Sunday, September 28, 2014

‘SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND’---RUBBISH!

‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you’ (Mt 7:7).

That’s what Jesus purportedly said. With the utmost respect---a horribly cringing expression, that---I beg to differ, Jesus. What a heretic I am! You know, I love that word ‘heresy.’ The word comes from a Greek word meaning ‘one who chooses,’ that is, chooses to be different or think differently. Well, that’s me.

Readers of my blog will know by now that I have found much wisdom in the writings and speeches of the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti [pictured right]. Now, let’s get something straight right now. Krishnamurti is not my guru, for I have no gurus. And I don’t agree with everything the man said, but there’s much in his ideas with which I do agree, for those ideas have been authenticated in my own life.

In my large collection of Krishnamurti books and other writings there is a little book appropriately entitled The Little Book on Living, edited by R E Mark Lee. The book is a collection of aphorisms of Krishnamurti taken from various sources including material from an unpublished manuscript Thoughts on Living which was discovered after Krishnamurti’s death. The material from the latter was apparently penned by Krishnamurti in 1933-34. Here is some of what Krishnamurti wrote on the subject of ‘seeking’ and ‘searching’:

A mind that is full of light does not seek. It is only the dull, confused mind that is always seeking and hoping to find. What it finds is the result of its own confusion.

You will find out the true purpose of life if you do not deliberately set out to seek it.

Live and you shall know the living truth. Seek truth, and you shall know living death.

The search for truth is the very denial of truth.

Life passes you by if you search out experience, and it will also pass you by if you merely wait.

Shocking? Disturbing? I hope so.

It’s really quite simple why we should not ‘seek’ or ‘search’ for truth or so-called meaning in life. It has everything to do with what exactly is truth. Truth is reality. Truth is life. Truth is not something to be found. It is something of which we need to become more acutely aware. It is something to be experienced---consciously and mindfully. That is, with choiceless awareness of what is.

The whole idea of seeking, searching, and then supposedly finding truth is contrary to the very nature of truth, for if truth is omnipresent as moment-to-moment experience then we are always in direct and immediate contact with truth irrespective of whether or not we are mindfully aware of that truth. So, if truth is omnipresent, there is no 'space' or distance to be travelled between us and truth as well as our appreciation of truth. A 'path' or 'way' implies there is a separation between us and truth, that is, some distance to be travelled. That, however, is not the case.

Of course, one of the main reasons we are not mindfully aware of truth is we place barriers between ourselves and truth---barriers in the form of beliefs, ideas, opinions, views, philosophies, and prejudices of all kinds. However, once those barriers are removed, there is (as has always been the case in truth) no separation---spatial, temporal, or geographical---or distance between us and truth. That is why Krishnamurti said, ‘Truth is a pathless land.’ That is why the great American mythographer Joseph Campbell [pictured left] said, ‘The pathless way is the only way now before us.’

Pathless land. Pathless way. That's right. There is no way or path to truth. Truth just is. That much is axiomatic. If you are following some path or way truth will pass you by. Strong stuff? In a way … and I don’t mean that sort of ‘way.’

Years ago, when I was searching and seeking in all directions for supposed 'answers' to life---all to no avail, I'll have you know---a cousin of mine said to me. ‘You’re still seeking, Jonesy, aren't you?’ What he said really pissed me off no end---as well as to no end. Now, don't get me wrong. It’s not that what he said was so horribly wrong, it’s just that I've found in life that the people most likely to say something like that have themselves little or no interest in spirituality, personal transformation,  and the like. Besides, his comment was disparaging and patronizing. Enough said.

I am no longer seeking or searching. So, have I now found truth? No, at the risk of repeating myself (why do people always say that when they are just about to knowingly repeat themselves?), truth is not something to be found. Truth is something to be experienced now, from moment to moment, for truth is dynamic and not static.









Friday, September 26, 2014

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION CAN HELP REDUCE ADDICTION RELAPSE RATES


‘Self-centred attention and activity, positively or negatively, is the cause of strife and pain. ... We know how the self is built up and strengthened through the pleasure and pain principle, through memory, through identification, and so on. ... Is not craving the very root of the self? ...’ 
J. Krishnamurti.


