The Tyranny of Views

Will Ross

Right views are called “transcendental”,

Erroneous views are called “worldly”,

But when all views, both right and erroneous are discarded,

Then the essence of Wisdom manifests itself.’

Dwight Goddard; A Buddhist Bible. ]

Theosophy has usually been called Divine Wisdom. So the Theosophist is one who is searching for wisdom. Wisdom lies beyond all views, right or wrong, and can only manifest itself when they are given up. The source of wisdom, whatever it may be called, lies beyond the mind and beyond all the expressions and views that are part of the mind’s activities. ‘know’ the real we must give up all our ideas and views about the appearance of things.

Patanjali emphasizes the same point. He says that to abide in our own nature and to discover what we really are, we must overcome the modifications of the thinking principle and restrain the whirlpool of the mind. Analysing the states of the thinking principle with which we usually identify ourselves, we find them listed as right understanding, wrong understanding, fancy, sleep and memory, emphasizing once again that to ‘know’ the real we must give up all our ideas and views about the appearance of things.

It is frequently stated that when the Buddha was asked questions about ultimates, beginnings or endings, the nature of nirvana, ‘he retained a noble silence,’ not because he did not know the nature of the ultimate, but because he realized the impossibility of putting this knowledge into words. To have an idea about reality would have hindered our search for reality. As stated by Tsong-kha-pa, ‘ whom all preconceived ideas have vanished, has set out on the path in which all Buddhas delight.’ [Quoted by Herbert V. Guenther in Treasure on the Tibetan Middle Way. ]

The Web of Words

But our lives are occupied by our ideas. Though our ultimate concern may be with the ground of our being, our lives are concerned with the relationship between the figures which emerge on that ground, the relationship that exists between the figures and the ground and the relationships between the figures themselves. In other words, as human beings, as thinking creatures, we are trying to understand the world and our relationship to it. This attempt to understand is expressed in words, and words about things tend to be confused with the things themselves: in fact, they frequently become substituted for the thing itself.

We formulate ideas and produce views about the world and about ourselves and then these views dominate our lives.

Wittgenstern has said that ‘ the limits of my language are the limits of my world,’ and this concept adequately expresses what takes place. Our words describe our world. We formulate ideas and produce views about the world and about ourselves and then these views dominate our lives. We are, as has been said, trapped in the ‘web of words with which we overlay our world.’ To discover the real we must escape from the trap.

We accept the tyranny of the views of others rather than undertake the hard work of trying to find truth for ourselves.

It is interesting to look at the changes that have taken place in the language of western scholars. In the classical period the language was Latin - the language of the Church - but as artists and craftsmen developed their knowledge they began to write in the vernacular. It was mostly from these people that scientific investigation and theorizing arose and they gradually developed a language of their own - mathematics - which has become more and more the language in which scientists communicate with each other. This makes it very difficult for the layman to understand and, in part, accounts for the faith so many people have in science which they find incomprehensible. They have the same faith in the statements of the scientists that earlier generations had in statements of the Church; to accept truths in this manner is to accept enslavement to them. Yet this is what we so often do because it saves us from the effort of personal choice. We accept the tyranny of the views of others rather than undertake the hard work of trying to find truth for ourselves.

The Language of Mathematics

The growth of dogmatic religions with their views on the nature of God and the world which were accepted without thought or question by their adherents is well known and the conflicts and antagonisms that they have created are part of the history of mankind. But we sometimes forget that science, too, has had its dogmatic presentations and it is only in comparatively recent times that the growth of scientific knowledge has indicated that when you are looking into the real nature of the physical world you are not looking at mere ‘things’ but at relationships within an unknown ultimate Something. And it is because mathematics deals with relationships that it has been so productive in scientific research.

During one of a series of symposia held in Washington, D.C., in 1973 to honour the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Nicolas Copernicus, Werner Heisenberg said that science tends to speak in mathematical terms because scientists try to be precise; the relationships they deal with are most clearly defined in mathematical terms. Speaking of the mathematical forms, ‘according to which,’ he says, ‘the world was made.’ he points out that ‘the forms are always present in matter and in the human mind, and are responsible for both....The mathematical structures are actually deeper than the existence of mind or matter. Mind or matter is a consequence of mathematical structure. That, of course, is a very Platonic idea. But I feel that it is a reality.’ Surely this is a very theosophical idea also, emphasizing that order underlies the whole cosmos.

At another symposium in the same series it was brought out that the basic structure of the physical world is ultimately determined by the way we look at it. John Archibald Wheeler, Professor of Physics at Princeton, in speaking of quantum research - the delving into the ultimate particles in the structures of the universe - points out that when we come to measure an electron, we can measure its position or we can measure its momentum, but we cannot do both. We must decide which we want to do and choose our instruments accordingly, and, he goes on,’...whichever it is, it has an unpredictable effect on the future of that electron. To that degree the future of the universe is changed. We have changed it.’

Beyond the Measuring Mind

Nature does not create laws; it simply acts lawfully.

