From “The Unfoldment: The Organic Path to Clarity, Power, and Transformation” (p. 41-48). Career Press. Kindle Edition. By Neil Kramer.
‘Belief is often about comfort. It is reassuring to know that a thing will be the same today as it was yesterday. We set up all kinds of routines and habitual practices in our daily lives in an attempt to persuade ourselves that change is somewhere far off in the distance, only occasionally dipping in to jiggle things around. Our brains have been conditioned to favor solidity, stability, and order in everything that we observe. We believe that the chair exists; we can see it and touch it. It was there yesterday, and it will most likely be there tomorrow. It is a defined experience, well evidenced and self-apparent. What could be more real than the physicality of the objects in our world? Surely, we can believe in their existence? Yet this way of thinking is not accurate.
In actuality, all things are in a constant state of flux at all times. Every material form is always vibrating, shifting, and transforming. Only our brains make them look still and concrete. In Buddhism, this observance is called annica (impermanence) and is one of the three marks of existence that characterize the illusory world (the others being dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, and anatta, non-self). Annica teaches that all formations are impermanent and real spiritual growth begins with dispassionate experiential mindfulness of the present moment. Consciousness is in its most natural, balanced, and truthful state when brought into the center of now. This is difficult to do when constrained by beliefs of any kind. When we believe things, we create constructs that can hinder the natural flow of consciousness. We fabricate illusions of permanence to make ourselves feel better.
In the Zen tradition, impermanence is called mujō, indicating the transience and mutability of all compound objects. It is a vital principle in understanding the flow of the unreal. The Zen student begins to actively engage with the reality that nothing lasts, yet nothing is lost. From the ultrasoup of infinite energy arise all forms and patterns, and back they go to tell their story, merging with the undifferentiated whole once more. After a time, forms separate out again and go onto the next voyage. Belief only slows this realization down.
In 1980, David Bohm published his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, articulating the same ancient wisdom but in the modern language of quantum physics. His view of the enfolded implicate order and the unfolded explicate order was radically different from the prevailing mechanistic physics of the time. Today, his ideas are still deeply antithetical to the reductionist fetishes of mainstream science. In Bohm’s model, primacy is given to the undivided whole and the enfolded implicate order within the whole, rather than particles, quantum states, and continua. What this suggests is that forms arise from a wholeness of energy; they are a result of particular formations that are bound by consciousness. He shows that the universe is not a vast machine made up of atomic building blocks. Indeed, there is no sustainable distinction between manifest reality and consciousness. For Bohm, the whole language of quantum physics. His view of the enfolded implicate order and the unfolded explicate order was radically different from the prevailing mechanistic physics of the time. Today, his ideas are still deeply antithetical to the reductionist fetishes of mainstream science. In Bohm’s model, primacy is given to the undivided whole and the enfolded implicate order within the whole, rather than particles, quantum states, and continua. What this suggests is that forms arise from a wholeness of energy; they are a result of particular formations that are bound by consciousness. He shows that the universe is not a vast machine made up of atomic building blocks. Indeed, there is no sustainable distinction between manifest reality and consciousness. For Bohm, the whole encompasses all things, entities, structures, abstractions, and processes. Nothing is entirely separate or autonomous; it is all part of a unified and extremely cohesive whole.
It has to be said that the impermanence of all things can be an unsettling notion for even the most elastic of human minds. We can’t help but value an element of constancy and predictability as foundations for a well-ordered life. This is why we fashion beliefs—in the hope that they will serve as mental life rafts that will help keep us afloat. But there really is nothing to worry about. We must contemplate that it is consciousness itself that molds the objects around us. There is no physical boundary between oneself and that which is outside oneself. It is only our brain that proposes a gap, in order that we can navigate around our world more easily. But in the business of unfoldment, we can reduce or even dissolve that gap by realizing that our consciousness is the chair, just in the same way that our consciousness is our dreams. It is the intelligent holographic fabric of reality itself, an emanation from the divine. As the great alchemical sages put it, “the all is mind, the universe is mental.” Belief plays a key role in either opening or closing that flow of potential energy.
