, is indeed a form of craziness – which is why it is called ‘mad’ in the first place, as the angrier one is, the less rational one becomes.
Since there is a sliding scale of craziness (or foolishness, as in the Dhammapada case), versus sanity (or wisdom), one is seldom completely crazy or completely sane. The very point of continual spiritual learning, contemplation and cultivation (闻思修) is to become more and more sane, thus less and less crazy. It is actually safer to think one is more crazy than not, more foolish than not, because this offers us impetus to keep sliding on the scale — in the right direction!