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.

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Some people resist change. They fear change of any kind. They find security, peace and happiness in old ways. This attitude is seen in regard to beliefs too, and actually stems from beliefs themselves. Such a person ignores all new information, knowledge or advice that can uproot his beliefs. Some of them may even admit that they don't want to get rid of their beliefs, giving reasons that they are happy because of the beliefs. For some the cognitive dissonance is too much to bear and they find familiarity with old beliefs more comfortable and soothing. Mostly they are motivated to give up their beliefs only when the suffering caused by them exceeds the comfort they provide. Probably there is no other way to cure the ignorance of people who stick to the status quo.

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.

- G B Shaw, Androcles and the Lion 

The other major difficulty is that ideas and arguments that counter the belief of a person are seen as insults and attack on himself by that person. Even when the beliefs are pointed out, the person holding them resists their removal by defending them as if his survival is threatened. If he realizes that his beliefs has no real basis, the first thought of the person is – “I’m surely going to look like a fool for believing this stuff” [1], and so he makes all efforts to convince the other that his belief is not a belief but is a fact. In worst cases, the person convinces himself that what he believes is a fact. It doesn’t take his Mind long to come up with all kinds of excuses and fantasies to support the beliefs he is defending. You will see the reaction of such as person in the form of anger, counter attacks, illogical arguments, personal attacks or ridicule of the contradicting idea [2]. He is just aroused and is defending himself from a perceived insult or a threat. Sometimes the reaction is to avoid the situation [3]. The avoidance is seen as a sudden change of topic, a “laugh it off” reaction or actually leaving the room. So we find that self-preservation tendencies kick in as soon as one encounters a contradicting belief or anyone who points out a belief.

Mind has a peculiarity that the imagined threats or verbal threats cause a similar reaction in the person as those of real threats to the life (say an attack by an animal). This has evolutionary reasons and it is helpful sometimes, because a deadly fight often starts with insults. So it is logical that the Mind prepares the body by reacting in a defensive way. Once the control slips from intellect to the Ego (to be discussed later) its all mechanical from there onwards. An ignorant person has not severed the ancient connection of his intellect with his Ego, and finds himself acting in uncontrollable ways. The defence, the anger and the violence happens on its own, once it is triggered. Somehow the beliefs, the erroneous ideas, become a part of the personality, a structure defining the person, and the survival instincts are unleashed to defend the beliefs in exactly the same manner they defend the person from danger. Now you know how is it possible to cause a war simply by ridiculing some odd beliefs of the other party. Note that this has nothing to do with intelligence, and an extremely intelligent but untrained person will also act in mostly the same way. Cultured people can often suppress the reaction, but do get offended and keep that hurt in their Minds. An attempt to correct someone’s belief can easily ruin any relationships or friendships. This is especially true if the belief is related to religions or politics (or sometimes genders and races too, the list of “sensitivities” is long if you ask me).

Belief needs something terrible to make it work, I find--blood, nails, a bit of anguish.

- Anne Enright, The Gathering

What is the proper reaction when your “knowledge” is conclusively shown to be just a baseless belief? Needless to say, bow down in gratitude, thank the person who has done this favour on you. Consider yourself fortunate that you were shown your errors. You have successfully liberated yourself from the shackles of a belief. You have progressed one step further. What can be better than that. I’d suggest, go ahead and ask for a review of your other “knowledge” about other stuff, do not miss this opportunity. Make that person your friend or your teacher and stick to him, if possible. Once you are as knowledgeable as he is (you have seen the matter as a direct experience), your learning will stop, but the loving relation will last [3].

However, if the person is unable to realize that his belief is baseless, he is often puzzled, becomes doubtful and the thought is something like –“What the hell this person is talking about, I know I’m correct”. The reaction is again to preserve his belief. Most of the people have a bias that they cannot be wrong and refuse to analyse their own beliefs. In best cases the person politely disagrees and goes on with his business, but in worst cases he may ridicule or insult the person who is honestly trying to show him his error. The poor fellow never gets any respect again and the relationship goes downhill. Or the person holding the belief may take pity on the one who thinks otherwise, and may try to convince the other how he is wrong instead. He may bring forward all kinds of “evidences”, quotes by authorities and what not to prove his case. It usually gets all convoluted and the debate then shifts to how all that evidence is right/wrong. The belief stays where it was or gains more strength, as it becomes more of a matter of who “wins” rather than what is right. You will mostly find that a believer wants to win, and the person who has knowledge will not care much about proving himself, for obvious reasons.