It certainly seems that there are helpful beliefs and unhelpful beliefs. A helpful belief is “I believe that by drinking this glass of water, my thirst will be quenched,” whereas an unhelpful belief might be “I believe that the nasty disease that I have just been diagnosed with is going to kill me.” They are both working models, though one has a positive aspect and one has a negative aspect. So why on Earth would anyone ever sustain a negative working model that does not benefit them? Why believe what might not be true and could well contribute to his or her own undoing?
People believe because of consensus. They believe because of the compelling gravitation of all the other people who believe the same thing. There are so many abiding beliefs that tell us that the body is just a machine, that hospitals are the best place for biological machines to get fixed, and that the system of Western medicine is the most advanced in the world. Such powerful and well-established beliefs—with such irresistible group blessing—soon overwhelm any individual conception of the body’s own innate capacity to heal itself. That is merely a wishful fantasy that promptly evaporates in the hard light of someone else’s manufactured reality.
The placebo effect is where a positive therapeutic effect is experienced by a patient, physically and/or psychologically, after receiving an inert treatment (such as an inactive sugar pill) that is believed by the patient to be an active and effective drug. Certain sections of the medical establishment have long sought to rubbish and discredit this whole phenomenon as it presents some worrying philosophical dilemmas for conventional medicine. Curiously, the placebo effect is not just limited to the patient’s physical and mental responses; the doctor’s attitude can play a role, too. In 1961, Henry K. Beecher, an influential figure in the history of anesthesiology and medical ethics, observed that surgeons he categorized as enthusiastic succeeded in relieving their patients’ chest pain and heart problems more than skeptical surgeons. Is consciousness once more being caught entangled in form?
In July 2011, the ABC Medical News Unit reported on a pilot study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The report suggests that we should:
“Never underestimate the power of the mind when it comes to feeling better. In the newest demonstration of how healing can be triggered by patients’ expectations of what medical attention can do for them, placebo treatments were as good as real medication in making asthmatic patients feel they were breathing more easily. Thirty-nine asthma patients reported about as much perceived relief from a placebo inhaler or from sham acupuncture as from an inhaled dose of the steroid albuterol.”
Coauthor of the study Dr. Michael E. Wechsler, an asthma specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, writes, “Placebo effects can be clinically meaningful and can rival the effects of active medication in patients with asthma.” Predictably, the study later goes on to say that “patient self-reports can be unreliable.” However, in an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal, Dr. Daniel E. Moerman, an expert on the placebo effect from the University of Michigan–Dearborn, called into question the idea that patients’ self-reports were unreliable because their perceived improvements from treatment were not necessarily corroborated by lung capacity tests. He stated, “It is the subjective symptoms that brought these patients to medical care in the first place. They came because they were wheezing and felt suffocated, not because they had a reduced [lung capacity].” Not all doctors are swept up in the pressure to conform to the norm. In their 2005 paper, “Making Space for the Placebo Effect in Pain Medicine,” Dr. Daniel Moerman and Dr. Anne Harrington detail some fascinating mental effects of brand marketing on the administering of active drugs and placebos:
“In one study, 835 women who regularly used over-the-counter analgesics for headaches were placed randomly into four groups: one group received unlabeled placebo; one received placebo marked with a widely advertised and widely-available brand name, “one of the most popular…analgesics in the United Kingdom and supported by extensive advertising”; one received unbranded true aspirin, and one received branded true aspirin. Each subject was asked to note the amount of headache pain relief experienced an hour after taking the pills. The results showed, unsurprisingly, that aspirin was more effective than placebo. More surprising, perhaps, was the finding that brand-name aspirin was more effective than generic aspirin, and brand-name placebo was more effective than generic placebo. Aspirin relieves headaches, but so does the knowledge that one is taking pills whose efficacy one has learned to trust from television advertisements. In this study, a brand name itself turned out to have independent active properties, enhancing the effects of both placebos and true aspirin.”
