Friday, 12 August 2011

Beliefs & Suffering

Wikipedia: Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.

For the purpose of this piece, I will define "belief system" as this: A matrix of information, a box, or  a framework into which we can invest emotional energy e.g. Buddhism is a box full of information -  specific terminology and techniques, an entire cosmology and everything else that goes with it.

It's not unusual for awakening to involve a shift in the belief system held by an individual, in fact it's probably more typical than not and even the holy books of the major religions have stories of some person, usually someone from a different belief system to that held by the authors of the books, who has a miraculous experience and finds themselves doing an about-turn in their worldview only to take on the prevailing reality tunnel e.g. the Pauline conversion. In the case of the aforementioned apostle, the story forms a major part of the entire framework and stands as proof of the "divine will". I'm going to take this off on a bit of an imaginative stroll here in an attempt to demonstrate what I'm getting at, stick with me. So, if we stay with St. Paul [I was raised a Roman Catholic, old programming dies hard] and take a closer look at his story, break it down and remove it from the Judeo-Christian map:

We've got a guy who supported Mr. X. His belief system caused him to view the followers of Mr. Y. as being inherently bad and to see them as a threat to his survival due to what he had been told by Mr. X. While walking home one day, something happened  which caused him to change this belief system and become a follower of Mr Y. which no doubt came as quite a surprise to Mr X.

Here we have an example of one persons belief system being changed by some causal event, the nature of which I will leave until another time as it's not hugely important right now, and their entire worldview/reality tunnel shifting to one which is structured differently to that which they lived in previously. Does that make sense so far?

This basic process is typical of 'spiritual' awakening, an individual experiences something which causes them to change their basic belief system in some noticeable way. However, this phenomena is not unique to spirituality and the process of changing ones belief system is something which happens constantly but most people aren't aware of just how far reaching the consequences of such a change can be. We're used to hearing about religious conversions, or people deciding to become a vegetarian, or people who stop drinking, dozens of everyday examples of people changing their belief system and how their everyday life changes as a result e.g. they now pray to Allah, they no longer eat meat, they go tee-total. On the flip-side, there can be changes in belief which lead to suffering for the individual and those they come into contact with. For example, someone may shift into a belief system which causes them to give up all their worldly possessions and join a cult e.g. Jim Jones, someone else shifts into a belief system which leads them to commit crimes e.g. Charles Manson & The Family, another becomes a terrorist and kills people in the name of their belief system e.g. the 9/11 people.

What I'm (eventually) getting at here is the simple fact that belief is something which can be changed, for positive, neutral or negative ends depending on the desired outcome of the individual. This is something which can be tested for oneself, do not ever take anything I say as the final word on anything, and I mean ever. Belief is malleable, flexible, it's just a load of information which we package up, label and invest our emotional energy into. It becomes something we have to defend, something we identify with and which becomes a part of us, but how often do we stop and consider how much we are allowing a belief to interfere with our investigation into reality as it is? If belief is no more than a programme which we can change, at will once we become proficient in shifting between reality tunnels, then why do we allow them to influence our perception of the world as it is?

I worked within the chaos magick paradigm for several years as a sole practitioner; a big part of this system involved shifting belief systems and experimenting with what are referred to as reality tunnels, basically the maps which we overlay onto our experience which allow us to label and categorize things. This has proven to have been of immense value in my ongoing practice towards the end of suffering, but the basic point of these exercises are to show just how malleable reality is and how changes in belief can create change in everyday life. The same principle is present in self-help techniques such as affirmations, essentially changing a belief is like changing a program which runs in the mind, affirmations work to run a more useful, helpful program which then allows one to achieve some goal or another.

For a period of time I became heavily immersed in the Buddhist system as it provided the techniques which allowed me to attain certain permanent changes in perception i.e. Paths. However, I allowed my emotional attachment to Buddhism and to people within the pragmatic dharma community to cloud my judgement and cause me to suffer. It's not a slur on Buddhism, not by any means, I hold that in the highest regard as a map and model of development, but I let myself identify with being a Buddhist rather than, as I had done before, explore this belief system so as to learn more about how to end suffering. Due to this, I created something of a schism in myself which led to anxiety and a lot of anger and it's only since realizing that I had 'trapped' myself in one specific reality tunnel that this has become clear.

The point is that belief is something which is not worth suffering for. It's just another bunch of transient, selfless and unsatisfying sensations so why do we afford it so much sway in our life? Belief is useful, no doubt about that, but when it begins to cause us to suffer then it's time to question what's going on. So much of the suffering we experience is due to this, even on somewhere like an online forum there ends up being differences in belief which get blown out of proportion and no one benefits from it. Where is the use in that? How is that helping to reduce suffering?

I could probably have summed this all up in one sentence: Beliefs are not facts.

Whether or not this post has been of any practical use to anyone, I have no idea, but basically all I'm trying to say is that we don't need to allow our beliefs to cause us to suffer. If we can all get a handle on that then I'm pretty sure we could probably resolve a whole lot of stuff in this world.

Either way, hope all's well wherever and whenever you are.



  1. Anything that reminds a person 'on a path' not to cling to their views is definitely helpful my friend :) I can completely relate: discovering Buddhism, swallowing it whole without questioning it enough, and proceeding to beat myself with the Five Precepts was a... learning experience, shall we say. However, it obviously isn't possible to live life without beliefs, some of which will necessarily conflict with those of others... is a bit of suffering inevitable there?

  2. I think a distinction between a belief and a fact is useful here. A fact is verifiable, it can be objectively tested. A belief is a psychological state in which one holds a proposition or premise to be true.

    My experience over the years, particularly with chaos magick, has shown me that beliefs are arbitrary and can be changed at will with a bit of practice. It's possible to drop all beliefs, deconstruct those patterns/imprints and clean up perception completely, this is what I'm currently doing with AF-style practice. So, I do think that it's possible to live without beliefs, as defined above, but until the time when that becomes "my" experience of the world then it's possible to reduce the suffering inherent in having a belief which is opposed to that of another person by simply remembering that the map is not the territory it describes. We're all just making maps of ourselves making maps and trying to show other people the way we experience life, it's useful, no doubt about it, but not essential to a happiness which is not dependent on conditions.

    Thanks for posting mate, I appreciate you taking the time to read it! I'm working on some stuff for this but in the meantime I'll stick to trying to help out on practice threads. Ha!