I was speaking with a professor of philosophy from a local university a couple days ago. Our discussion quickly turned to what I consider the heart of the matter, which is the fact that any belief system must necessarily be rooted in unprovable assumptions.
In this conversation we soon realized that we would need quite a bit more time to examine each other’s core belief structures before we could start to reach shared conclusions. It was a prospect we both looked forward to, for we each knew that discovering someone else’s world shines a light on one’s own inner spaces.
Fundamental beliefs tend to be those taught by parents, in school, or in religious institutions. Though varying in each person to a certain percentage, they are mostly shared within cultural groups. A common example of a deep core belief is, “I am a physical body with a certain size, age, gender, etc.” To almost everyone, to question this belief would be absurd. We simply know that is what we are. But do we really?
What part of that belief is absolutely true and what part is up to discussion? I would ask, “Are you the body, or are you the awareness of the body?” Which is more fundamental? If there is no awareness is there a body? If there is no body is there awareness?
These sort of fundamental questions can lead you to a deeper appreciation of this life you are living. This is spiritual inquiry – questioning the root assumptions that guide our thinking. Ask yourself, “Where did I first learn to believe that thought?” You’ll often remember some event in your childhood that involved someone else interpreting your experience in a certain way. You then accepted the belief of that other person without having fully considered other options. In fact, that person from whom you received a belief probably received it in the same manner in his or her childhood, and so on back into a distant past. In this manner beliefs are handed down like genetic information, from generation to generation.
This process of assimilating the beliefs of others is like accepting a foreign object into your psyche. It may find a resting place somewhere in your network of beliefs, but since it came in as a part of someone else’s belief network, it doesn’t make all the connections to all the different aspects of your own belief network, as a conclusion you had come to on your own would. It just sort of hangs out like a stone floating in jello, not belonging there, but going nowhere. When you repeat that thought to yourself in the circumstances that relate to that belief, it overrides your natural response and causes you to behave in a manner that is generally not entirely satisfying. This is because this belief conflicts with other beliefs you have created for yourself and accepted from others.
Imagine that your subconscious mind is like a jello that has many different objects floating in it. These are the beliefs that you have gathered from so many influences in your life. Spiritual inquiry is the process of examining these foreign thoughts and evaluating them for their value to your own personal philosophy.
Imagine your jello is lime – a nice jiggly clear mold of grassy green transparent stuff. This is your natural mind in a simple state of awareness – fresh, sweet and healthy. Now think of the foreign beliefs as objects in the jello. One might be a chocolate kiss. It certainly makes sense as a good thing on its own, but does it really belong in your lime jello? Or maybe you have a salted, roasted pecan and a dollop of guacamole. Pretty soon these intrusions of partially processed thoughts are taking over your jello and the natural lime flavor gets lost. Or even worse, you come to distrust the fresh lime feeling because is doesn’t taste good with the curried onion relish that is all over your jello because your mother inserted it there. Then you start living someone else’s beliefs and your life gets pretty messy.
Cleaning House Through Inquiry
Spiritual inquiry brings you to the shore where those basic assumptions by which you live your life are laid out on the sunny, windswept sand for you to examine closely. What you will find, of course, is that there is no way to prove these basic assumptions. A deeper analysis could lead you to the conclusion that all your assumptions are meaningless. From there where do you go? Suddenly your life is without a foundation. Your knowledge of the world has no root in absolute truth. Everything you know is wrong.
From this paradox, a knowledge arises that, like the phoenix rising form the ashes, moves in to replace the void that is left by your state of complete unknowingness. This knowledge is not of the same nature as the knowledge structure you had built before. It is a wisdom that arises in this eternal moment, arises from deep within the nature of life itself, and which is direct and entirely personal to you. It is a wisdom that is not known in words, but in a deep silence of the mind. It is a knowingness that has a reality all its own, separate from the person you have always been.
When There is Nothing Left It Shines
It is the face of the universe before it was born. It in the flow of all the thoughts that have ever been or ever will be. It is the light that shines across the infinitude of space, never stopping, never ending. And it is what you naturally are. Your body may come and go, but this inner nature remains, outside of time, space and identity. This is what I mean when I say, “Beyond the last assumption, the Quiet Eye is watching.” Go there.