I am trying to understand why doing nothing is considered by some to be better than doing something. That is, after all, the message spread by Eastern faith/philosophy. It’s not just the message, but the way it is passed on to the rest of us, who, it’s alluded, are not as enlightened as we should be. It is the smugness of inherently perceived superiority that annoys me as much as the argument itself.
The message that Eastern philosophy is somehow superior to western philosophy is rather strange – no, very strange. What is it that we are told, after all? That a still mind is better than an active mind. That by ridding our minds of extraneous matter, i.e. the outside world, we will get to an inner peace, to “the truth”.
How so? What truth do we actually get to when our minds are blank? What superior level do we reach when we meditate, saying the same mantra over and over for hours? Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in an interview about meditation, stated that “If you stare at a wall from four in the mornng till nine at night and you do that for a week, you are getting pretty close to nothingness.” Is this a recommendation?
Mankind has come a long way along the evolutionary path, with countless inventions and discoveries, none of which were the result of a mind deep into nothingness. From earliest times, advances have been the result of thinking, not of non-thinking. Philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, economists, industrialists, accountants, whatever, all advanced in their field, and so advanced mankind, by making their brains work.
Yet now we have the fashionable New Agers, influenced by Buddhism, Tao and a slew of Eastern thought, all of whom refer to the superiority of anything rather than reason and logical thought. We are somehow led to believe that intuition is superior to logical thinking, that intuition is on a higher level than the dirty business of working out a problem by thinking about it. It is a sort of anti-intellectualism, wrapped in an enigma that is not supposed to be challenged.
There is nothing wrong with belief. Why should one argue with belief? There is no need because belief does not lean upon logic, and neither does it have to. Belief is belief. And here is my frustration with Eastern thought: it does not admit to being a belief. It will simply make the point that the mind isn’t everything and that, in fact, intuition is on a higher level. No argument works at this point, since argument itself is what is considered to be useless. And so we are in a vicious circle, with the circle being an integral part of eastern idea of no beginning and no end. See? We can’t win.
I suppose one argument could be that the world is in the bad state it is because of reason, and that wars take place because of leaders using their minds for evil. Yes, that is true. In the meantime, I would like to be given some examples of where non-thinking advanced the world in any way, and where the world would be now if everyone would have emptied their minds.
Just a thought…
I believe that some of these things are a result of our increasing secularization, especially in the west. We have a couple of generations who have not been exposed to formal religious teaching and policies in our social and governmental institutions. I’m not arguing that they should be, either. However, as humans we have a spiritual side that gets hungry. I believe that people still seek to satisfy this side of themselves. They find this satisfaction by ‘cherry picking’ mysterious aspects of other ‘belief’ systems that have some appeal to them. All kinds of things have been latched onto by people from the obsession with angels, the new age movement, Celtic practices, natural and herbal remedies, etc.
I have meditated at length, the point of which is not to do nothing; rather it is intended to expand awareness beyond one’s tiny individual point of reference and the logic which rests upon it to see a greater logic, reason and purpose to existence.
I am not sure whether I have achieved this, but I am sure that there is a smug superiority in the tendency to dismiss and ridicule people making an effort to understand and follow the most ancient traditions known to mankind. Not all of them are new agers nor even Buddhists, and many are very deep and rational thinkers with sharp intellects and creative sensibilities. Why smear them in this blog, which has thus far demonstrated a broad and inclusive perspective on how and why we use our minds?
I do not think that a trend that has brought personal computing, the connectivity that allows this kind of communication to the world, and that has integrated form and function into a successful business model, resulting in what we now call the Digital Age was born of a superior and ridiculous rejection of our cumulative knowledge.
Further I think that intuition is an unconscious form of deductive reasoning that occurs outside of conscious awareness and tends ultimately to be more reliable than thinking we do at the conscious level. As biological organisms we are genetically programmed to crawl and then to walk upright in imitation of other humans around us, the recent discovery of the role of mirror neurons explaining how it is done. This all occurs outside of our consciousness. Most learning is unconscious, and occurs without volition. In fact, it is possible that when we attempt to control our biological destiny with conscious wishes and purposes, we interfere with our most rational and adaptive processes. When we ignore our intuitions we are perhaps more likely to be guided by our most destructive impulses, over which we rarely have rational power. It could be that some of the most destructive uses of our mental capabilities occur when we don’t listen to our intuition, which may be guided by the most rational parts of our minds. In any case I certainly think there is more than nothing to do this idea, and I would urge you to consider it.
I, of course, have nothing against people who believe that intuition is a valuable asset. My problem is with those who tell us that non-thinking is superior to thinking, that meditation will get us to expand awareness in a better way than actually expanding our intellectual abilities. If meditation works for some people, that is great. If God works for others, that is great too. Just, please, don’t tell the rest of us that their methods are better than ours.
For reasons that are partly psychological, partly sociological and partly based of superstional nostalgia, there is a trend to show deep respect and faith in ancient beliefs. Should we do this merely because they are old? Isn’t the point of progress (and evolution) to gain greater knowledge and dismiss old prejudices and unfounded beliefs? If people still worship the sun, should I also do so because people have done this since the beginning of time?
As for learning being unconcious, that is debatable. Certainly acquisiition is unconscious, but learning is, I would think, a patently conscious function. Standing upright is, I agree, a natural act; but it is not a function of imitating other humans around us. Babies do not learn to walk upright.
Evolution has resulted in an expansion of our brains and our minds. Intuiton is still with us as human animals, but we no longer rely only on intuition, which is certainly not part of that part of us that is rational.
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