Thursday, 29 September 2016

Afflictions of the Ego : Part - 1

Ego being a part of the Mind, gets afflicted with certain disorders, just like the Mind. It does whatever it does naturally and perfectly, but these operations may not be desirable if you wish to progress on your path. If they stop your progress or retard you, they are seen as afflictions. Many people live their entire life afflicted with these disorders, and suffer or cause suffering for others, but it may not matter if they have no goals. They are on the path of evolution through suffering.
If one is consciously and deliberately trying to walk a path, it becomes necessary to identify and remove these afflictions. It depends how deep one is into the pit of Ego, but sometimes its easy to get out of it. Usually the suffering caused by these afflictions is enough motivation, because the suffering inflicted by the Ego is huge and brutal when compared to the suffering caused by dysfunctions of the higher Mind.

The degree of one's emotions varies inversely with one's knowledge of the facts.
- Bertrand Russell 

Monday, 19 September 2016

Ego and its tendencies

The Animal Inside by Olympia Altimir


Ego is a popular term, and therefore, has acquired many meanings. It means “I” or “myself” and it also means something that one owns (e.g. in “my ego is weak” etc). It also means a sense of self-worth, self-esteem (for some odd reason). In Psychology/Psychoanalysis it has been adopted in a more formal way. For the purpose of this discussion, we will define it as a structure in the Mind that deals with survival directly and in a primitive and mechanical fashion. It is also called Mammalian Mind, Lower Mind, and Primitive Mind etc. 

There is also a Reptilian Mind, which is even more primitive and is seen as control system for basic actions. It takes care of some very basic self-preservation activities. E.g. when you are about to fall from your chair, the fear, the feeling of urgency and the actions you take to save yourself or to minimize the damage, all come from reptilian mind. There is often no time to think, or even for primitive strategies to fire up, you must act mechanically and automatically. We can see some physical structures corresponding to these various mental structures. The reptilian part corresponds to the brain stem and spinal cord, the mammalian part corresponds to the limbic system. The cortex and the neo-cortex correspond to the newer and more developed human Mind.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Afflictions of the Mind: Part-6 (Stupidity)

Who's The Fool - by Susanne Clark


Stupidity is a less than optimal functioning of various mental faculties. We have seen the numerous extraordinary gifts a Mind has, and if most of them are not functioning properly, that Mind is afflicted with stupidity. Its symptoms are a general dullness of the Mind, inability to learn new things, new skills,  to understand, comprehend and analyse, and also, inability of logical and critical thinking. In extreme cases a stupid person fails to talk coherently, performs irrational actions, displays a total lack of self control or control over emotions, and can become violent and harmful to others. Stupidity worsens when in a group. A group (such as armies) behaves in extremely stupid ways compared to the individual stupidity. You don't want to be near a mob of stupids.

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.     
- George Carlin

How would I know if I’m stupid? Probably you won’t know. Stupidity comes with added inability to properly judge one’s own intelligence and also the intelligence of others. A stupid person usually holds himself in high regard and thinks of others in inferior terms. He is incapable of estimating other’s intelligence and is incapable of understanding actions and speech of an intelligent person. When his stupidity is pointed out or some advice is offered, a stupid will often take offense and can turn violent. This makes things very difficult indeed, as there is little that can be done to improve a stupid person.

Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.
- Euripides, (480-406 BC)

Friday, 16 September 2016

Afflictions of the Mind: Part-5.2 (Suffering)

Suffering v/s Pain

Sometimes people confuse the two. Pain is a physical process, where the peripheral nervous system is communicating a situation of damage to the central nervous system. This is a healthy occurrence. The body takes proper actions (such as avoiding the damage causing agent, or protecting the damaged parts) and it helps the organism to survive. It is a primitive, yet very effective strategy of the Mind.

