NOTE: The following Dharma talk was given by Rev. Charama on Sunday, September 17, 2017.
Given some of the Facebook posts I’ve read lately, it appears people could benefit from a study of epistemology, the theory of knowledge: “how do we know what we know?”
A lot of things can keep a person from seeing clearly. One of the most pernicious is residing in the world of concepts, perhaps the most insidious of which is politics.
It’s no secret the world today is fractured and polarized.
I believe it is, in large part, because people are trying to “out-concept” one another, without success – not realizing there is no way to succeed at that game.
Examples of concepts are “Republican” and “Democrat” and “Conservative” and “Liberal” and “rich” and “poor” and “justice” and “Zen” and “right” and “wrong” and “peace” and “Christian” and “Buddhist” and “atheist.” Even “love” is a concept. No one can hand me a teaspoonful of “rich” or a pound of “justice.” I can’t knock on my neighbor’s door to borrow a cup of “Democrat.” And everyone knows money can’t buy me love.
That’s because these are subjective terms that we believe are objective. They can sometimes manifest in physical objects (we can shake hands with a Democrat, for example, or meet a Zen teacher, or marry a Christian); yet, their definitions – especially how we feel about them, or what we think of them, believe them to be – are fluid, changing. Not fixed. They reside in our head as concepts. And we remain stuck there with them.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from going to battle to defend – or advance – their concepts.
But there’s no resolution when two intractable concepts go head to head (no pun intended). The most common way to resolve such a conflict is through violence. If enough people on my side (people who agree with my concepts) can beat down enough people on the other side (people who disagree with my concepts), I “win.”
But do I? Do any of us?
As long as we (willingly or unwittingly) choose to live out of our heads, attach to our concepts, the words we use and the behaviors we manifest will be tainted by them – with the inevitable bifurcation, and sometimes violence, following dutifully behind.
I wish I could say the cure for conceptitis is to wake up. But a lot of people who claim to be awake are still drowning in a sea of concepts.
There’s more to it than that.
For some, waking up is just the beginning.
Because then the real hard work begins as we emerge from the shadow world in which we’ve lived…and stumble, blinking and rubbing our eyes, into the light of reality.
That’s when we have to strive with all proper diligence to rid ourselves of our preconceived notions, our strongly held opinions and ideas. That’s when we have to question the source of our knowledge.
For example, if we exist on a steady diet of OccupyDemocrats or Huffington Post or Salon or Slate or even many mainstream media sources, we need to acknowledge that we are being fed an ideology that’s far to the left of center (whatever that is these days). If we accept what we’re digesting as fact, without bias or taint of any kind, we’re making a serious mistake.
The same is true if our media diet consists of Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, FOX News or others of that kind. There’s a slant there, too, decidedly to the right of center (whatever that is these days). If we don’t take that into account when we form our opinions, we’re making a serious mistake.
This is why I mentioned epistemology at the outset. Question the source of our information. Ask, “How have I come to know what I think I know?” And, as a corollary, “Has my information tainted or affected my opinions and beliefs?”
This holds true for the aforementioned words like justice, too. If we’re going to battle for “justice” but we have no clue how to define the word, or what “justice” would look like if it were attained, or – especially – if our opinion of justice differs from that held by whom we perceive as our opponents, are we going to battle over a difference of opinion?
(I always found it interesting that Christians would fight for justice. I don’t want justice. I want mercy, compassion, love. I couldn’t not stand up to getting what I deserve, which is what justice is in a court of law – getting our due punishment for crimes committed.)
Here’s the point of my Dharma talk this evening: Strive to set aside your opinions. Question the source of them. Whenever possible, as often as possible, put it all down. Cease doing battle with others. Instead, seek to serve others with compassion and love and kindness. You may discover you’ll get the world you claim to want far more quickly that way.
* bow *