2022-05-25 Binding and Unbinding (3 of 5) Unwholesome and Wholesome Not Knowing
4:50PM May 25, 2022
Good morning. One of the things that binds us, that keeps people in bondage, and can have a huge impact on others, is delusion and confusion. It is a very powerful word, "delusion," in Buddhism. It is considered to be one of the important forms of bondage and poison. One of the ways to be caught is to be caught in delusion. It can be particularly harmful because when we are deluded, we do not see the situation clearly. Even if our intentions are good, we might be causing harm in the world around us.
Also with delusion, we can be misinformed or misguided in what we think is important. There is a classic teaching in Buddhism of someone, who wants a fire, goes and chops up wood, looking for the fire in the wood, because that is where fire comes from. But it is not enough to chop it up, you have to create the fire, in the old days by rubbing something together. Or the idea that you can get grape juice by squeezing gravel. If you are trying to accomplish something, and you are deluded about the means and ways to do it, then you are not going to get much result.
One of the delusions that Buddhism emphasizes, is the improper pursuit of happiness, believing that what is not a source of happiness is a source of happiness. Thinking that pleasure will bring happiness. Thinking that power will bring happiness. Thinking that anger will bring happiness. Thinking that criticizing others and blame will bring happiness. All kinds of ways of thinking that, "I'll only be happy if ..." and have some idea far in the future that we want to put everything in place, "Only then, if only that can happen."
Part of the function of Buddhism is to overcome delusion, overcome confusion and ignorance. The last bondage that we will talk about on Friday is ignorance. I want to save some of the obvious opposites of confusion and delusion.
What I want to say now in relationship to delusion and confusion – there are two things that can be the healthy, wholesome corollary. One of them is a capacity and willingness to not know. A willingness, when we do not understand, to not be confused and spin out delusive ideas and conspiracy theories about how things are. But to be willing to not know. To be comfortable with not knowing and able to say, "I don't know." Rather than not knowing and becoming confused, or adding confusion and delusion on top of it by coming up with theories, and projecting ideas and solutions onto the situation.
There is something very powerful about not understanding what is happening, and resting and being grounded in not knowing. There is wholesome not knowing. Some schools of Buddhism put tremendous emphasis on cultivating a not knowing mind. Sometimes it can be called "a beginner's mind." The value of this not knowing is not that we become stupid and uninformed by things, but rather that we see things freshly. We are willing to learn and see anew what is there. So there are new possibilities. We are better informed by what is happening. And we are not caught up in suffering around not knowing.
It is not a crime to not know. I have met people who were in a situation that was difficult and did not know what was happening. They did not know what to do. But they said so. There was something about them being comfortable with not knowing and not understanding that made such a huge difference to me. It inspired me, "Wow, you can do that? You don't have to have answers? You don't have to have solutions?" Just sit there and not know. Take a stand in, not necessarily in not knowing, but a stand in not needing to pretend it is otherwise. Not needing to rush ahead and try to make things up, or figure things out.
I think that it is a phenomenally powerful thing to be willing to not know. It is a protection from delusion, from confusion. I think there is a lot of pressure in our society to know, to have explanations, to assign blame, to live in a fantasy world of what brings happiness, and what are the dangers we live in. Lots of people are spinning out tales, of where the danger is and who are the dangerous people – it is delusive. There is this pressure to go along with that current of delusions, social delusion. To step back and not know, and be willing to be comfortable with that. It is harder to get swept up in mass delusion, or the collective delusion of the people around us, or the pressure to do something besides be able to not know.
To not know can open doors. To not know can give us new perspective. To not know can be freeing of something very profound within us. As a healthy alternative to delusion, there is a possibility of not knowing.
The other healthy corollary, a wholesome corollary to delusion, is a commitment to building our life from our lived experience in the moment. This is where we discover how to live a wise life, in a dedication to the present moment. What we can start seeing here and now is how we suffer, how we create our suffering, how we get caught, how we strain, how we get contracted, how we get resistant, how we get caught in desires, or caught in fear, any kind of caughtness, any kind of bondage.
A commitment to 'here' – finding a way to be here without believing that the way forward is through suffering. Or the way forward is to do something that brings suffering to us at the same time. For example, to be in a challenging social situation, and use hostility to clear the room to make everything kind of safe. Chase people away, maybe. Maybe it is effective for the situation, but the hostility harms ourselves. To think that what I need to do is to become wealthy, and the very pursuit of wealth is engagement in greed, that is a tremendous amount of suffering for our own hearts.
Somehow the opposite corollary to confusion and delusion is to be committed to tracking and seeing very carefully, discovering how to live a life now and here that is not built on things that are causing in the moment suffering to ourselves. And to see that as a sense of purpose. "That gives clarity." "This is important." It is not the final answer to everything, but it is the foundation. The beginning of our life is the place where we can sit, be present and know, "Now I'm contributing suffering to my life. Now I'm not." And to be committed to that in a strong and powerful way.
I was just thinking this morning about when I was 14. I met a 14 year old woman that I was attracted to. All I knew was her first name, and the street that she lived on. With a friend of mine, we went through the telephone book of the town – I from the front, and he from the back. We called everyone who lived on that street, and asked for her, using her first name. Somewhere, I think was halfway through, the two of us were coming to the middle of the book, we finally found her that way. I say that because of the drive, seriousness, dedication, focus on that quest to find that woman.
If you used just 1/10 of that kind of dedication to track yourself, so that you do not get swept up in confusion, delusion, needing to know, the suffering of needing to know and straining to have solutions. Dedication to staying in that place where we do not succumb to movements of mind and heart that cause us suffering here and now. That dedication and movement – letting that be where the life is built from. Everything can be built from that. A wonderful life can be built from that. It is not a life that is built on delusion, fantasy, or expectations and abstract ideas. It is a life that is built on being willing not to know about so many things. It does know about tracking, and staying close to that place where we do not contribute to our suffering.
May you not be caught in delusion and confusion. May you discover the wonderfulness of a not-knowing mind. As you go through the day today, you might see if some of your ideas, explanations, projections, might somehow have some tinge of delusion, confusion. Some tinge of, "Maybe it's not quite accurate what I'm assuming here." See if instead of assuming things you can practice not knowing, the kind of not knowing that does not ignore what is happening. The not knowing that allows you to gaze upon it, look upon it with fresh eyes. See what is actually going on, including what is going on in you. Not knowing what is out there, and not being confused by it or caught up in it, you are more likely to see "What are you doing to contribute to your suffering?" That exploration will probably save you from a lot of delusion. Thank you.