We’ve been considering some of the challenges involved with understanding the workings of our own minds. A recent interview with Bhikkhu Anālayo in the Insight Journal illuminated a particular facet of this inquiry, so I share it here:
Insight Journal: How does the craving that arises in dependence on vedanā [hedonic feeling] lead to the view-forming process? And how can that process be worked with or transcended?
Bhikkhu Anālayo: Psychologists call it the Myside Bias, which means that I always assume that my views are correct and others’ are wrong. Any information that comes in I manipulate in such a way that it confirms that my views are right and the views of others are wrong. The underlying cause for this is the hedonic investment I have in my own views – the pleasant feeling they give me – the pleasure of feeling that I got it right, and it’s the others who got it wrong. There is something psychologists call Cognitive Dissonance, which we all try very hard to avoid. This means that if I say something is so and you agree, I experience pleasant feelings. If you disagree, unpleasant feelings. If you bring up evidence against what I have said, very unpleasant, very painful feelings.
When we really work with feelings, we learn to hold views without clinging to them.
The full interview is here: https://www.bcbsdharma.org/article/vedana-part-2-addressing-views-and-clinging-at-the-source/
If we take a step back, we will remember that our own views come from our experience, from the assumptions we grew up with (good and bad), and all the things that have happened since, AND that others’ experience is different from ours – therefore, their views and opinions are likely to be different from ours. This is not a problem unless we make it one, it’s just a fact. Remembering this can make the difference between a mindfulness that is narrow and rigid and one that is open and receptive.
Further down in the interview, Bhikkhu Anālayo says: In Buddhist thought we have this beautiful tetralemma. In Western philosophy, everything is black and white – either something is true or else it is false. But according to the tetralemma, something can be true, can also be false, can be neither true nor false, or can be both. And that opens up an alternative to this kind of fundamentalist black and white worldview.
It is important not to assume that having any sort of view is bad. We do and will have strong views on some things; it’s simply our nature. But regardless of the strength of our opinions, we can be more or less attached to them; we can identify with them to a greater or lesser degree. Training ourselves to see clearly takes time! We don’t just notice how views create problems and give them up; we have to consciously tune in to the hedonic flavor or color of our experience when views arise. We need to keep track of this feeling of being affirmed or threatened. How intense is our need to be agreed with, to have our opinions acknowledged and not criticized?