A new study strongly suggests that mindfulness can be effective in preventing relapses of drug and alcohol abuse, by helping people understand what drives cravings and better deal with the discomfort created by cravings.

Researchers at the University of Washington studied 286 people who had successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program, and randomly assigned them to one of three groups: mindfulness meditation, a 12-step program, and a traditional relapse-prevention program.

The researchers found that a treatment program that incorporates mindfulness meditation was more effective in preventing relapses over the long term, compared with traditional addiction treatment approaches. One year after treatment, about 9 per cent of participants in the mindfulness program reported drug use, compared with 14 per cent of those in a 12-step program, and 17 per cent in a traditional relapse-prevention program.

About 8 per cent of participants in the mindfulness program also reported heavy drinking after one year, compared with about 20 per cent in the other two groups. The findings were published online on March 19, 2014 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Researcher Dr Sarah Bowen [pictured left] noted about 11 per cent of people in the United States with substance abuse problems seek treatment annually, and between 40 to 60 per cent relapse. Many traditional relapse prevention programs include a 12-step program that emphasizes abstinence. Others are based on cognitive-behavioural therapy.

For my part, I don’t think I would ever have recovered from alcoholism without the 12-step program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have sung its praises on my blog on quite a few occasions. I will continue to do so. Since my recovery I have embraced mindfulness. I strongly recommend a combination of the two when it comes to overcoming addiction, as well as seeking advice and assistance from health care professionals when necessary. Mindfulness is meditation, and the practice of meditation is consistent with the 12-step ‘philosophy’ which (in step 11) refers to the need to engage in ‘prayer and meditation.’ After all, it’s a spiritual program.

Addiction is a physical, mental, and spiritual disease. As respects the latter, the real bondage is to self. As Bill Wilson [pictured right], co-founder of AA, put it, ‘Selfishness--self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.’ And as I’ve said many times, only a power-not-oneself can free the addict from bondage to the self. The self can’t do that, because it is the damn problem. I often quote these wonderfully insightful words from Archbishop William Temple: ‘For the trouble is that we are self-centered, and no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ So true.

Mindfulness is a powerful proven means of breaking down the bondage of self. Mindfulness is true meditation because it is the most natural form of meditation and the only one that keeps you in direct and immediate contact with what is. ‘True meditation,’ wrote the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti, ‘is not self-expansion in any form. ... Only through your own strenuous awareness is there the comprehension of the real, the permanent.’



Resource: Bowen S, Witkiewitz K, Clifasefi S L, Grow J, Chawla N, Hsu S H, Carroll H A, Harrop E, Collins S E, Lustyk M K, and Larimer M E. ‘Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use DisordersA Randomized Clinical Trial.’ JAMA Psychiatry. 2014; 71(5):547-556. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4546.



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Monday, September 22, 2014

BLOW OUT THAT CANDLE OF YOURS


‘A light to oneself! And this light cannot be given by another, nor can you light it at the candle of another. If you light it at the candle of another it is just a candle, it can be blown out. But whereas if we could find out what it means to be a light to oneself then that very investigation of it is partly meditation.’ J. Krishnamurti.

Tokusan, a scholar of Buddhism of some renown, was studying Zen under the teacher Ryutan. One night he came to Ryutan and asked many questions. The teacher said: ‘The night is getting old. Why don't you retire?’

So Tokusan bowed and opened the screen to go out, observing: ‘It is very dark outside.’

Ryutan offered Tokusan a lighted candle to find his way. Just as Tokusan received it, Ryutan blew the candle out. At that exact moment the mind of Tokusan was opened. In other words, he experienced enlightenment. That is, he woke up, and for the very first time he saw things as they really are. He came to know truth.

Tokusan knew much. He had studied long and hard. Yet, in that ever-so-brief moment of enlightenment in the form of a direct, immediate and intuitive experience of truth, Tokusan came to see that everything that he had learned in books and by listening to others had done him no good at all. 

It is said that the next day Tokusan burned all his books, scholarly notes and commentaries. He declared, ‘In comparison to this awareness, all the most profound teachings are like a single hair in vast space. However deep the complicated knowledge of the world, compared to this enlightenment it is like one drop of water in the ocean.’