What is the proper reaction of a seeker when he can’t see that his “knowledge” is unfounded, when pointed out? Ask more questions. Demand counter evidences. Ask for explanations. Ask for direct experiences or how to get them. Sleep over it. Do not immediately judge the counter claims. Thank the other person and tell him that you will try to see it and correct your mistake, if any. If your ideas were indeed unfounded, you will find yourself going through the stages of realization – “I need to find this out”> “I don’t know”> “Perhaps I’m wrong” and finally “I was wrong, its just a belief!”. You have just destroyed a belief. Celebrate. Don’t forget to meet that person again and ask for comments on other stuff you “know”. You have found someone who is upstream, who is more advanced than you and most importantly, is ready to teach you. Not many are so fortunate [4].

Another resistance comes in the form of stupidity. When pointed out, a person is not only unable to realize his error, he is blissfully unaware of it all. He fails to “get the point”.  There is often no reaction or a wide eyed puzzled look, and the person wanders off into his zombieland. Sometimes, stupidity does evoke violence and fights, and you learn not to correct the beliefs of a stupid person, in a hard way. Anyway someone has to learn a lesson, maybe it was your turn.

What to do if you can’t get the point? Not much. Purifying yourself of the beliefs is not your priority here, instead sharpen you intellect. Most of the beliefs make home in the Mind of a person because of his failure to critically analyse the indirect knowledge or to understand it. A stupid person simply accepts whatever he is told. If a person lacks intelligence, beliefs find him an easy target. An intelligent, critical thinker who is fully aware of himself rarely falls into a belief trap.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
-Richard Feynman

Fear is another reason for resisting the removal of beliefs. There is an illusion of security when you are a part of the crowd and believe whatever others in your group believe. This has obvious evolutionary reasons, a herd avoids a predator more effectively than an individual, and hence a fear overtakes the individual if he finds himself away from his group. When a belief is questioned, the primitive instinct takes over the person and a fear of what would happen if he did not believe in what others around him do, arises. Result – the person is forced back into the belief. Sometimes, he is back to the belief which is now even stronger, because he is now convinced that not giving up the belief has made him more secure. At times the belief weakens, as the person is now aware of the facts, but the person again takes shelter in the belief for the fear of deviating from the “norm”. A fearful person may dream up “evidences” to support his belief and justify it, not knowing that he is unconsciously afraid of something. The reaction comes in the form of irrational statements or something like – “I’m sorry I believe this no matter what you say.” Or “Do you think everyone else who believes this is a fool?”. Such a person is too insecure to stand up for any truths, he keeps his face down.

It is very difficult to reason people out of beliefs that they didn’t reasons themselves into.
- Amy Tuteur, M.D., "The theology of quackery; how pseudoscience has become a secular religion", The Skeptical OB (May 6, 2016)

What should you do if you find safety in numbers? Firstly convince yourself thoroughly that you were holding nothing but a belief. Secondly, leave the crowd behind. A seeker who is afraid of crowds is not much of a seeker. Realize that the majority is going to be ignorant, and sooner or later, you will find yourself standing alone. The cost of freedom is loneliness. If you are so fond of company, seek the company of seekers, teachers and wise. If they are all yes-men too, then you are in the wrong company, your companions should be such that they don’t leave a single chance of shooting down your beliefs brutally.

Some other reasons for not letting beliefs go are doubt, pride, manipulation, monetary benefits and pleasures/addictions. Doubt occurs when one perceives an attempt to correct his belief as an attempt to deceive him. This happens especially when there is no trust or faith. Doubt prevents the person from shedding his belief, perhaps makes it stronger. Some people take pride in believing something no matter what the evidence say, and no matter how idiotic they look holding it (e.g. a person of a “superior” caste or race has all the reasons to believe in his superiority). Manipulation by others forces the person to remain chained to beliefs, especially happens with cults, but can happen in offices, families and relations too. The constant brainwashing by others makes the believer incapable of seeing his mistakes. If someone is getting rich out of beliefs, it makes sense to keep the belief (E.g. an astrologer who is making money out of his “knowledge and expertise” or a snake-oil salesman). Pleasures gained from addictions/actions twist the logical circuitry of the brain and makes one believe that the object of pleasure is somehow harmless or even beneficial for him, or the action is fair and just. E.g a gambler would want to believe that gambling will make him rich very soon. A smoker wants to believe that only others die from smoking, he is immune to it and a pack a day makes him perform better etc, etc.

What to do in above cases? Fix the primary cause first. The belief disappears when it finds no support. The matter is complicated by the fact that the belief and behaviour reinforce each other. It may be more difficult to fix the primary cause than belief itself. This is long path indeed. Such people go through a lot of suffering before they get a hint of where they are wrong.

These were some strange resistances people encounter when faced with belief destroying agents. Perhaps I’m missing a few more, but you get the point. By agents I mean people with knowledge, eye opening books, reports, experiences and anything that can question a belief. Resistance occurs as a result of deep ignorance. Ignorance is a result of not being aware. Being aware that an idea is not founded on direct experience and can be a belief, weakens the belief considerably. Not justifying the belief crumbles it down. Consciously looking for experiences, evidences, contrary viewpoints and falsification help to destroy the belief completely.