Surely what is being said is that the structure and phenomena we observe in nature are nothing but the creations of our measuring and categorizing minds. Nature does not create laws; it simply acts lawfully. Now, are not all our views about the cosmos and our relationship to it part of the measuring and categorizing process? We discover what we want to discover. We can never find the complete picture which is felt, realized, intuited, by processes outside of or beyond the measuring mind.

It is the process beyond the mind (if it can properly be called a process) which we, as Theosophists, are trying to discover.

Michael Polanyi has an amusing but very perceptive summing up of Plato’s Meno. It goes something like this:

To search for the solution of a problem is an absurdity. Either you know what you are looking for and so there is no problem, or if you do not know what you are looking for, you are not looking for anything and so cannot expect to find it.

What is our problem? What are we looking for? I think that we are looking for a real self, but whether we spell that self with a small ‘s’ or a capital ‘S’ we tend to equate that self with ego, a fixed and permanent I, something we can hold on to.

But this permanent ego does not conform to our experience which, as the Buddha pointed out twenty-five hundred years ago, is from moment to moment.

The I-now is qualitatively different from I-yesterday. Gardner Murphy tells us that we cannot speak of achieving perfection by adding to an individual, for the individual is qualitatively - not quantatively - different as he grows.

...overcoming ignorance involves, first of all, that we recognize that we are ignorant.

The Hindu concept is that everything around us - all our views of the external world - are created by the mind under the influence, or the spell, of Maya. It is in our attaching deep significance to these views that the basic human delusion lies. This is Avidya, or ignorance. And overcoming ignorance involves, first of all, that we recognize that we are ignorant.

Which school we belong to or whatever words we use, the basic conflict that confronts us is the distinction between vision or illumination and reason or logic. In the drama of life, vision raises the curtain on the play while reason and logic define its plot. In this technological age it often seems that we are only concerned with the mechanics of the play and that we have lost sight of its significance and meaning.


Options and Views

Today, it is opinions and views that are written and talked about. The ordinary political process is largely a conflict between views. Even in the Theosophical Society, we stress that members can hold any views rather than they should try to rid themselves of all views.

Wisdom lies beyond all views and can only manifest itself when they are given up.

One of the major factors in society today is science, which is perhaps the greatest achievement of reason and logic in changing world conditions. Sometimes it has claimed (and certainly many seem to believe it) that it has replaced illumination, but when one reads something of its history one becomes aware that many of its most significant discoveries are the result of vision rather than of the processes of logic and reason that it holds so sacred.

The university structure tends to distort science. The power and prestige-seeking, the competition for endowments and grants, distort the scientific effort. Some time ago Ortegay Gasset said that the universities lost their effectiveness when they ceased to be custodians of culture and become the training ground for technicians and teachers.

The Church, as an institution, distorts illumination. You cannot find illumination according to a pattern laid down by someone else however much it may be rooted in tradition. In other words, fixed ideas and institutions tend to crystallize ideas, to distort and prevent growth and limit creativity.

The influence of fixed ideas can be seen in so many areas in the history of man, especially, perhaps, in the development of science and technology. Many have noticed that China did not develop science although it was ahead of the West in its technology. Science in the West developed by questioning accepted viewpoints and this resulted in conflict between the guardians of the old ideas, particularly the Church, and the exponents of the new. Many of the new ideas were in the field of astronomy, the development of which changed the thinking of man from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the solar system with all its implications. In China the situation was different. The Emperor was the guardian of moral, that is celestial, order in earthly affairs. Speculation about astronomy, therefore, could serve no useful purpose. It was tantamount to questioning the ruler and was viewed with suspicion. If continued, the penalty was likely to be severe.

In every large city we can see around us examples of how things change when man is no longer in touch with nature and with the materials of the earth but stands apart from them and uses them for his own selfish ends.

The early craftsmen and builders were men who worked with the basic materials of their trade. They felt at home with them and from them created the things needed both for ordinary domestic purposes and for the erection of the buildings in which, through ritual and ceremony - the symbols of their religious life - they celebrated their recognition of the order of nature. One sees examples of their artistic craftsmanship in the great Christian cathedrals. These buildings were designed on the site. There were no scale-drawings - simply sketches which indicated the proportions. The mathematics involved was not primarily for the purpose of calculation but developed after the construction to show the Pythagorean proportions of the structure. But gradually a change took place. As mathematics developed, scale-drawings began to be made; designs no longer rose out of the craftsman’s feeling for the materials, but abstractly, in the mind of the architect. The buildings constructed since that time no longer express the underlying sense of man’s relationship to nature and the sacredness of life, but are abstractions concerned with economics, advertising, competition, and prestige - with non-human rather than human ends.