Tokusan realized his mistake. He had been seeking wisdom ‘without’ instead of ‘within.’

We need no candle or lamp to guide our path except that inner light that says to us, if we will but listen attentively and quietly, ‘This is the way … .’ 

The 'way' is the way things actually are, the way things unfold from one moment to the next. That is truth, also known as reality, also known as life. It is something to be perceived ... from moment to moment. It is not something to be attained or provided by some third person however meritorious he or she may be. Our task is simply to observe with choiceless, silent, and timeless awareness, that is, to 'stay awake' at all times. We rely far too much on the advice and supposed wisdom or knowledge of others, and on so-called ‘book knowledge.’ We buy self-help books and attend self-improvement courses, we consult gurus and priests, and we follow ‘holy ones’ or just plain others, but we fail to do the one thing---the only thing---that can lead us through and out of the darkness. Yes, we fail to … look within.

One of the many things I like about Buddhism is that its essential ‘message’ is that we must be our own teacher, saviour, and disciple. No one outside of us can save us from ourselves. No one can find truth for us. No one---no earthly person, god, or demi-god---can be truth for us. Truth just is, and our task is to see things as they really are as they unfold unceasingly from one moment to the next. That is why truth is dynamic and not static. It is forever new and fresh. There is no 'way' or 'path' to truth, because truth just is, and it's all around us and within us. 

That is why truth can never be set in concrete in the form of creeds, articles and confessions of faith, formulae, ideologies, and other such nonsense (although many have done just that). All such things are fabrications of fragmented thought, that is, conditioning, which is the past. At best, they are only purported representations of truth, and many aren't even that good. J. Krishnamurti [pictured right], who sought no disciples or followers, expressed it this way:

I cannot lead you to truth, nor can anyone else; you have to discover it every moment of the day as you are living. It is to be found when you are walking in the street or riding in a tramcar, when you are quarreling with your wife or husband, when you are sitting alone or looking at the stars. When you know what is right meditation, then you will find out what is true; but a mind that is prepared, so-called educated, that is conditioned to believe or not to believe … such a mind will never discover what is true, though it may search for a thousand years.

The timeless light of awareness shines from within, so let that light shine. Do not depend upon any light shining from without to guide you through life. As the Buddha said, 'Be a light unto yourself.'

So, blow out that candle of yours---now!







Friday, September 19, 2014

CAN WE REALLY LIVE WITHOUT ANY BELIEFS AT ALL? [Part 2]


Knowledge is learning something every day.
Wisdom is letting something go every day. – Zen Proverb.



Well, is it actually possible for us to live without any beliefs at all? I think we can---and must

As I've often written on this blog, beliefs hold us back as we fall back on the safety and security of our beliefs rather than think and live freshly and spontaneously.

Worse still, beliefs prevent us from seeing things as they really are, because they distort our perception, and thus our understanding, of reality. Why? Because everything gets filtered through the distorting lens of our beliefs. 

Over time, beliefs harden into belief-systems, with the latter becoming as hard, solid and impenetrable as the toughest concrete.

Here’s a Zen story entitled ‘A Cup of Tea.’ It’s a real gem.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. 

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. 

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. ‘It is overfull. No more will go in!’ exclaimed the professor. 

‘Like this cup,’ Nan-in said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’

Now, if Zen means anything, it is this---true wisdom comes from an intuitive grasp of the reality of things. However, in order to see things as they really are we must observe all things with choiceless awareness, that is, an observation of what is that is silent, extensive, and non-judgmental.

However, in order to observe with choiceless awareness, we must let go of our conditioning, that is, our many beliefs, dogmas, opinions, speculations, prejudices and predilections. As
J. Krishnamurti [pictured right, and below] would often point out, conditioning is the past, and it locks us into the past. When we are trapped in the past, we are no longer present to life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. That’s not the end of it. Conditioning represents other persons’ understanding of reality or truth, it is not truth itself. Where there is conditioning, there is no understanding.

