Understanding is a very complex process, especially when it comes to explaining emotions to other people or complex internal states. Whether it is spiritual teachings or a friend telling about how it feels after a breakup, understanding reaches in different stages.
For my personal reference I have adopted a model of three stages, as shown in the featured image.
The first stage of understanding is simply the intellectual understanding of something. Though that is more than simply repeating words and telling again what has been said, as I do not consider that understanding at all, it is lacking many things. It is as if one explains what love is materialistically: “Two people who like each other.” One can not really feel the emotions coming up there. That is, I believe, because it is on the level of logic and words.
Applied to non-internal things, where such different levels also exist, we would have a very specific and “limited to one thing alone” understanding here. Like being able to answer a question in a test only if it is put in the same way that it has been learned.
The second stage of understanding for internal things means that one is able to feel within oneself what is being said. Normally that requires a past experience of such an internal state. Like for example to understand what another person means when he is telling you how he had to run away from thieves who have unsuccessfully ambushed him, one must have experienced something similar before. Equally to tell somebody of the kind of feeling one has during meditation, is of little significance if the person has not had the same experience during meditation before.
For external things, I think of this stage as a much more conceptual / bigger-picture understanding. Not only knowing something but understanding the implications as well. As for example, when seeing that a person has a low pay-check not only grasping that this person might not be able to go on vacations in summer but also that this person may not be able to afford to buy nice presents for his or her children at Christmas and what frustration that might bring about.
When applying knowledge on this stage the application can go beyond the specific conditions in which it was learned. However this kind of a more in-depth / beyond rational understanding is on this stage only temporary.
Finally, the third stage is where this kind of conceptual understanding of something becomes permanent. It is an ever-present aspect of a person’s thinking and feeling. The understanding might be used as a metaphor, as an analogy, an example and in general comes to mind easily – maybe even if it is not case specific when faced with something else.
Furthermore the knowledge has been personalized and transformed in something unique to onself. In a certain sense one has claimed possession of the knowledge. It is not something other people have said, but what resonates within oneself – very likely differently than how it resonates within another person.
On this stage for example are convictions that one actually lives by and not only proclaims. A vegan for example actually has made it personal that no animals should be butchered or even done harm to. Likewise I use this very model as a constant reference when I want to express that though I have understood what another person means intellectually (level 1) that I can not get to the heart of its significance (level 2).
This short model is, like all models, a simplification of course, but I think it helps to remember and better understand that knowledge certainly has more than one level to it! If reading this blog and seeing this model does that, that is already all the impact that was my intention to achieve.