When does pain become a suffering? When the person identifies with the pain. The pain happens, it does not “happen to” the person. It is the ignorance of the person that makes him perceive the pain being inflicted on his whole being, when the pain should have been seen only as an uncomfortable sensation happening in the body. It is wise to take action and minimize the pain, than to cry about it, curse the situation, fall into self-pity or hate the agent causing the pain. These are all signs of immaturity and stupidity.

Once there is knowledge that the pain is a physical occurrence, and the damage has been already done, one can take proper action to end the suffering as well as the pain. Pain takes some time to go away, but one need not suffer from it.

Afflictions of the Mind: Part-5.1 (Suffering)

By Fadia Afashe

Suffering - what, why and how.

We have briefly discussed suffering in previous articles. Here, as usual, we are going into the details of it. Suffering is a state of the Mind, characterized by the presence of thoughts, feelings, emotions, internal actions, memories and such mental objects, that are negative in nature. By Negative, I mean, having harmful or destructive consequences [1]. This state of the Mind is quite repulsive, the Mind wants to get rid of it. It is unwanted, unnatural. A person in this state is incapable of thinking correctly, acting wisely or speaking coherently. Such a person is often rendered inactive, but sometimes can also become violent or sick. 

The sensations and reactions caused by suffering are similar in nature to those caused by physical pain [2]. The body and the Mind tries to avoid it, run away from it. Often the Mind gets caught in suffering for days, months and even years. The suffering becomes habitual if not cured and one can spend his whole life in the grip of one or other kinds of suffering. Actually, the current state of humanity is mostly that of suffering, irrespective of classes. This is mind boggling. Man, being the smartest and most capable animal, should have solved this problem within minutes. But we see the exact opposite. The state of the suffering is seen as “normal” by the society, and unless it becomes violent and destructive, nothing is done about it. In extreme cases, the suffering becomes a recognizable mental illness and the person is thrown into isolation or is kept under sedative drugs. So, mostly people have no clue how to solve the problem of suffering.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Afflictions of the Mind : Part - 4.5 (The Prison of Beliefs)

4. 5 Resistance

We have gone through the broad kinds of beliefs. This is not a textbook classification, just my own understanding from my own experiences with beliefs. So I must have left out a few kinds or created a few new kinds. But classification is not important, the important issue is to be free from all beliefs. We have already seen how this can be a difficult goal. One can encounter some difficulties when one tries to force the beliefs out of his Mind. They are integral part of a person, his life and perhaps many lives. The essential task on the path to freedom is to destroy all beliefs and let the Self shine as it is, in its purest form. It all starts from getting rid of beliefs that are superficial and then slowly digging them out of the depths of the Mind. It can take a lifetime or perhaps many lives.

The first difficulty one may find is that people don’t know that they have beliefs. Many people are often surrounded by others with same/similar beliefs. That’s how one gets a major portion of beliefs – via indoctrination, socio-cultural brainwashing. It helps to question everything, helps to explore new ideas and contradicting beliefs, and to remain open minded but critical of all indirect knowledge.

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Afflictions of the Mind : Part - 4.4 (The Prison of Beliefs)

4.4 Scientific Theories and Mathematical Models

Milton Visiting Galileo by Granger, 1638

Scientific Theories

Scientific theories (henceforth just theories) are beliefs about physical phenomena [1]. These beliefs try to explain the hows, whats and whys regarding the phenomena. For example, the theory of gravity tries to explain the attraction of masses. The belief here is that there is something called gravity that is pulling objects with some property called mass. The concepts - gravity and mass are mere assumptions, beliefs.

Obviously, theories are very useful. Once we have the concepts of gravity, mass etc, say, we can deduce equations, relations, behaviours from experimentation and mathematics and can build buildings, airplanes, boats, send people to the Moon and what not. So why would any sane person call theories an affliction? They become an affliction only when we forget that they are just beliefs, and take them as fact and nothing but fact. I’m sure most of the “educated” folk think that the ideas like gravity, electromagnetism, fundamental particles etc are nothing but truths. After all that’s what their textbooks taught them.

