Life of I - Part 4 - World of beliefs

The Life of ‘I’ – Part 4

Part 4 -The ‘I’’s World of Beliefs

The possible concepts that can live in the mind are infinite.  Beliefs are concepts that have been reinforced over time and have become an integral part of your experience of yourself and the world.  Fundamentally ‘belief’ is a concept based on the concept that there is a belief that can be had.

When little attention is given to the workings of the mind these beliefs appear as things you just know.  You might never have seen it or specifically experienced it but you know it is there.  You might think that you cannot-not-believe.  Beliefs, as with any other concept, theory or idea compel the existence of other truths. The mind cannot comprehend itself without them. The most fundamental of these is of course the belief that there is a ‘me’, and ‘I’ or a self that experiences life, its past, future and present. Beliefs (anything taken to be true without question) is needed in order to function in the world.  From the mundane activities like using your hand to eat (belief that you can use that thing to bring something towards you so that it can be inserted into this thing) to the not-so-mundane. Beliefs dictate everything else in your life and specify the meaning you will attach to experiences, people, ideas and symbols. For the not-so-mundane part of life we add meaning through beliefs in concepts like religions, non-religions, spiritual, academic, scientific, mathematical or some or another form.  These beliefs makeup the base of our understanding of our-selves, our environment and our non-mundane-decisions in life. These beliefs, due to their nature, are considered to be philosophical matters that can be debated, or not, that are negotiable or not and that can be wrong or right or neither. On close inspection however it will become clear that all of these are fundamentally the same.  None of them can really be debated or be said to be wrong or right because they are all still ideas, concept or mental constructs.  If you think that your beliefs are right or wrong or neither that can be debates or not then ‘you’ will always get ‘your-self’ caught up in the debates because it is your belief in yourself that conducts these philosophical debates in the first place.  The fact that there is a need to debate comes from the ‘I’ that is attempting to prove its point of view so that the ‘I’ can ‘feel secure about the life that it is living’. To you the ‘stuff’ in this book will just become another set of ideas, or a belief, or non-belief, unless the mind is shown that “…all things are essentially empty; not born, not destroyed; not stained, not pure; without loss, without gain.”  – The Great Prajna-Paramita Heart Sutra.

Science and Mathematics

Science and math is very useful in explaining certain concepts.  However if you examine the processes involved in understanding the more subtle aspects of nature through science you get yourself caught up with your hands and legs tied.  Nature is fundamentally elusive especially if we want to apply the same ‘objective reality’ we apply to science. Science gives little attention to conscious experience.  This is usually regarded as some phenomenon that need not be taken into consideration because its subjective nature does not meet the requirements of science.  However if we look at something like meaning, which is so fundamental to our experience of reality, you will see that meaning has dimensions science cannot even dream about. The only thing mathematics (or any related form) can tell you is more mathematics, even if it elaborates, or even tells you something you have never known before.  The certainty or facts of math are thus still fundamentally based on a certainty or fact that is assumed to be true.  Besides that it contains no information on any experiential subject matter.  The only reason why it is still used is because it relies on the application of the fundamental propositions of mathematics.   Mathematics is a vast an inventive conceptual structure that is a useful theoretical tool for scientific understanding.  However, most of the time it is not seen this way.