In Christian theology there is the concept of kenosis (from the Greek word for emptiness κένωσιςkénōsis), which refers to the 'self-emptying' of oneself in order to be filled with the divine. In the New Testament we read that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’ (Phil 2:7), that is, emptied himself. Unless we empty ourselves of self-concern and all that holds us back we will never come to know truth.But how does one let go of conditioning, you may ask? Never ask how, because you are then asking for a method, a technique, and all such methods and techniques are nothing but conditioning. However, it’s even worse than that, as Krishnamurti has pointed out:

I think it is very important to understand that any effort made to free oneself from one's conditioning is another form of conditioning. If I try to free myself from Hinduism, or any other ism, I am making that effort in order to achieve what I consider to be a more desirable state; therefore, the motive to change conditions the change. So I must realize my own conditioning and do absolutely nothing. This is very difficult. But I must know for myself that my mind is small, petty, confused, conditioned, and see that any effort to change it is still within the field of that confusion; therefore, any such effort only breeds further confusion.


It’s the old, old story, namely, no effort of the self can remove the self. Don’t try to remove the self. It can’t be done. Indeed, don’t try at all, but rather look, observe … and let. Once you see the folly and illusion of all self-effort, and the futile attempt by one self to remove another self from one’s life (which is the basis of so-called willpower), you will come to know the truth as one. It’s as simple as that. Simple, but not easy. The good news is that the mind can free itself. Here’s Krishnamurti again:


You see, when the mind is totally aware of its conditioning, there is only the mind; there is no 'you' separate from the mind. But, when the mind is only partially aware of its conditioning, it divides itself, it dislikes its conditioning or says it is a good thing; and, as long as there is condemnation, judgment, or comparison, there is incomplete understanding of conditioning, and therefore, the perpetuation of that conditioning. Whereas, if the mind is aware of its conditioning without condemning or judging, but merely watching it, then there is a total perception, and you will find, if you so perceive it, that the mind frees itself from that conditioning.

‘The mind frees itself from [the] conditioning.’ But for that to occur there needs to be a choiceless awareness of the presence of conditioning---that is, no condemnation, no judgment, no analysis, no interpretation, no evaluation, just a ‘total perception’ of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. That’s where mindfulness comes in, for that is what mindfulness is. It’s all about developing and using what I've referred to elsewhere as a mindful mind of no-mind---that is, an empty mind, a mind that is always open to truth as it unfolds unceasingly, a mind characterised by openness and passive alertness. Truth is never static. It is dynamic. Conditioning, including all belief-systems, is otherwise. A conditioned mind is a closed, conflicted, and divided mind.

I once heard an Anglican bishop say that if we would travel far, we must travel light. He was right. But in order to travel light we must allow our mind to free itself from all conditioning, which is the past. What we call the ‘self’---the self that likes or dislikes this or that, the self that believes or disbelieves one thing or another---is nothing but the cup of conditioning and a divided mind. How can you know Zen---that is, truth, reality, life---unless you first empty your cup? There's a saying in Buddhism that I like, 'Go with empty hands,' that is, proceed through life without beliefs, fixed ideas, and the like. Empty-handedness is, of course, a metaphor. It refers to a certain state of mind or mind-set---one that is free, unencumbered, unfettered, undivided, and unconditioned.


When it comes to things theological---indeed, all things---I neither believe nor disbelieve. The belief-disbelief spectrum is one continuous spectrum with belief at one end and disbelief at the other. For example, both belief and disbelief in God
 are in fact the exercise of the one and the same function, that is, mental faculty or mindset. Belief is an exercise of the function in a 'positive' manner while disbelief is an exercise of the very same function in a 'negative' manner. (Please note that I'm not using the words 'positive' and 'negative' perjoratively.) The celebrated French absurdist philosopher and writer Albert Camus understood this, which is why he wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus that the denial or exclusion of God is still an assertion---not that he was a theist. On the contrary, he was an atheist.

