Monday, August 12, 2013

Cease to Cherish Your Opinions

Image credit:  Octavia Tea Company
Today is Monday, August 12, 2013.

"Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions." –Zen Proverb

Here is a story, as told by a blogger named Kaushik.

Nan-in, a Japanese Zen 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, then kept on pouring.

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

"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?"

*** *** ***  

I've been exploring the "middle path" more and more in my life, learning what it truly means to be "neutral," and to keep my mind open to accept the world as it is, without judgment.

Paul Twitchell, the founder of my spiritual path, Eckankar, wrote that we should not be "for or against" anything.  He also quoted the Zen master who advised us to cease to cherish opinions.  When I first read this idea, I thought, "That's dumb.  How can you not be for or against anything?  You mean, I'm not supposed to be against murder or for better public schools?  Are we supposed to just forget about political parties?  Are we to have no moral values at all?

Of course, that is not the case, but I had to think hard for a long time to understand what Paul Twitchell was talking about.  I'm still learning, I think.

Of course, it is OK to have opinions.  Everyone does.  The trick is not to cherish our opinions, or to put a lot of importance in our opinions being right.  When we can detach emotionally from our opinions, we are more likely to see things clearly, and we are more likely to be able to change our minds if the situation warrants it.  We are more likely to allow others to hold their own opinions, even if those opinions differ radically from our own.  We are more likely to see "what is" rather than "what ought to be."  Also, when we detach, we can accept the outcome of a situation more easily.  That doesn't mean we have to like the outcome.  Rather, it simply means we have to deal with the situation somehow, rather than complain about it, wish it away, or go into denial.  We can decide what we want to do without feeling that we have been pushed into any particular action.

As long as we realize that our opinions are not necessarily "truth," but rather our interpretation of the truth, as opposed to the interpretations of other people, we can more easily entertain new information, by which we may decide to change our opinion or perhaps strengthen our original opinion.

The problem with opinions is that when they get set in stone, they are very hard to change.  This means that when new information comes along, people either laugh at it or scorn it without really entertaining it.

The worst time for expressing opinions is an election year here in the United States.  Everyone gives their opinions on the issues, believing that if they only explain it carefully enough, everyone else will see the error of their ways and agree with them.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   When was the last time someone got you to change your mind about an election issue?   You probably can't, because you probably have never done it.  No amount of talking by the those on the "other side" will cause me to change my mind.   What I can do, however, is allow others to have their say.  I sometimes try to find some commonality that the other person and I can agree on.  That helps calm everybody down, after which I can leave the discussion as gracefully as possible.  

What if we all ceased to cherish our opinions?  We would be able to have more productive dialogue with others. We would probably be able to accept new scientific findings a bit more easily.  We would be able to remain on friendlier terms with others during an election year.  We would be able to learn new things.  This sounds like a good outcome to me, so I'm working on not cherishing my opinions.  :-)

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