Understanding the Mind

Psychology and Philosophy of the Mind

Theories of the mind, philosophical and psychological are found on the assumption that there are mental states based on a physical experience that can give rise to a distinct non-physical property. One does not have to deny sensations, but by thinking about it and trying to understand ‘it’ we are obligated to create an idea (‘mind’) that is separate to the brain (physical processing system).  We are then obligated to assume that it is this idea (‘mind’) that the essential part of our being and a part of all the conscious states. All of these studies are thus based on an assumption that there is a non-physical property that exists somewhere in nature that can have these mental states based on physical experiences.  This non-physical property is only ‘alive’ as an idea, without the ‘idea’ of it, it does not exist.  It is not found in nature and it cannot be experienced.  If you think it does then you are thinking it into existence. We have come to accept that it is ok for scientific theories to identify the physical property for something we have identified in the world, like water or DNA.  Then the mind automatically thinks it can do the same with mind or consciousness. Theories of mind or consciousness then use an agreed methodology to test its hypothesis of the concept.  Consciousness or being conscious is defined by looking inward to see if there are states or the lack of them – the ability to look inward or being aware is thus defined as being consciousness or a form thereof. The theories can then make a distinction between consciousness and self-consciousness.  For example it is assumed that animals like mice are conscious (as opposed to unconscious or not awake) but that they are not self-conscious like humans are.  They might still have states but they are not aware of them, because to be aware of them would require self-consciousness.  It is the concept of self-consciousness that requires the concept of conscious states so that we can think about conscious states and have the ability to have these conscious states. We are thus creating theories out of a concept that is used to describe the concept to see if we have correctly identified categories of concepts that our concept of ‘self-conscious’ concepted in the first place. So is there nothing special about these states we are internally aware of?  They are only special to the owner of the states.  The only thing that makes them special to ‘I’ is that we have extraordinary concepts for them, which we can introspectively re-identify and recreate.

Religions

People talk of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism and the list goes on.  Each one believes they are right, and they have the truth.  We think they are all different because we speak from our feelings.  The minds ability to create these concepts makes them appear different.  When your feelings are removed from your religion it becomes clear that the essential nature of all of them is the same.  And then if you look closely at the essential nature of religions it becomes clear that there is no such thing as religion.  Religion is a concept just like Islam or Christianity.  They are ideas given to feelings, a set of beliefs and rituals. Buddhadasa Bhikku came up with an excellent analogy to explain the concept of religion. People would agree that you get different kinds of water.  Filtered water, rainwater, spring water, seawater, lake water, fridge water, carbonated water, drinking water, dirty water and toilet water.  The mind will insist that these are different but with a little knowledge we can know that when water is distilled a more pure form of water can be found in every type of water. We thus know that the water component found in each of the different kinds of water are the same even if they initially appeared to be different.  Religions also appear different because of the mind looks at the external forms like words, rituals, country, and beliefs. And when we look really closely at the water component we can conclude that there is no such thing as water.  There is only two parts hydrogen and one party oxygen.  There is no water or actually no ‘water’ to begin with. Only some elements, a combination of it, as it is found in nature. With religion there is only a certain nature and we can call God, life, energy, truth, dharma, tao or whatever we like because the experience of it cannot be confined to a label. All religions try and explain a concept of a reality that is beyond the material world.  This reality usually remains beyond reach or understanding and can be approached in various different ways.  Some of these ways include distinguishing the ego from the true self, understanding the nature of desire, becoming unattached or forgetting about preferences, not working for personal gain and letting go of thoughts by redirecting your attention, being devoted, being humble, invoking that reality or surrendering.  And lastly this reality approaches you through grace or a teacher and it promises your transformation by dying and being reborn, seeing the light, experiencing union or freedom. Your understanding of this reality is of course based on your understanding of the concept.

Approaching the reality

1 by distinguishing the ego from the true self:

Hinduism (from the Abhinavagupta)

Which is the soul? The person here … who is the light in the heart… This person (purusha) here in the heart is made of mind, is of the nature of light, is like a little grain of rice, is a grain of barley. This very one is ruler of everything, is lord of everything, governs this whole universe, whatsoever there is. 

(p. 68, quoting from the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad)

Buddhism (from the Sogyal Rinpoche)

Two people have been living in you all your life. One is the ego, garrulous, demanding, hysterical, calculating; the other is the hidden spiritual being, whose still voice of wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to.  …The more you listen, the more guidance you will receive. If you follow the voice of your wise guide… and let the ego fall silent, you come to experience that presence of wisdom and joy and bliss that you really are.