What should I do with all those pesky believers, I can’t stand them anymore? Tolerate. Period.
Have compassion, sympathy, kindness and love for those who are trapped in beliefs. Beliefs cause huge amount of suffering and a person who is suffering does not deserve hate. Know that those who are further in path are tolerating you now, at this very moment. Beliefs are ignorance manifested, and ignorance is as ancient and vast as Mind itself. All knowledge is just ignorance [5]. The Self is free only when all beliefs end, and when all knowledge ends. The Self doesn’t need to know anything else to be Self, it shines in its own light.

But I want to help people get rid of their beliefs, what should I do? Drop a hint. Set up yourself as a living example. Be diplomatic and sweet. Of course, you can make a person drop any belief by simply pointing a gun to his head. I don’t recommend this method, because the cure can be temporary, symptoms tend to reappear when the gun is pointing away. And remember that the other person can always get his own gun and return the favour. The more you force someone to drop a belief, the more the resistance grows. Some beliefs are like a virus that feeds on antibiotics. Showing the light to the blind does not help much, one must hold his hand and walk with him. Those who have faith in you will walk with you, rest won’t. A life free of beliefs is the best way to introduce others to their own beliefs. Those who have eyes will see, they will understand why you live the way you live, why you talk the way you talk. They will follow you.

Those who are on the threshold, but are still resisting can be pushed into the light by a mere hint. The hint needs to be polite, non-threatening, intelligent and even comical. For those who can’t even see the hints; being diplomatic, sweet, charismatic and affectionate can help to entice them into the bright side. For extreme cases, sometimes the best action is to walk away from them. For those beliefs that feed on resistance, it is best to leave them alone and let them starve to death. For some people, it causes more harm to their growth when they encounter a truth they are not yet ready for. They may recoil in fear, may get totally confused, may end up in depression, you never know.

Eradicating beliefs of others is a tricky affair. If you are on a superfast path, I’d recommend to not to mess with people. They will be taken care of. They are already perfect from your point of view. You don’t want to fix them. What you really need to do is fix yourself. Get rid of your own beliefs first. Do not engage with people unless they come to you and ask for knowledge. This will save you a lot of trouble, save your time, propel you forward quickly as you don’t need to deal with the consequences of your actions on others. Do not take responsibility for other’s growth unless you are permitted to do so [6]. Once you reach the peak, you can guide those in the valley better. You cannot carry others in your arms, everyone has to walk their own path. Ultimately, remember that there are no others, its just you here, nothing but your Self.


[1] No one likes to be called a fool. Well, except a seeker. A seeker intentionally seeks falsification of his knowledge. He likes it a lot, when he is shown the light. Realizing that he is a fool for holding a belief is a cause of celebrations. Falsification is the primary method of validation in all Sciences. A theory/an observation stands on its feet firmly only when all attempts to falsify it fail. If something is not falsifiable, it is unscientific, and cannot become a subject of study. It is impossible to find an experience/experiment to study something if it is not falsifiable. More here:

[2] This should not be a surprise for those who have debated something on the internet. The anonymity (if any) and physical separation can bring out the worst in a person. As a side note, there are people who intentionally provoke others by a gross attack on their beliefs, and just enjoy the resulting show. We all know who they are, we call them trolls.

[3] Easier said than done. Most of us have a tendency to avoid people who repeatedly prove us wrong, show us our error and beliefs. This is just self preservation, only that - it is flight mode instead of fight mode. It is said that if you are afraid of facing your teacher, he is the best teacher for you. A teacher’s job is to lower the barriers of the Ego sufficiently in order to enable the student to gain some knowledge and destroy the beliefs. So an attitude of surrender and discipline is expected from the student. If you find that you are unable to remain humble, surrendered or disciplined, know that you are carrying a huge ego there.

[4] I say that because a “cultured” person generally avoids correcting others.

When you find that people take offense and become defensive when shown wrong, you keep your tongue in control and pretend to simply agree. This is just to avoid the trouble, and to preserve the nice fluffy warm relationships. Sometimes that is what a proper action is. Some people are not ready to face the facts and their beliefs should not be disturbed. Fix others on your own risk.

[5] See the discussion on knowledge: Knowledge as ignorance.

[6] If you are in a tradition or a system, you need the permission from masters before you play with people in any way. It is a risky undertaking. When beliefs are removed quickly and carelessly, the shock to the believer causes more harm than benefit. Other times, the believer, having lost all his false support, becomes totally dependent on you for answers, guidance, even for day-to-day affairs etc. This can put a lot of extra burden on you. The job of a teacher is that of responsibility and you never know the consequences your teaching can cause. When there is a support system in place, both the teacher and the student can be saved from any possible catastrophe.

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