Two Kinds of Clarities

There are two ways of looking at the world. One is with the ‘innocent eye’ which sees things as fresh and new without any preconceived notions. The other is through study and the gathering of information. This latter may contribute to our aesthetic understanding, it may even improve our powers of perception, but so often it merely prevents our looking except through the distorting veil of our fixed ideas. Scholarship is an instrument that may elicit meaning. Anais Nin writes: ‘Bergson said there are two kinds of clarities, “The perception of the artist, of the intuitive mind, will always seem obscure to those who prefer clear Cartesian perception,” He speaks of “the fringe of nebulosity which surrounds the luminous core of intelligence, affirming by its presence that that part of our existence so clearly perceived by our intelligence is not the essential or most profound part. This penumbra is what must be penetrated if we would seek reality. An orientation inward implies an enlargement of our mental horizon.” He denied that “reality could be attained by the intelligence, by conscious thought.[Anais Nin; The Novel of the Future. ]

This, surely, is what ‘giving up views’ is all about. It is the recognition that reality cannot be attained by conscious thought but by penetration of ‘the fringe of nebulosity,’ the penumbra that surrounds the core of intelligence. We must take care, however, that although our ideas about it may be vague, incomplete, approximate, inchoate, we do not fall into the error of vagueness about reality itself.

Historically, three methods have been used in the study of reality. One is to speak of it in the Buddhist fashion of the ‘void’. Reality is none of the things we know, but neither is it annihilation nor nothingness; it is not something separate from forms and appearance. It is the silence and the darkness.

Another way to think of reality is to call it the Absolute, as does H.P.Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. In the first fundamental principle she speaks of this Absolute as the vast, immutable principle about which all speculation is impossible. Yet how we speculate about it! She says that it is essentially without relationship to finite things. This is, perhaps, the crux of the whole matter, yet this is the difficulty for the ego at whatever level. As egos, we want to be in relationship to the Absolute and therefore, instead of letting go of ego, we let out minds distort the picture.

Momentarily, when you are free of all bias and prejudice and partial views, reality reveals itself.

The third way avoids all the problems that arise with the other two ways of thinking about reality; it might, perhaps, be called the ‘prescriptional’ method. This method does not try to define reality, or point it out, but simply says that if you live the right kind of life you will become existentionally aware of the root of being. Momentarily, when you are free of all bias and prejudice and partial views, reality reveals itself.

But the prescriptional method, although it avoids the problems posed by the other two, has its own pitfalls. If we are drawn to it, it may be because we want to be told what to do; we want a pattern to be laid down that we can follow. It is so easy to do what one is told except when one is told to think for oneself or to live creatively.

Living Creatively

As we look at nature, as we observe the cosmos, we are looking at and observing a creative process. Not that there is a creator doing something outside the process - that is to fall into anthropomorphism - but that the fundamental ‘nature’ of nature is to create. We, as human beings, are part of that nature and, as H.P. Blavatsky says, co-workers with nature in the cyclic task. And we are co-workers in this process so long as we are creative. Charles Hartshorne has pointed out that each one of us, at each moment, creates the immediate experience of that moment. Each momentary experience has many causes - objects being perceived, past experiences remembered - but the experience is one. It is immediate, synthetic, creative.

To live creatively is to decide anew at each moment. To do this we must be free. We must make free choices at each moment...

‘Creative’ implies that which is new, unpredictable, not determined in advance by causal conditions or law. It emerges from the darkness of the unknown. Our life is predictable in so far as it is not creative, but mechanical, automatic, compulsive, habit-ridden and conditioned. To live creatively is to decide anew at each moment. To do this we must be free. We must make free choices at each moment - free from the bias of sect, of creed, of caste, of colour; and free also from the psychological wanting and craving that influences so much of our lives. The cause of sorrow is ignorant craving, says the second of the Four Noble Truths, because so long as you crave for anything you are bound.

History (which should teach us how to solve some of the problems of the present) shows us many examples of ways in which fixed ideas have hindered and distorted creative development in all fields of human endeavour. One, from which arises many of the problems of the modern world, is the notion developed by modern science that man can and will conquer nature. Fortunately, this idea is being recognized by many of the foremost modern scientists as a false and foolish one. Today, we hear expressed the concept - so much in accord with the ancient wisdom - of a participatory universe. When one realizes that everything one does - good, bad or indifferent - affects not only oneself and one’s immediate circle but the whole universe, one begins to be aware of what it means to live more fully the oneness of life. Such awareness presents one with responsibilities, without which there can be no freedom. We are responsible for what we do. No one - no teacher, no guru, no organization - can relieve us of that responsibility. H. P Blavatsky says, ‘The feeling of responsibility is the beginning of Wisdom. Taking responsibility for all we do is an inextricable part of freedom and as in freedom there is the possibility at each moment of looking at life afresh, uncluttered by the accumulations of the past, so our responsible actions can become free of the tyranny of views. Seeing things in this way we may indeed become ‘co-workers with nature.’ Being free, we are no longer concerned with a self of any kind, for we now realize that in any creative act there is no ego, no self. The action is all.

[See Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, S.C.M. Press Limited, for further development of these ideas.]

The Theosophist 1978

From a talk given at the 102nd International Convention, Adyar. December 1977



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