by Michael Maciel
If we blanketly assume that our favorite beliefs are true, then we’re no better than the average fundamentalist. And being convinced that we have the corner on the market in the reality department renders us completely incapable of thinking critically.
It’s tempting to slide into fundamentalism when we are confronted with injustice, which the world seems to offer up in a mandatory, all-you-can-eat buffet. When we see injustice, we just want it to stop. And we’re not too interested in figuring out WHY it’s happening. All we know is that something has gone terribly off the rails and that lots of innocent people are suffering because of it.
But, both Buddhism and Christianity have said that suffering is what we can expect. The fundamental truth of reality, Buddha asserts, is that all life is suffering, and Jesus voluntarily submitting to torture and death on the Cross reiterates that claim in excruciating detail. His voluntary submission to that ordeal was a dramatic restatement of the Buddhist ideal of the “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.”
As an archetype, the Crucifixion represents the worst possible thing happening to the best possible person—a limit case, as it were. Jesus has done nothing wrong, and yet he suffers betrayal, condemnation, and a record-breaking, messy death. The message is clear: we will all suffer and die, regardless of what we do. The best option we have in the face of life’s brutality is to bear up under it nobly and with an unwavering commitment to the highest ideal we can conceive.
However, the immediacy of the problem of injustice warrants immediate action, or so it seems. But, the sheer amount of the world’s suffering elicits more of an emotional reaction than rational analysis. All we know is that something has to be done NOW—we can talk about it later. So, we fly into action before we really know what the problem is. We want to fix the effect without understanding its cause. Therefore, we are more likely to make the problem worse than make it better.
All too often, our vehement response to injustice and suffering is little more than an attempt to refute what Buddha and Jesus told us—a message simply too bleak to accept. But we, in our techno-pride, think that we can fix the evils of the world and bring about a Heaven on Earth—a utopian dream where everyone is equal and deserves to have as much prosperity as anyone else, where we should all contribute as much as we can and only take what we absolutely need. The drawback of this utopian vision is that not everyone will agree on it, nor will they ever. The only way utopia is possible, then, is to kill everyone who disagrees with its version of the Truth. If you are a dissenter, you die.
Acquiring real truth, therefore, depends on a diversity of opinions, a plurality of worldviews, and an open society in which they can contend with each other in the public forum, without the threat of retaliatory violence. The irony is that both sides believe they’re right, while at the same time, they share essentially the same values as their opponents. We all want a better world, one in which we suffer the least and achieve the most; we want to belong, but we also want to excel—to go where no one has gone before; we want to fit in, and yet we want to stand out.
The tension within this opposition will create an environment where both sides will be compelled to question their own assumptions about reality and begin to imagine alternatives, perhaps even the alternative presented by the other side.
Faith isn’t believing that something is true, it’s believing that there is such a thing as truth and that that truth will always be more than our mind can comprehend. Yes, you can believe in truth without knowing what it is. That’s faith. And, living in that space, anything is possible. We begin to see the world not as an assortment of things but as an infinite field of creative possibilities—eternal life.
It would be foolish to say that we make up the truth as we go along. If that were true, then hell would be just as accessible as heaven, depending on how much mind control we possess. But having mind control includes being free of rule-bound, fundamentalist thinking. If science has taught us anything, it’s that reality is in a constant state of flux, that matter is actually bounded energy in continuous motion, and that nothing is solid at all. If we are to meet reality on its terms, we’re going to have to be flexible in our expectations.
A large part of our experience of reality occurs in our connections with each other, also by the way we intuitively know that at some level we all share the same mind. We are social beings, meaning, in a sense, that together we comprise one organism and that our minds have evolved as individualized extensions of it. We know this because connection sustains us but isolation makes us crazy. To deny another’s viewpoint is to sever your connection with him. You don’t have to agree with what he believes but you DO have to respect it—respect it for its own sake—because eventually your turn will come, and you will want precedence to work in your favor.
The connection between us is analogous to the brain and its billions of neurons, all of which have a distinct existence but live together in vast networks. Some say that it’s our connections that facilitate consciousness by means of their networks—no network, no consciousness. But, this is not to say that consciousness is the product of neural networking in the brain—no one really knows that for sure. But whether those networks act as a generator of mind or an antenna to receive it, reality seems to show up in and through our internal and external network connections. And if it’s reality we’re talking about, those connections are everywhere.
If this is true, it puts to rest the idea of “your truth, my truth,” which is a popular notion these days. I’m proposing a different model: Truth emerges. It comes from what opens up when we talk with each other about our differences. The tension between our polar oppositions forces open the door of possibility, and new solutions present themselves, solutions that could not have come any other way. Therefore, we should never try to eliminate diversity of opinion, lest we close the doors of opportunity on everyone. Stifle one person and you stifle everyone, including yourself.
It does no good to talk about “oneness” without first acknowledging and honoring differences. Any attempt at oneness made without first respecting the other can only be a zero-sum game. Someone will have to die. That was the lesson we were supposed to learn at the end of the Second World War, the lessons of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Both were attempting to create a utopia—one based on racial superiority and the other on social equity. They were different in their approaches but identical in their methods—they killed everyone who dared to criticize the utopian party line. In a world that demands that everyone be the same, those who are different must be eliminated.
So, it’s important that we understand the nature of truth. It emerges, it unfolds, it is always expanding beyond our capacity to understand it. What is it expanding into? Itself. As the poet, T.S. Elliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”