Belief and Perception

Through practice in meditation and observation it can become clear that our relationship to the world is one which is painted by belief. While it is very easy to watch another in a way which scrutinizes their actions and base them on belief, it is not so easy for us to look at ourselves in this way. What bothered me about observing myself in this light was the following inquiry…

 

“If I have false beliefs, and I see what I believe, do I see a false world?”

 

Upon further investigation it is not the world literally seen with the eyes physically does not exist. On the contrary, it only takes being hit with a rock to realize, well… It simply hurts. It’s rather the alarming idea that the real world is right here, yet I do not see it clearly. The ideas that I hold about the world which are false, potentially cause me to see a version which is conditioned by those beliefs. This can be a limited version which doesn’t include the entire story. A table, if sit on, is a chair. There are various schools which argue all the time about similar matters, albeit this example is rather trivial. Imagine for a moment there are two denominations of a religion with similar beliefs. The main difference between the two being that one says it is a table, and the other says it is a chair. This difference in the way they see it, gives them their identity as a specific denomination.

The issue with perception is that it is very hard to tell either denomination they are right or wrong. It can be seen either way depending on how you look at it. One can be either right or wrong. The important thing however is to acknowledge that some see one and some see the other. This is a more fundamental understanding of perception. If we are to live by what we say and see a certain way, it is valuable not only to ourselves but others that we acknowledge other people with other beliefs see things differently than we do. This is valuable for us because it frees us from attachment to a limited view. It is considerate for others because they do not feel an opposing force encroaching on their world.

In meditation circles it is quite common for a student to be book smart and give off the impression of a great understanding which is primarily vicarious. They have taken the curriculum, are masters of the vocabulary, and know all the test questions. There is a potential great difference between two practitioners who respond in the same way. The following is primarily why behavior alone is not a reliable form of assessment of another person. Any student who relies on their own realizations is at home in the world. There is a common saying “fake it, until you make it” and although it may be true, until one really makes it, they are living in a world of someone else. On the outside as an observer you cannot tell the difference between two students who respond in the same way. Internally however, one is secure and the other lives in a house prone to disaster. For each of us it is the subjective experience which determines our quality of life. There are rich people who are miserable, and poor people that are happy. It is not the stuff which everyone sees that determines a positive life, it is something else which the poor person has, and money cannot buy.

In philosophy, often the goal is to arrive at the place where truth and our beliefs are one and that same. It is a process of constantly encountering contradictory information and adjusting our beliefs to coincide with the reality of what is taking place. If something occurs which challenges what we believe to be true, it is a philosopher’s duty to adjust their view to incorporate what was previously impossible. Immense advancements in the human perspective have revealed this to be the case. The classic example is the previously geocentric universe in which Earth was the center of everything. Those attached to the geocentric model even killed those who brought evidence for another view. Over time however, belief changed to fit what it was confronted with, a heliocentric solar system.

We often highlight big changes in human understanding as growth in this respect. “We are closer now than we were then!” we could say. Though they are valuable advancements, we don’t often think about the people who lived their entire lives and died during the time of the geocentric universe. Their lives were likely not affected by a misunderstanding of the positions of planets and stars (unless they were some of the first to propose the heliocentric system). They saw a world much different than ours when looked at through belief and perception, the primitive vision of the majority at that time was the modern world for them. Understanding this, we can be more accepting that the beliefs we hold to be true today, may be primitive tomorrow. It is beneficial not to depend our well-being on perceiving the world with true beliefs or expect others to accept our own. For their vision could potentially be a missing link to the next discovery. It is necessary to acknowledge that reality is the way it is, whether we or not we believe it. Lastly, and most importantly, truth is not reliant on belief.

 

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