(Sogyal Rinpoche p. 120-121)

Judaism (from the Gershom Scholem)

This uninterrupted communion, which is the goal of creation, was broken off at the time of Adam’s sin when his lower will was parted from the divine will by his own free volition. It was then that his individuality, whose origin lay in his separation from God with its attendant proliferation of multiplicity, was born.

Gershom Scholem (p. 153)

Every man has the power to overcome this state of corruption… by means of his own innate powers and with the help of divine aid prior to and independently of the final redemption.

Gershom Scholem(p. 154)

Christianity (from the Bible)

Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 

2 Corinthians 4:16

That ye put off … the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 

Ephesians 4:22-24

Formed from clay, I have remained of the earth… Obsessed with flesh, I have forgotten the soul; Created to be a mocker of devils, instead I am captive of lusts… 

Sun. of Forgiveness, Mattins, Theotokion following Canticle 1, p. 171

Catholic (from John of the Cross)

In order to reach the summit of this high mount, (the soul) must have changed its garments (resulting in) a new understanding of God in God, the old human understanding being cast aside; and a new love of God in God, the will being now stripped of all its old desires and human pleasures, and the soul being brought into a new state of knowledge and profound delight, all other old images and forms of knowledge having been cast away, and all that belongs to the old man, which is the aptitude of the natural self, quelled, and the soul clothed with a new supernatural aptitude with respect to all its faculties. So that its operation, which before was human, has become Divine, which is that that is attained in the state of union, wherein the soul becomes naught else than an altar whereon God is adored in praise and love, and God alone is upon it. 

Book 1, Chapter 5, Paragraph 7

Islam (from ‘Abd al-Kader)

Then God — may He be exalted! — said to me, “What are you?” I replied, “I am two things, according to two different relations. With respect to You, I am the Eternal, forever and ever. I am the necessary Being who epiphanizes himself. My necessity proceeds from the necessity of Your essence and my eternity from the eternity of Your knowledge and Your attributes. “With respect to me, I am pure non-being who has never breathed the perfume of existence, the adventitious being who remains nonexistent in his adventitiousness. I only possess being so long as I am present with You and for You. Left to myself and absent from You I am one who is not, even while he is (fa-ana mafqud mawjud).” 

Mawquif 30, pp. 77-78

Paraphrased: Among the degrees of the universal Manifestation, each sentient creature typically experiences an illusory sense of autonomy. At the same time, with or without the creature’s awareness, the creature subsists eternally as an “immutable prototype” in the divine Knowledge.  

footnote 23, pp. 200-201

2 And becoming unattached:

Hinduism (from The Upanishads)

The aspirant who is seeking the Lord must free himself from selfish attachments to people, money, and possessions. When his mind sheds every selfish desire, he becomes free from the duality of pleasure and pain and rules his senses. No more is he capable of ill will; no more is he subject to elation, for his senses come to rest in the Self. 

Paramahamsa Up. 4, p. 246

And from The Bhagavad Gita

They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of “I”, “me”, and “mine” to be united with the Lord. This is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.

Bhagavad Gita 2:71, p. 69

Buddhism (from The Dhammapada)

Those … who find delight in freedom from attachment in the renunciation of clinging, free from the inflow of thoughts, they are like shining lights, having reached final liberation in the world. 

p. 89

And from Bodhidharma

The essence of the Way is detachment. And the goal of those who practice is freedom from appearances.

p. 47

Christianity (from the Bible)

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 

1 John 2:15-17

From Teresa of Avila

Oh, my sisters, what nothingness is all that we have given up, and all that we are doing, or can ever do, for a God Who is pleased to communicate Himself in this way to a worm! If we have the hope of enjoying this blessing while we are still in this life, what are we doing about it and why are we waiting? What sufficient reason is there for delaying even a short time instead of seeking this Lord, as the Bride did, through streets and squares? Oh, what a mockery is everything in the world if it does not lead us and help us on the way towards this end, — and would be even though all the worldly delights and riches and joys that we can imagine were to last for ever! For everything is cloying and degrading by comparison with these treasures, which we shall enjoy eternally. And even these are nothing by comparison with having for our own the Lord of all treasures and of Heaven and earth. 

