Perspective

by Dennis Bradford

in intellectual well-being

When we lack perspective, we become attached to our thoughts. We believe them. We think they are true. We identify ourselves with them.

This is a critical mistake.

The ability to think (conceptualize) has, of course, enabled us to solve many problems of living. It is such a powerful tool, however, that we have a terrible tendency to misuse it.

This misuse of mind results in an imbalance between Becoming and Being [For the terminological distinction between Becoming and Being, click here.]. Becoming is the domain of Thought; Being is the domain of No-Thought.

Misuse of mind obscures Being. Being can become so forgotten that it only appears infrequently.

This critical lack of perspective explains our perpetual dissatisfaction. We try to overcome it by incessantly trying to gain more – more power, more people (such as lovers or children or friends), more possessions, more money, more status, more beauty, and so on.  It’s impossible ever to gain enough to keep our egoic wants satisfied.

When we identify with our thoughts, we also identify with our emotions. Why? There is a thought at the heart of every emotion (see my How to Survive College Emotionally). As the years pass, we may actually begin to believe that we are nothing but our thoughts and emotions.

The classic expression of this was Descartes’s famous cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.”

It is true that our thoughts and emotions are part of us. However, they are a much, much smaller part than almost anyone realizes. This points towards the correct perspective.

Consider Albert Einstein’s often repeated saying that “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

If so, as Eckhart Tolle understands, this applies to mind: “The problems of the mind cannot be solved on the level of the mind.” How can we solve them?

Here’s an important clue: Tolle quotes Ramana Maharshi as stating simply, “The mind is maya.” ‘Maya’ is a Sanskrit word that here refers to the veil of illusion that takes things (objects, forms) to be in groundless, ceaseless flux.

Aren’t they? Well, yes, things are in flux in the domain of Becoming. This is what the mind uses to generate dukkha (dissatisfaction, unease, suffering), which is what stimulates us to keep trying to gain what we want and to avoid what we don’t want.

However, things are not groundless because each thing has an essence of Being. This is the missing insight. The mind cannot understand Being (unity). What the mind does is to sort (conceptualize, divide, classify) things. Since Being is not a thing, it cannot be sorted. The mind just doesn’t get it. Since Being is formless, it cannot be thought.

So remaining attached to mind blocks awareness or realization of Being. Compulsive thinking is an addiction that can only be broken by a better perspective, namely, one that includes Being as well as Becoming.

Since 80 to 90% of thinking is involuntary, repetitive, automatic noise that is not genuine problem solving, letting go of it in favor of awareness of Being does not require losing anything important. Actually, there’s a gain even within the domain of mind: thinking that is informed by Being is better than thinking that isn’t.

Ask: who is thinking? This helps to shift the perspective. You may think that you are thinking, but are you? As Nietzsche remarked in Beyond Good and Evil: “a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes, and not when ‘I’ wish.” When you begin to witness (watch) thoughts as they arise and pass away you are beginning to free yourself from addiction to compulsive thinking.

Can you not imagine how life would be better if you were to drop that constant voice in your head? Why not find out for yourself how much better a perspective it is?

It’s also the case that we become much better off as soon as we stop identifying ourselves with things. As long as you think you are a thing or set of things, life will be unsatisfactory. No attachment to things, no suffering.  The perspective of detachment or nonattachment is the perspective that informs Becoming with Being.

If you have convinced yourself that you are, nevertheless, relatively happy without adopting that perspective, that may be true (for a while — until illness and old age bring you near death).

However, you literally have no idea what you are missing without adopting the perspective that you yourself are formless.

In Skepticism About the External World, Butchvarov argues that the self is nothing in itself, that it is “just a center of reference,” in other words, a perspective. “[T]here cannot be a sharp distinction between the world and ourselves. Each must be understood in terms of the other.” So, since the world includes Being as well as Becoming, so do you!

Accepting this would dissolve fanaticism, unquestioning attachment to certain beliefs (judgments, thoughts). Since there cannot be a belief without a perspective, every belief is – at best – limited, in other words, not absolutely true! Once fanatics understand this, they will stop killing each other and bothering the rest of us.

To break free from the limited perspective of mind, it is necessary to awaken from mind dreams.  How? Let go of all thoughts and emotions and fully accept the present moment just as it is. It’s that simple.

Because we are afraid, because we identify with the egoic mind and this is the death of the egoic mind, it isn’t easy, but it is simple.

Nonconceptual consciousness of Being (No-Thought) arises in the gaps between thoughts. As the things that are the objects of thought disappear, so does the subject (egoic mind).

Beginning to be aware of these gaps is the beginning of the shift from plurality to unity, from thinking to awareness.

As Sengcan, the third Chinese Zen patriarch, wrote in the oldest Ch’an document: “If mind does not discriminate, / all things are as they are, as One. . . One thing is all, all things are one.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

carlo August 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Understanding Being in the mystical way is very suggestive.

But I do have a small question. Bradford writes:

Ask: who is thinking? This helps to shift the perspective. You may think that you are thinking, but are you? As Nietzsche remarked in Beyond Good and Evil: “a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes, and not when ‘I’ wish.” When you begin to witness (watch) thoughts as they arise and pass away you are beginning to free yourself from addiction to compulsive thinking.

This ignores the significant span of active/doing conscious phenomena. For instance, we do summon names from our past that we may have forgotten. The active summoning isn’t just a happening. It is a doing by the agent — whatever this agent turns out to be. Can the Buddhists give a satisfactory analysis of this active side of ourselves?

Dennis Bradford, Ph.D. August 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Carlo.

If “satisfactory analysis” means “adequate causal explanation,” the answer to your question surely must be, “no.” However, we know nothing about causality anyway! All we have are regularities of event types.

Notice that active summoning doesn’t always work; it’s hit or miss. When trying to recall someone’s name, for example, actively trying to remember it is, at least for me, often ineffective. If I stop trying to recall it, my brain seems frequently just to supply it. I think, even in just this kind of mental case, it is Being supplying what is needed serentipitously . It astounds me how often it just happens that we receive exactly what is necessary, which is not the same as receiving what we desire.

If the real purpose of life is for us to inform Becoming with Being, this works. If the purpose is the scientist’s purpose of trying to give a causal explanation for everything, this fails. I doubt that anyone could correctly accuse either one of us of scientism!

Cheers,

Dennis

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