Me? I neither believe nor disbelieve in God. I am 'off the spectrum,' so to speak. (I'm sure that many who know me would say, 'Boy, is he off the spectrum!' LOL.) No, I am not an agnostic, which, as I see it, is simply a 'weak' atheist. Both the agnostic and the atheist lack theistic belief, except that the atheist's lack (and not necessarily denial) of belief is stronger, but both are still very much positioned, and I would say 'stuck,' at various points along the belief-disbelief continuum. In my case, I reject all three positions (namely, theism, agnosticism, and atheism) as category mistakes‘The atheist makes the mistake of denying that of which nothing may be said ... and the theist makes the mistake of affirming it,’ wrote Anthony de Mello SJ. In short, belief and disbelief in God are not polar opposites. In fact, the two things are much closer to each other that their respective adherents think. As I say, it is the self-same function.

The bottom line? Go beyond belief. Neither believe nor disbelieve. Instead, work to know and understand. As the Buddha said, ‘Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don’t believe.’ 

Make the quantum leap in your mind---now!










Friday, September 12, 2014

CAN WE REALLY LIVE WITHOUT ANY BELIEFS AT ALL? [Part 1]

Despite being a minister of religion, I have no religious ‘beliefs’ as such. I’m deadly serious.

Now, more than a few people have said to me over the years, ‘How can you be a minister of religion, and say you have no religious beliefs at all?’ A good question. My reply? Well, I usually say something like this: ‘I am a religious naturalist. I hold no beliefs, but there are a number of concepts, propositions and principles that I affirm as true. I affirm them as true because they are true, in that for the most part they are convictions in the nature of self-evident truths or what may be called 'axiomatic eternal verities.’ (By the way, there are also some delightful souls who write to me saying things like, 'You will burn forever in a lake of fire, you heretic, you wicked apostate!' I just say to them, 'May you find the peace of mind you're so desperately seeking,' then I continue doing what I'm doing.)

While some of the concepts, propositions and principles I affirm are what one may call 'working hypotheses,' the majority of them, as already mentioned, are self-evident truths. A self-evident truth is one that is such that, if you understand it, you are justified in believing it. Now, I know these convictions to be true. There is, therefore, no need to believe in them at all, for they neither require nor demand belief. (People believe things that have not been proven to be true, including many things that can never be proven to be true, but I say ... why do that?) 

Here are a few of the self-evident truths which I affirm as true but don't believe. I affirm t
he inherent worth and dignity of every person. I affirm justice, equity and compassion in human relations. I affirm that unnecessary suffering, as well as the unnecessary destruction of value, are wrong. (Yes, I admit that there are some problem words there. There always is, and always will be.) I affirm the right of conscience, the democratic process, and the right to pursue a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. I also try to show respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I affirm the principle that equals should be treated equally, and like cases should be treated alike. I have several other such convictions.

I know these convictions to be true. Those convictions that are not expressly or obviously self-evident or axiomatic I have come to know as true by a process of free inquiry and the use of reason (in other words, by evidence). These convictions collectively constitute the foundation of my desupernaturalized faith. By 'faith' I do not mean beliefs or trust, but rather living with hope, courage, and confidence.

Now, it is true that the word ‘belief’ is seems to be a word people struggle with, no doubt because of its connection to belief in God, and the shorthand of ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers.’ Apparently, the term ‘non-believers’ goes back to the 19th century. John Stuart Mill [pictured left] in his Autobiography makes the point that the word ‘non-believer’ is not a reasonable term since it implies lack of any belief and, using standard definitions of belief, he could not perceive of anyone as being without belief. Well, Mr Mill never met me.

There is a school of thought to which some of my more learned friends belong which asserts that the word ‘beliefs,’ in the plural, refers to the totality of the current state of one's beliefs (religious, political, or otherwise), opinions and ideas, including scientific opinions and ideas as well as factual or evidence-based opinions. Now, if this be one’s definition of ‘beliefs’, then there is no distinction whatsoever between facts and beliefs. However, as I see it, facts (that is, occurrences in space-time) are not opinions, but merely the basis for forming opinions. Despite the views of many these days, (no) thanks to grubby postmodernism, one opinion is not as good an any other opinion. For an opinion to be ‘valid,’ it needs to be supported by facts that are sufficient to support and ground the opinion held.