pp. 153-4, Sixth Mansions, Chapter 4, Paragraph 10

From The Philokalia

St. John of Karpathos, in Texts for the Monks in India, 37: To anyone among you who is oppressed by a sense of his worthlessnss and inability to attain holiness, this is our message: if he attains dispassion he can see Jesus, not only in the furture, but coming to him here and now with power and great glory. 

pp. 153-4, Sixth Mansions, Chapter 4, Paragraph 10

Evagrios the Solitary, in On Prayer: If you long for prayer, renounce all to gain all.  

Philokalia (Vol. 1), text 37, p. 60

Evagrios the Solitary, in On Prayer: If you long for prayer, renounce all to gain all.  

Philokalia (Vol. 1), text 37, p. 60

St. Diadochos of Photiki, in On Spiritual Knowledge, 57: He who dwells continually within his own heart is detached from the attractions of this world, for he lives in the Spirit and cannot know the desires of the flesh.  

Philokalia (Vol. 1), text 37, p. 60

Islam (from Rabi´a al-Adawiyya)

May God steal from you All that steals you from Him.  

Book’s dedication page

Islam (from ‘Abd al-Kader)

And if you are patient — certainly that (huwa) is better (khayr) for those who are capable of being patient. (Koran 16:126) Commentary: In this verse, Allah consoles his patient servants in their trials by announcing that He Himself is the substitute and the replacement of that which they have lost and which was pleasing to their natural dispositions. In effect, being patient consists in constraining the soul to accept that which is repugnant to it. The soul experiences an aversion for everything which is not in accord with its predisposition in the present instant, even if it knows that it will be beneficial for it later on…Allah has thus announced to those who patiently bear the loss of that which pleases them — health, riches, greatness, security, possessions and children — that “He” [for this is the proper sense of the pronoun huwa rendered above as “that” in conformity with the way the verse is usually understood] is better (khayr) for them than that which they have lost; for they know that “He” [who is the Name of the supreme absolutely unconditioned Essence] is their inseparable reality and their necessary refuge, and that the pleasing things that they have lost were pure illusions…He who has found Allah has lost nothing, and he who has lost Allah has found nothing.

Mawqif 220, pp. 45-47

Taoism (from The Hua Hu Ching)

The mystical techniques for achieving immortality are revealed only to those who have dissolved all ties to the gross worldly realm of duality, conflict, and dogma. As long as your shallow worldly ambitions exist, the door will not open.

60

… the integral being is attached to nothing and can relate to everyone with an unstructured attitude. Because of this, her very existence benefits all things. 

15

3 By letting go of thoughts:

Buddhism

from Vasishtha

Paraphrased:Even though the moon is one, when shining on agitated water it produces a multitude of reflections. Similarly ultimate reality is one, yet it appears to be many on account of the agitation caused by the thoughts. 

p. 329

And from The Dhammapada

Let go the past, let go the future, and let go what is in between, transcending the things of time. With your mind free in every direction, you will not return to birth and aging. 

p. 348

And from Sogyal Rinpoche

More and more, I have come to realize how thoughts and concepts are all that block us from always being…in the absolute… When the view is there, thoughts are seen for what they truly are: fleeting and transparent, and only relative… You do not cling to thoughts and emotions or reject them, but welcome them all within the vast embrace of Rigpa.  

p. 164

Judaism

from Daniel Matt

Arouse yourself to contemplate, to focus thought, for God is the annihilation of all thoughts, uncontainable by any concept.

p. 69

As it says in Sefer Yetsirah

If your mind races, return to the place,” return to where you were before thought. Return to the site of oneness.

p. 108

Christianity

from Brother Lawrence

At the beginning, I often passed my appointed time for prayer in rejecting wandering thoughts and falling back into them.

p. 13 – 14

Useless thoughts spoil all … we ought to reject them as soon as we perceive their irrelevance to the matter at hand, or to our salvation, and return to our communion with God.

p. 12

And from the Orthodox anthology

Prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. 

