Beyond Belief - How To Be Free From Views And Words
The traditional meaning of the phrase beyond belief
is to describe something as so incredible that it is impossible to believe that it is true.
However, there is another meaning that places greater emphasis on the word beyond
, and that is to suggest something that is the other side
of belief. Or, in other words, something that transcends
belief, and this is the meaning that I am ascribing to the phrase in this short article.
A definition of belief
is something that we accept and believe to be true, but that is not necessarily something that can be proven to be true.
Correct beliefs and polarised positions
In the field of religious beliefs there has been much argument, conflict and suffering over "correct"
beliefs, or orthodoxy throughout history.
Correct beliefs and core doctrines are reinforced with public declarations of belief in credes and propositional statements of faith such as the Nicean crede.
This is not limited to religion but applies to political beliefs and societal beliefs such as those about gender and sexuality, "woke" beliefs about social equality, beliefs to do with political correctness and so on.
Then there is the tribalism of political beliefs such as Democrats vs. Republicans in the US and Conservatives v. Labour in the UK, and the tribalism of pressure groups such as the American NRA with their staunch defence of Americans' inalienable rights to bear arms.
Beyond belief - the suffering inflicted on those who do not agree
The suffering inflicted on the "others", those not like me, non-believers and heretics
Over the past century, countless millions have been killed and genocides have been committed
in the name of various political beliefs: the Maoist and Stalinist purges, the killing fields of Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the thousands of lynchings by the Klu Klux Klan
in the southern States of the US.
In previous centuries the religious persecution by state supported majorities over non believing minorities such the persecution of the Cathars
by the Catholic church and the burning of Catholics by Protestants and vice versa.
The list is endless, and in all cases:Believing themselves to be right, clinging to their beliefs, to the point of killing to defend their view of the rightness of their position.
Beyond belief to balance
The Buddha had something to say about clinging to views, opinions & beliefs.
Non-attachment to things, people and concepts due to their impermanence is a fundamental Dhamma teaching.
The Buddha offered guidance on how we should handle beliefs in the Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile
which he follows with the simile of the raft.
The essence of the teaching is that we should grasp or hold onto the Dhamma as though it was a raft taking us across a river, our grip on the raft is analogous to holding a water snake properly so that it can not bite you, and to be let go on reaching the safety of the further shore. Thus:The teachings are there to serve a purpose and to be released when that purpose is served.
A teaching is presented as a guidance whereas as, conventionally, a belief is presented as an immutable certainty.This video provides a useful explanation
of the Buddha's teaching on clinging to views. (If you scroll down and read the comments by "Oxcb" on 19 Oct 2017 he/she observes that in his introductory comments the presenter unintentionally sets the viewer up to form an attachment and a liking for the perspective he is offering!)
The erroneous view that thought can encapsulate reality or truth
Eckhart Tolle has said that:
"Dogmas – religious, political, scientific – arise out of the erroneous belief that thought can encapsulate reality or the truth.
Dogmas are collective conceptual prisons. And the strange things is that people love their prison cells because they give them a sense of security and a false sense of 'I know'
.Nothing has inflicted more suffering on humanity than its dogmas.
It is true that every dogma crumbles sooner or later, because reality will eventually disclose its falseness; however, unless the basic delusion of it is seen for what it is, it will be replaced by others.
What is the basic delusion? Identification with thought."
Beyond belief - the limitations of language
In "Lost For Words"
we discussed how:
- The limitations of language and how the very structure of our language causes us to identify with "my view"
and reinforces the sense that our concept
of what is real is real, when it isn’t.
- The concepts we employ, the categorizations we apply and the words we choose and use to articulate a direct experience put us in a double bind, because for all that we gain by being able to speak about an experience we lose an equal if not greater amount of the full meaning of that experience by the very process of speaking it.
- There is always a context, and framing, in our choice and use of words. For example, what I mean to say to you in this article and what you hear may not be the same thing!
We concluded that:"Families and societies have been divided, countless wars have been fought, millions of lives have been lost, over the meaning and interpretation of words."If we shift our focus to the meaning that lies behind or beyond the words – the meaning that transcends the words – the meaning that can only be fully grasped by experiencing it – then everything changes and divisions and barriers evaporate as we move beyond belief.
Thich Nhat Hanh - Beyond Belief
"You don’t need to be Buddhist in order to think with understanding and love.
You don’t need to be Buddhist in order to say something nice, full of compassion.
So we say that the five mindfulness trainings
are global ethics, for Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
The mindfulness practices
are very concrete. You cannot talk about them; you have to live them.
"When you get free from views and words,
reality reveals itself to you and that is Nirvana."
Thich Nhat Hanh
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