Now, the school of thought to which I have referred, which makes no distinction between facts and beliefs, asserts that when we ‘adopt’ an opinion---legitimately evidence-based or otherwise---we hold it as a belief. Of course, upon proper inquiry some beliefs will be found to be countered by certain facts, for it is the reasoning and beliefs formed from understanding those facts that we actually use to counter certain beliefs that are not evidence-based.

My usual response to this school of thought is that if one has beliefs at all they ought to be all based on logically probative evidence. When they are so supported, they are no longer beliefs but convictions or truths. However, according to the opposing school of thought, we all have beliefs. For example, when we go to the garage, and put the ignition key in our car and start the ignition, we may very well not have an adequate, evidence-based understanding of what is happening, but we believe---note that word believe---that the car will start and carry us down the road. Even if we do ‘know’ how a car works sufficiently to be able to explain it accurately, that does not mean our knowledge comes from evidence. More likely, it comes from studying and listening to people who have some authority on the matter.

So, my opposition says, we do not have to have all of our beliefs backed by demonstrative evidentiary experience, and that would be true for most of us. So, we would never ask a mathematician to present evidentiary proof that a line is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness being a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness (that is, width) which extends infinitely in both directions but ordinarily in practice connects two points. Such belief as a mathematician has, particularly those beliefs that are axiomatic, is clearly rational and not empirical. (Ah, that annoying supposed distinction between rationalism and empiricism again. I won’t go there.)

My response to the assertion that we do not have to have all of our beliefs backed by demonstrative evidentiary experience is usually as follows. If I get on a bus it is because I know that it is more probable than not that I will get to my destination safely. Of course, the bus may crash or break down along the way, but that doesn’t mean that it was not more probable than not that that I would get to my destination safely. I never said it was certain that I would arrive safely. I did not hold a belief that I would get to my destination safely. It was simply a state of mind based on factual (relevantly, statistical) probabilities. Call it an opinion if you like, but not a belief. No, I am not playing word games here. My state of mind was simply a confidence based on factual probabilities. When I get onto a bus, or travel to work as a passenger in a car driven by a friend, I simply have confidence in the truth or existence of a state of affairs not susceptible to immediate proof but based on statistical probabilities. If and when I get to my destination safely, the existence of the hoped-for state of affairs will have been proven ex post facto, that is, it will by then have been actualized.

In the case of mathematical propositions (eg the above mentioned definition of a line, or the definition of a triangle as a polygon with three edges and three vertices), we are simply dealing with what are known as analytic propositions, that is, propositions the truth of which truth depends solely on the meaning of its terms, that is, they are true or false by definition. They are grounded in meanings, independent of matters of fact. Indeed, all definitions are ultimately circular or tautological in nature, since they depend upon concepts which must themselves have definitions, a dependence which cannot be continued indefinitely without returning to the starting point. Now, to call these propositions beliefs strains credulity.

I do of course agree that we all have opinions on various matters. We find facts, but rarely do the facts speak for themselves. In order to know something we are often forced to draw conclusions and inferences from objective facts, and often it is the case that different people can quite reasonably draw different conclusions or inferences from the same set of facts. Such is the nature of things. But, as I see it, beliefs are different things altogether. A person believes something when, not only do they not know whether that which is believed is true or not, there is actually no possibility of a person ever knowing whether the thing believed is true. In other words, the thing believed is not susceptible to rigorous proof at all. It is not a case of the thing believed being not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. It cannot be proved at all. That is why it is ‘has’ to be believed. (Of course, it is not obligatory to believe it at all, and I wouldn’t believe it anyway.)

Take, for example, a literal belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, not all Christians hold that belief but many do, and many of those who do regard that belief as an essential tenet of the Christian faith. Speaking personally, I don’t believe that Jesus literally and bodily rose from dead. I like what the iconoclastic Anglican bishop Dr David Jenkins [pictured left] said about the Resurrection. He called the notion ‘a conjuring trick with bones.’ How wickedly funny! Be that as it may, the question of whether or not Jesus physically rose from the dead is a question of fact but it is a matter that is not something capable of rigorous proof. 

