In the Lab

D. H. Lawrence wrote that "One truth does not displace another. Even apparently contradictory truths do not displace one another. Logic is far too coarse to make the subtle distinctions life demands."

You have only to spend some time on social media to determine the truth of this.

We all mistake opinion and belief (often expressed in memes on the internet these days) for truth and, clinging to these, thus is the whole mass of suffering proliferated. Recently, a friend posted a meme meant to show the hypocrisy of liberals who want gun control to save children but who also favor freedom of choice as regards abortion. The meme was wrong on many levels, from unfairly ascribing the gun control sentiment to a celebrity supposedly wearing an “I had an abortion” tee shirt. When I investigated, the celebrity identified never made the statement attributed to her. On top of that, the meme was a logical fallacy, a false equivalence, which compared gun control to save children with abortion (to conservatives, this wouldn’t be a false equivalence). When I questioned my friend about this, he said “never mind the inaccuracies, I just wanted to show how liberals are illogical.”

Since I care for my friend, I let the discussion drop there. I do find, though, that sometimes I will let myself get caught in the social media noise because the impulse to “be right” is stronger than my restraint.

We identify with our opinions, and become quite defensive when they are challenged, mistaking the opinion for who we truly are:  “Attack my belief and you are attacking me.” It is worth remembering, though, that we can never see the whole with our limited ability to perceive, so any conclusions we formulate about the world must be provisional not absolute, based on the information we currently have but subject to revision if new information arises.

In the Udana suttas, chapter 6, the Buddha tells the story of the blind men and the elephant: each man feels a different part of the elephant and comes to wildly different conclusions about what an elephant is. Each man clinging to his perception soon comes to blows with the others. (Do we not see this virtually on social media today?) This story is found in several traditions (Buddhist, Jain, Sufi and Hindu). The parable was popularized in the West in the 19th century poem by John Godfrey Saxe:

And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.

Ehipassiko: "come and see for yourself." The Buddha invites us to practice and authenticate the Dhamma for ourselves in the laboratory of our own experience. The role of a Buddha is to provide the teaching but it is up to us to try it for ourselves and make determinations based on the truth of our experience. We must hold these opinions lightly, respecting that others are also formulating conclusions about their direct experience--conclusions which may be different, and perhaps no less valid, than ours. And like the blind men, probably all partly (but not wholly) right.

Posted by Deb.