Concluding their paper, Moerman and Harrington note:
“What we know, understand, think, and feel; what we are told and believe; the relationships we have with our clinicians—our doctors, nurses, and probably receptionists and parking lot attendants—can very directly affect our response to medical treatment, and, in particular, analgesic treatment. These matters are, these days, largely left to chance, or to ideology, or to market forces, but are still rarely subject to robust science. There is much to be learned here that is not only of enormous intellectual interest but that also might lead to material improvements of the quality of medical care for pain and other disorders; making room for the placebo in pain studies may complicate matters, but there is too much at stake to do anything else.” medical care for pain and other disorders; making room for the placebo in pain studies may complicate matters, but there is too much at stake to do anything else.”
The marketing of belief has a physical effect on the body. Whenever we detect that fear is being marketed, particularly through mainstream television, we should be on our guard. If fear is present in the propagation of a belief system—whatever that may be—there is always disempowerment. The dominant human tendency to identify with the biological shell of the body is a fundamental piece of fear conditioning. If people believe that they are their physical shell, then they will remain subservient and deferential to those who are apparently capable of looking after it. It is an old trick and one that has been used for a long time by those who desire to manipulate. Simply put, if your belief is being controlled, your mind and body are being controlled.
Questions arise. Is belief required for one’s authentic unfoldment? Does it have a role to play in the attainment of gnosis and the process of conscious individual growth? Is belief even necessary at all? With reason and honesty, these questions have remarkably straightforward answers.
Do we need to believe in God to have a relationship with God? No. We just have a relationship with God. Do we need to believe that we can cook a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner to actually succeed in cooking one? No. We just cook one. What about believing in ourselves? Or believing that we can play the piano beautifully? What we are really saying is that we would like to focus more conscious energy into these things. The more we do that, the better they will turn out. The belief associated with them is just an extraneous mental construct that gets in the way of the smooth flow of consciousness. It is not needed.
Our beliefs tend to be binary. They are either yes or no, black or white, 0 or 1. Popular consensus strongly affects that result, whether we like it or not. To believe that we cannot levitate the coin in the air because the overwhelming majority of people would say that that is impossible, means that the programmed subconscious mind will not permit it. The common mistake is then to immediately charge the opposite belief: that we can do it. This, too, gets in the way because it creates a paradigm-cracking conflict that the mind would rather not have to deal with. Paradoxes are not allowed in belief-laden minds. The wise move is to believe nothing. To carefully, but willfully, remove belief from the operating system altogether. To let consciousness flow without hindrance. This is the secret of the physics-bending adepts of Europe and Asia. They have learned to jettison belief and just get out of their own way.
We do not need to believe. We can operate with integrity, fine conduct, and honor without any beliefs at all. We can create, inspire, grow, and love without believing a thing. We can feel free to formulate striking and elaborate theories about the world, as many as we wish, but we need not become attached to them. We can let them come and go, transform, and evolve, in a much more organic way.
I propose that we replace the concept of internalizing beliefs with the concept of holding ideas. It is hard to dig out of a heavy belief, but it is not hard to let go of an idea that you are merely holding. Beliefs require ongoing energetic maintenance and a fixed narrative to sustain them. In contrast, something that is just being lightly held, without internalizing it as belief or disbelief, remains as light as a feather. It requires no safeguarding of any kind, and there is no weight to it. We can hold many ideas without feeling any weight at all. If any given idea proves to be useless or untrue, we simply let go of it. If it proves to be useful and true, we keep it. Over time, these ideas gain higher and higher fidelity as they continue to refine themselves, until they become totally weightless. No investment is required either way. No investment = no weight.
Don Juan Matus said, “A warrior is never under siege. To be under siege implies that one has personal possessions that could be blockaded. A warrior has nothing in the world except his impeccability, and impeccability cannot be threatened.” This applies equally to possessions of the non-physical kind. With no beliefs to carry, the speed, fluidity, and expansion of the spiritual warrior is greatly enhanced.’Kramer, Neil. The Unfoldment: The Organic Path to Clarity, Power, and Transformation (p. 41-48). Career Press. Kindle Edition.
It is an undeniable fact that as long as there is doubt, perplexity, wavering, no progress is possible.
It is also equally undeniable that there must be doubt as long as one does not understand or see clearly. But in order to progress further it is absolutely necessary to get rid of doubt. To get rid of doubt one has to see clearly. There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say ‘I believe’ does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed.
If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say ‘I believe’, or ‘I do not doubt’ will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.Excerpt from What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula