Against The Stream ~ IF IT'S WRONG, DISCARD IT

YEARS AGO, there was a program on British TV called Catweazle, about a wizard from the time of the mythical King Arthur, who— because one of his spells had gone awry— found himself transposed into the 1960’s. Imagine his surprise at the amazing things he saw all around him— things that we take so much for granted! An electric light-bulb fascinated him, and seemed like ‘the sun in a bottle’! And when he learned that the device by which we communicate with each other over long distances is called a telephone, he remembered that word as ‘telling-bone’, as it had some resemblance to a bone! There were other funny things that I’ve now forgotten.

Now, suppose it were possible to take a TV set 500 years back into the past and demonstrate it to the people of that time: how do you think they would react? Undoubtedly, some would declare it sorcery— an instrument of ‘the Devil’— and try to destroy it. Some would say it is a miracle, and make of it a new religion, with attendant priests to operate and use it to keep people in subjection. Others would denounce it as impossible, a fraud, an illusion. Still others would try to discover how so many people and things could get inside such a small box. Reactions would be varied. But would anyone understand it?

Nowadays, television is part of our lives, and almost no-one questions it; it’s just there, and has been for as long as most of us can remember. But even so, few of us understand how it works. Some still deem it an instrument of ‘the Devil’ (just before I rewrote this, there was a report that the Muslim fundamentalist party that now controls most of Afghanistan— the Taleban— had ordered people there to dispose of their TV sets and VCRs within 15 days, claiming them responsible for immorality). Others still consider it a miracle (and in a way, it is); and some do, indeed, make of it a religion. Most people just turn it on and watch it.

My point here is that, as knowledge increases, ignorance decreases. Honest people— those who sincerely wish to find out what is true, and are not content to follow others or accept theories that have been handed down from the past— are not afraid to discard ideas that are wrong, useless and harmful when they know them to be so; they are not ashamed to admit that they don’t know when they don’t know, for it is from recognizing ignorance that knowledge arises; indeed, as Confucius is reported to have said: "To admit that you do not know what you do not know— that is knowledge", or, as the Buddha said: "The fool who knows he is a fool is wise to that extent, but the fool who thinks he is wise is indeed a fool!"

Why have Religion and Science been so long apart? Must Religion always be dressed up in superstition, ritual and silly beliefs? Can there be a religion that does not conflict with Science— a Scientific Religion, or a Religious Science? Can we, perhaps, look at things objectively and scientifically? Scientists are willing to change their theories when they see they no longer apply; it is because of this that Science has advanced so far and continues to advance. If we had advanced religiously at the same rate we have advanced scientifically, the world would not be in the confused state it is in; but most people seem to be ‘living in caves’ as far as religion is concerned, and afraid, unwilling or unable to bring themselves up-to-date in that area. Because of this, the world is still subject to so-called ‘religious’ conflicts and wars, and this will probably cause the almost-inevitable Third World War.

There are two kinds of knowledge: Direct Knowledge and Indirect Knowledge. Most of our knowledge is not our own but second-hand— that is, it comes to us from other sources: people, books, TV, etc; we know comparatively little by ourselves. On the way of self-discovery, however, there is no substitute for Direct Knowing; knowledge from others, from books, from hearsay— indispensable though it is in many areas— is not enough. We must experience Truth or Reality for ourselves, just like we experience the heat from fire: we know it burns, not merely believe it!

Knowledge about mechanics, computers, carpentry, printing, etc., etc., is very important, as it enables us not only to earn a living, but also to improve the world we live in. Life is much more than just earning a living and surviving, however; that kind of knowledge concerns the ‘outer’ life. But what of the ‘inner’ life? We must consider that, too, so that there is a balance, a harmony between the two, instead of conflict. The West has concentrated largely on external things and has advanced tremendously in this area; it has produced many things of great benefit for the whole world, but it has also created things of horror and detriment, like chemical and bacteriological weapons, etc. It neglected the inner life in favor of the outer life, so that now, there is great imbalance and conflict everywhere. That is often the way it is; we swing from one extreme to the other, like the pendulum of a clock, until, learning that extremes are states of disharmony and suffering, we gradually find a balance, and the pendulum stops swinging.

The world is full of wrong and foolish ideas— in fact, the World itself— not the Planet Earth, but the World as a political structure; let us recognize the difference— is an idea! There is no separate reality or entity called ‘the World’; we have made it; it’s an idea, and ideas are subject to change, sometimes very quickly! If we understand this, it becomes possible to change wrong and foolish ideas into better ideas; there is no reason why we should not, and every reason why we should.

The Buddha said: "There are two things without limits: Space, and Human Stupidity". How can suffering diminish when its cause prevails? It is the foolish ideas— ignorance— that cause most of the suffering and all of the evil in the world; it is not because we are bad and sinful that we do bad things, but because we are blind and stupid— either part-time or full-time. But must we remain so? Only if we want to.

As far as Understanding is concerned, there are four kinds of people in the world:

(1) Those who understand quickly;

(2) Those who understand slowly;

(3) Those who do not understand;

(4) Those who misunderstand.

AND IT IS BETTER TO KNOW NOTHING AT ALL IF WHAT YOU KNOW IS WRONG. Wrong ideas will only cause you pain.

Have you noticed how we always consider ourselves right and others wrong? Obviously, we think Right and Wrong are people: Mr. Right and Mrs. Wrong. Indeed, we do not need to look very deeply to find this extremely-myopic way of viewing things at the root of many of the world’s problems. Should we not try to understand this? Right and wrong are not people, not I, not you, and if we would only stop to consider what is right and wrong in the context of a particular situation, instead of who is right and wrong, many of our problems would disappear instantly. Test it, for yourself, and see!



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