However, for something to be provable it must be repeatable, and any event or supposed event in the past is something that cannot be repeated. For that matter, we can’t even prove that Jesus or Napoleon or any other person from the past was born or lived. In the case of the supposed historicity of Jesus, it has been argued, with considerable justification in my view, that there is insufficient independent historical evidence to safely conclude that the person known as Jesus Christ, as depicted in the New Testament, ever existed. In that regard, there is not even one single demonstrably authentic passage purporting to be written as history within the first 100 years of the Christian era that shows the existence at or before that time of such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, or of such a set of persons as could be accounted his disciples or followers. Further, there is no non-Christian record of Jesus before the 2nd century. That is fact. 

Not only that, there is the added problem that the physical world in which we live yields no contemporary reliable evidence that people who are dead can be supernaturally resurrected. I speak as a lawyer here. (I wear a number of hats, sometimes more than one at the same time. It's fun.) If a jury were permitted to even consider such a proposition, it would require expert testimony by someone scientifically qualified to testify to the likelihood of the supernatural resurrection of one particular dead person some two thousand years ago. However, there is no objective, verifiable evidence, based on scientifically sound principles, which could be adduced in a courtroom today that would establish the singularity of supposed Jesus' alleged 'supernatural' resurrection some two thousand years ago. In order for an expert's opinion to be reliable and thus admissible, it must be grounded in verifiable propositions of fact, but in light of the logically probative material available to us there are no reliable grounds upon which to assert that supposed Jesus' alleged supernatural resurrection is based upon any verifiable proposition of fact. 

All other religious beliefs---and many beliefs that are not religious in nature (eg political and ideological beliefs)---are susceptible to the same sort of robust challenge. Now, some people say to me, ‘Well, you can’t prove it [that is, the supposed state of affairs believed in] isn’t true.’ Of course, what these people fail to realize or admit is that the onus of proof in these matters is on those who assert the existence of some supposed state of affairs. Sometimes a more sophisticated argument is advanced to the effect that the absence of evidence for some supposed state of affairs is said not to be evidence of absence---that is, not evidence of something not being the case. So, the absence of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is said not to be evidence that the resurrection did not happen. However, the absence of evidence for some supposed state of affairs is indeed evidence of absence where the ‘negative evidence principle’ is satisfied. That principle has been stated as follows:

A person is justified in believing that p is false if (1) all the available evidence used to support the view that p is true is shown to be inadequate and (2) p is the sort of claim such that if p were true, there should be available evidence that would be adequate to support the view that p is true and (3) the area where evidence would appear if there were any, has been comprehensively examined. [Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), p 102.]

But, leaving all of the above aside for the moment (assuming we can really do that), what exactly is the problem with 'beliefs,' you may ask? Well, Shakyamuni Buddha referred to beliefs as being in the nature of thought coverings or veils (āvarnas). These thought coverings or veils do not reveal reality, indeed they distort reality. How? Well, they prevent us from knowing and experiencing things as they really are in all their directness and immediacy. Belief is conditioning. Knowledge is experiential. A belief-system is a distorting lens which experiences, processes and interprets but then  distorts what happens through an amalgam of beliefs, all of which are the past and conditioning.

I have always found helpful these words attributed to the Buddha: 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.' There is also this sound advice from the Pāli texts:

In what is seen, there should be only the seen;
in what is heard, only the heard;
in what is sensed, only the sensed;
in what is thought, only the thought.

However, when we see something through a belief-system what is seen is filtered, interpreted, analyzed and judged through the belief-system. No longer is it a case of  that which is seen being only that which was seen, or that which is heard being only what was heard, or that which is sensed being only what was sensed, or that which is thought being only that which is thought. Reality immediately becomes a new and altogether different reality. This is not living mindfully.

We need to safely and mindfully 'navigate' our way through life, but beliefs in the supposed existence of states of affairs in respect of which there is no possibility of one ever knowing whether that which is believed is really true stand in our way and hold us back. What we really need is knowledge and understanding. The very nature of a belief is a mental construct based on an already past presumed reality. That is, by the time a particular belief has been formulated, the presumed reality upon which that belief is purportedly based is no longer a present reality, if it ever was a reality. It is now the past. Beliefs lock us into the past. Beliefs imprison. They do not liberate. They are chains that bind us. Eschew beliefs. You don't need any.

To be continued.