How easily does belief cause suffering?
by Vic Shayne
The Self is a Belief: the idea that causes suffering
Of all beliefs, the belief that we are individuals is the greatest and one that causes suffering. All other beliefs stem from this belief. The actual world, or existence, is one of a continuous and indivisible flow that we call consciousness. All is contained within this: it is the totality of all that is. As existence, this is what we are, and yet we remain ignorant of this fact because of the strong belief that we are individual people that are somehow separate from the organism of consciousness. We identify with the body and all of its affiliations instead of identifying with the wholeness of consciousness.
Beliefs are temporal
Belief changes. While you may have a belief all your life, from childhood until death, the belief is nonetheless temporary in the larger scheme of things. You may form or adopt a belief and carry it with you until your last breath. But what happens to the belief when you die? It dies with the body, no longer affecting or infecting you or anyone who remains behind. But when you are alive, your beliefs have the potential to cause untold suffering for yourself and for others, including the planet and all of its inhabitants.
The offended egoic self
Quite often, saying that a belief is not the same as knowledge is an affront to the egoic sense of self. This is true as much with materialist scientists as with extreme religionists. Both have strong beliefs that color their actions and statements.
To believe is to not know. If you knew something with certainty then there would be no need for a belief. If you believe there is a God then you do not know for certain whether there is; you are just accepting an idea that you have heard from someone else. On the other hand, if you believe there is no such thing as God, then you are also engaged in a belief; and this is a belief without any foundation other than the mind’s limited ability to try to apply logic to an intangible idea.
The origins of belief
Beliefs are caused when the mind lands upon an idea and holds it to be true without any firsthand evidence. It may be argued that without belief the world would be in chaos. But this is a silly argument, because with a world full of believers, as we now have and have always had, we can look around and realize that chaos is our normal state. Believers don’t necessarily make this world a better place, especially when believers are so self-righteous that no one but them has a right to his/her point of view. Believers start wars, murder millions of people, create mass starvation, and manifest inequality, and they find a good justification to do so — all in the name of the egoic self.
All beliefs are not bad, of course. A belief that people are good at heart, that the world is a beautiful place, that you can help others, and that you can invent something that will uplift humanity are positive beliefs. Beliefs can help motivate us to find solutions for problems of all sorts. But what about beliefs that cause suffering?
Siddhartha searches the self for the source of suffering
One of the world’s greatest icons is the one known as the Buddha. If you aren’t familiar with this story, it is perhaps the greatest myth of all times in its universal impact and ability to transform one from belief to realization.
When speaking of the Buddha story as a “myth,” I mean it is a story with a message that turns people inward to take a good look at their own sense of being beyond the egoic sense of self. The Buddha story is one in which the protagonist, Siddhartha Gautama, discovers that there is a world of suffering that seems to be ceaseless and ageless. This suffering haunts his every waking and sleeping moment. And, apropos to our premise, Siddhartha believes that he can find the root of it, which is a belief that drives him toward eventual success.
Siddhartha sets out to find the source not only of his own suffering, but the suffering of all others, and he strives to put an end to it. Eventually, after practicing meditation, filling his mind with Vedic teachings, living a life of austerities, and deeply exploring the nature of thought, a light goes on and Siddhartha finds that the middle way between pain and pleasure is the one place where suffering cannot exist. At long last, he emerges from a life of self-enquiry and is reborn as the Buddha — the awakened one.
The central theme of the Buddha story is that life is suffering and that human beings may find a way not to suffer. This “way” involves an enquiry into the sense of self and not into other people and their practices, nor into the world of phenomena, action, and manifestation.
Suffering is the inheritance of the conditioned human mind. It is caused by the belief that you are a person in a body who is attached to, and identified with, possessions, ideas, memories, relatives, relationships, titles, accomplishments, losses and gains, abilities, talents, and on and on. But are you really merely a composition of these things? Such things come and go, and they change. Their impermanence is a clue that they are not the you who persists as they come and go.
We may call the one who suffers the egoic self, which is a belief of who you are that is based on tightly held thoughts borne of psychological conditioning from parents, authority figures, culture, religion, secondhand knowledge, and so on. All of these thoughts form the ultimate belief, which is a sense of self, called the egoic self. Its other names are “I,” “me,” the persona, the center, the mask, and so on. Certainly, before any of these ideas and teachings came along, you nevertheless already existed. But after you latched onto these ideas you took them to be an inseparable part of you. If you were to let go of all of these attachments you would continue to exist, proving that they are not really you, and that you are not really them.
You cause your suffering
The belief that you are an individual person with all your associations causes suffering. This happens because you don’t realize that you are really that which is behind, or prior to, all movement, ideas, thoughts, memories, and knowledge. You are actually potential and not a “thing” or a person. You are a capacity for all of life. But because you believe that you are a person, you also believe that you require certain things to be happy and whole. This belief infringes on all others in the world of your creation.
The wonderful Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard explained, “Suffering is the result of ignorance, so it’s ignorance that has to be dissipated. And ignorance, in essence, is belief in a truly existing self and in the solidity of phenomena.” (p14, The Monk and the Philosopher)
Your primal desire is the seed of suffering, because there is no way that acquiring or obtaining anything — including enlightenment —will make you happy. The mind likes to play a game of chasing dreams, having hopes, and standing by strong beliefs. However, the mind is a deluded and incapable instrument fo the ultimate truth, because it is unable to realize the wholeness that is consciousness. So it keeps chasing its tail and trying to experience pleasure and avoid pain. Belief keeps this cycle in motion. If you want to realize the wholeness that is consciousness, you have to relinquish the belief that keeps you in a state of inertia — a state that is at the very foundation of suffering.
The world is a scary place only because you have created it out of belief. Let it go, and with it will go the fear that you are alone.