Afflictions of the Mind : Part - 4.3 (The Prison of Beliefs)

4.3 Indirect Knowledge, Delusions, Doubts, Attachments and Myths

Indirect Knowledge

These are the most common type of beliefs and when one says the word belief, this is what is mostly meant. Indirect knowledge is any knowledge that is not based on first hand direct experience. Indirect knowledge is just information, not real knowledge. So why do we call it knowledge at all? Firstly, the information can be converted into knowledge most of the time (if the seeker is willing to take that trouble) and secondly, some of the information originates from the direct experience of another person. It is up to the knowledge seeker to trust (have faith) on that person. Traditionally indirect knowledge has been a recommended method for gaining knowledge on the path of knowledge (includes scriptures and teachers). However, one need not be content with such knowledge, ideally speaking, and should go ahead and gain a direct experience of the matter. Until that is done, one needs to clearly understand that the indirect knowledge is just a belief.

I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

- Richard Feynman, The Making of a Scientist, p. 14

Afflictions of the Mind : Part - 4.2 (The Prison of Beliefs)

4.2 Cognitive Biases, Gross Generalizations, Superstitions and Faith

Cognitive Biases

Or simply biases, they are aberrations in the Mind that prevent a person from thinking correctly. These are so universal that one can call them inherent. These have deep roots in evolutionary history of the Mind, and also are caused due to socio-cultural indoctrination [1]. What a bias does is, makes one reach illogical or incorrect conclusion by injecting a belief in the thinking process. This is often fully automatic and the person is not even aware of his bias. Sometimes even when the presence of a bias is shown, the person refuses to accept it, reason – justification of belief – "I cannot be wrong", aka stupidity.

There are hundreds of biases, and surprisingly (or not!) not many people are aware of them. Many psychological and social studies have been done on them and exotic names are assigned to them. Here is an extensive list of biases if you are interested and unbiased towards reading them: List of cognitive biases.

One need not memorize the list, just knowing that one can have these biases helps to remain uninfluenced by them. However, I recommend doing a small exercise – read them and see them if you are afflicted by some of them, or most of them. This alone will raise your awareness sufficiently, if you are open minded, it will start a process of cleansing them from your Mind. Awareness is the key. Once you know, you don’t have any excuse to be biased again.

I’m going to mention some of the common ones, because we all suffer from them. Here is a short list:

Afflictions of the Mind : Part - 4.1 (The Prison of Beliefs)

4. The Prison of Beliefs

Plato's Cave by Lalita Hamill

4.1 What is a Belief?

We have already discussed beliefs previously in brief. Here I’m going to peel the onions, do hair splitting and perform surgery on them. This is needed because beliefs are one of the most dangerous afflictions of the Mind. A belief is an assumption, an unfounded idea. It masquerades in the form of knowledge. It is a partial or false knowledge, a structure in the Mind, that lacks solidity of experience to support it. A belief is an epitome of ignorance. These will serve as some definitions for the term belief [1].

A belief is a poor substitute for knowledge. If I tell you a story, which is beyond your experience, you have only two options, either to believe it or disbelieve it. Any of them are not going to take you anywhere. I want you to know.
- Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (Paraphrased)

If you look at beliefs via the microscope of self-observation, you will find that they are mental structures called Concepts. So a belief is not a new entity, it is just an idea, a concept, a higher level abstraction. So why do we need a new word, a new definition? Because a belief is a concept that is erroneous. It is an assumption that takes the form of knowledge. It does not come from experience. A concept that is firmly founded on direct experience is knowledge. When you see beliefs, you will find no solid experiences, no impressions, no memories, no logical chains of thought there, they just simply hang in air.A belief is never founded on experience, it is derived from other sources. It can also be an erroneous interpretation of an experience, which again means that the interpretation is unfounded. A belief can be based on other beliefs, which makes the matter more convoluted, because the person may believe that it is based on a fact, and so is a fact. It is easy to get lost in the jungle of beliefs.