There is a world of a difference between reading a description of something, or hearing, and actually experiencing it for oneself. This qualitative difference between kinds of “knowing” is usually illustrated with the simplest example possible, that of taste. One might read all the books in the world that describe the taste of honey, for instance, but just by placing one drop of it in the mouth, there occurs an immediate and intimate knowledge of what it tastes like. This knowing is precisely what separates an actual experience of truth from its descriptions. On the spiritual path, it is a distinction one would do well to keep in mind. For, anybody can listen to or read words of wisdom and feel accomplished because they have understood what those words mean.
But this understanding will remain superficial until it is re-forged and tested in the laboratory of life. A popular teacher of Buddhism once spoke about the ease with which one is able to generate feelings of loving-kindness and compassion in solitary retreat, when there is no one around. “Alone, it is very easy to imagine the whole world in your embrace,” she emphasised, “but the minute there is one other person in the room, you will know where you truly stand.” It is because until then, we have only heard what the honey of compassion would taste like — from texts and teachers — and have based our practice on this conception.