A great short article on the illusion of living.
Have you ever had a very strong opinion about something even before finding the exact right words to express it?
It is an odd sensation. You have this very firm stance but no way to explain it. Not to anyone else, and not even to yourself. If someone else around you were to express an opinion on the same subject you would know right away whether or not you agreed with it, but still you can’t verbalize what your own view is. So my primary questions is this:
Where is this unexpressed opinion?
How does it exist at all without the words, or even the thoughts, to back it up? It is just this feeling you have. And there’s almost this yearning for it to be manifested. The longer you go without finding the words the more frustrated you become. You don’t even know what it is and your entire focus is on figuring out how to express it and share it with the world.
And as that opinion remains in existence only as a feeling, where did that feeling itself come from? It could be a reaction to some current event, but without a clear thought to guide the reaction, why did I react at all?
Ultimately, we usually find a way to express ourselves to our satisfaction. And oh, what a wonderful feeling it is! To be released from that burden of our unexpressed view of the world. Finally we can carry-on with our day to day lives. But the one lingering question that remains is:
Why do I cherish my opinions?
I must identify myself to some extent with the quality of my opinion. But in the same breath I must not be satisfied with my own judgment of its worth. Instead, I need to express it and receive that validation externally. That almost sums up a great deal of the blogging world. How much would I really blog if I received zero likes on every post?
It is one of the most persistent flaws in my character that I sometimes place the worthiness of my existence in the hands of others. But it is not so powerful now as I am obviously aware of it … to a certain degree.
Is there a place for opinion in the spiritual journey?
There is a zen saying “Do not seek the truth, just cease to cherish opinions.” It does not say to stop having opinions. Almost every spiritual teacher or guru that I have come across appears to have opinions about various things in the world. The one exception may be the great sage Ramana Maharshi who spent years in absolute silence during which time he produced no opinion of any sort.
However, I do think that while we dwell in this physical realm we need to gather as many opinions as possible and use them as guidance in our journey. There are obviously those whose opinion speaks more directly to our soul and we must listen to them intently. We must trust our feelings. Even that intense feeling that ultimately morphs into a verbalized opinion.
So I must tell myself that my opinion is not who I am, it is where I am. It is where I am mentally, spiritually, and physically. And it must be acknowledged and honored in order to move onto the next phase of my journey.
Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water…after enlightenment chop wood, carry water.
– Zen proverb
I found myself in a position yesterday where my opinion was being challenged and I was unable to adequately defend it. That kind of left me reeling. I still felt I was “right” but I was on shaky ground. I felt frustrated that someone was telling me I was wrong and I had no response. I felt like I was being pushed somewhere I didn’t want to go. So this morning I went searching for an Eckhart teaching on opinions and came across the following passage on his website. It helped put things in perspective.
Your first responsibility is not to identify with a position. Everybody has to practice that one way or another. It’s a beautiful practice. It’s expressed in Zen. I don’t remember who said it, some Zen master said, “Don’t seek for the truth – just cease cherishing opinions”. And that’s enough. Many spiritually inclined people look for the ‘truth’ – hopefully at some point within, but first it starts outside. But don’t look for the truth, not even within, just stop cherishing opinions. Cherishing, not having. It doesn’t say stop having opinions, because that would be difficult – maybe a very advanced practice. Even I have some opinions, about Fox News, and so on – but cherishing means to identify with the opinion, to be in the thought. And then it gives you your sense of “I”. Then anybody who has a different or conflicting position becomes a kind of enemy. Then you’re trapped in form. This is a very common human condition. Most humans on the planet derive their identity from their thoughts. So the thought is invested with self. Maybe this is another way of speaking about the essential truth of the Buddha, who discovered that this sense of ‘self’ is an illusion. You derive your sense of self from form – because every thought is a thought-form. It’s an energy field.