Evagrios Ponticus, “On Prayer 61,” in the Philokalia

Homily 64

True wisdom is gazing at God. Gazing at God is silence of the thoughts. Stillness of mind is tranquility which comes from discernment.

St. Isaac the Syrian in the Sebastian Brock translation of Homily64

Islam

from Ahmad Ibn `Ata’Allah

The realization of La ilaha illa’llah… is one of the states of the heart that can be neither expressed by the tongue nor thought out by the mind.

p. 71

Taoism

from Shui-ch’ing Tzu

True emptiness exists when the mind is clear and all forms have disappeared. Externally, there are no objects. Internally, there is no mind. There is only emptiness. In this state even emptiness does not exist. In true emptiness there is no space, no desire, no will; there are no appearances, no thoughts. All realms of existence are dissolved. In absolute stillness there is no self and no other. There is only Earlier Heaven in its undifferentiated whole. 

p. 69

Other means of approaching this ‘reality’ is by understanding the nature of desire, forgetting about preferences, not working for personal gain, redirecting your attention, being devoted, being humble, invoking that ‘reality’ or surrendering. I encourage you to explore the nature of religion even further.  The reality is the same, it is only the words that are different.  The tendency of the mind to attach to the meaning of the concepts based on its own understanding instead of that which is being communicated is what keeps us from knowing the reality.  This reality that is ‘beyond the material world’ is indeed right here, it is just beyond the comprehension, understanding of thought, ideas and the physical attachment to the body. All these ‘paths’ will lead to the same reality; there is no other reality.

Spirituality

So there have been many people who experienced the concept of religion as very restricted.  Many people thus opted for their own belief system based on their own interpretations and their value system. This system can reject labels and leaves ample room for change, acceptance, re-organization, re-evaluation and other considerations.  These belief systems are only limited by thought. Many people, including myself, came to this point.  I had my bookshelves stacked with books on the mind and soul, self-help guides, self-improvement and inspirational novels.  I attended courses and workshops while spending free time writing about these thoughts.  Some people go to gatherings or retreats to elaborate on their own thoughts. There is no lasting effect or solution but only that which you believe is so because it uses the mind to try and understand. So you read all these messages, it appears to have some truth to it but you just cannot get your head around it.  And even if it says “stop using your head” you try even harder to think your way around it. Stop thinking.  Stop using your head. Stop using your head to do all these things you are doing.  See that the reality you are living in is a mental concept, a product of your thought.  The reality constructed by your thought is not permanent and not substantial.  It is an every-changing process that flows.  Thought is ignorant, thought cannot know, in thinking you cannot know.  When you let go of thoughts (ideas, concepts, meanings, things) there is nothing left to hold onto. At first this will be a conscious effort.  The mind will keep trying to replace a set of ideas for another, thoughts will continue to come and go, there will be times when the mind is still and you will know, until the next thought.  Spend all your time with this matter; do not let it slide, until it becomes clear.  And it will become clear.  There is no guesswork, no questions, no ambiguity or concern.  Be patient, and be strict, be courageous until there is no more opportunity for the mind to become caught up in itself.  Outwardly you will still use language but it will just be language, without the meanings, without the attachments. It is then that everything, every situation, every moment is life.  At first a gift to learn about the workings of the mind.  And then to stand in clarity. Life without the thought of life is eternal life.  Non-attachment is at the heart of science, religion, concepts, ideas, thoughts and nature.  There is nothing else.

1 Comment
  1. Nathalie
    Nathalie08-04-2011

    Hey Franklin, thank you for the nice message 🙂

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