I know there is a difference between “belief” and “knowing.” When I cut myself, I know I am bleeding. I know it hurts. When my car tire is flat I know it. I don’t have to believe in its flatness. Yes, we could call this relative knowledge. Still, there is no belief involved.
From the perspective of knowing an honest Zen practitioner of ten years still does not know if they are enlightened like the Buddha. Nevertheless, they believe that they are getting close. In other words, they are persuaded that they are close to being awakened. What this tells us is that belief and persuasion are closely related if not the same.
Our thoughts and concepts also have a lot to do with belief or the same, persuasion. These same thoughts and concepts don’t get us an inch closer to knowing as in, I know I just awakened. From thoughts and concepts, including our opinions, we believe we are getting closer to the truth. But truth is to be known. Belief will not bring us closer to knowing. Eventually, we get tired of believing. We don’t care about assurances. We just want to know.
When it comes to nirvana we want to know nirvana in the very self (P., paccattaññeva). It is a certain knowing like, “Wow, there is a big hawk sitting on the top of my car!” Nothing ambiguous there (this happened a few months ago). But now imagine someone tells you (actually trying to persuade you) that you are already in nirvana or the whole world is the Buddha. This guy wants you to believe or to have faith in his words. Still, this is not knowing nirvana—not its actual realization.
This is where mysticism comes into the frame. It is really about knowing. Supposedly, the mystic has passed from belief into absolute knowing. They are one with God (theosis) or they have seen the unconditioned and won nirvana. They didn’t just persuade themselves. The authentic mystic has integrity. The charlatan has no integrity. It’s all an act—but he gets you to believe in him and his dog and pony show. The best religious teachers get you ready to accept the fact that you have to know your true nature. This nature is beyond belief.