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Experience As Choice
We believe that there are things in the world, but things are nothing more than beliefs about things in the world—not truths about things. In a lecture of his, Alan Watts argues that the existence of things is rooted in thinking. He notes that “in various languages this comes out. In German, ‘ding,’ thing, and ‘denken,’ to think. In Latin, ‘re,’ thing, ‘reor,’ to think” (Watts, 1961) Without mentally dividing up the world, there would be only continuity. Only by arbitration do things arise. In the real, physical world, there is nothing to say about where one thing ends and another begins, and there is no one to say it. As Watts says, “A thing is a think. It’s almost the same word. It’s a unit of thought in the same way that an inch is a unit of linear measure, or a pound a unit of weight.” At first one may be baffled to hear this; think this claim obviously false. One may question, “If there aren’t things, what am I, or a telephone? Surely we can identify these as things.” It is true that the person and the telephone exist. The problem is not of their existence in the physical world, but of their separation from their surroundings; from the rest of the world. And as language exits of thinking, it is thinking that causes us to view the telephone and person as independent entities. The Buddha states, “When the mind is disturbed, the multiplicity of things is produced, but when the mind is quieted, the multiplicity of things disappears” (Carpa, 24) The surroundings of a thing are what define the thing, and thus are connected to the thing as a requisite part of it. Thinking of the telephone and person as entities helps us to function; however, we become attached to the idea of things inherently, without our definitions, having the property of being separate from the world. A problem with this, as Watts points out, is that we think things can exist without other things existing; if one thing utterly ceased to exist, such as the moon, another thing, such as a person on Earth, could continue on existing. The person needs the moon in order to remain that person, as without the moon being part of the person’s reality, the person would necessarily be different. If things are truly separate, they have no way to affect one another. If an object’s existence has no effect on a being’s experience, then there is nothing the being can say about whether or not the object exists.
While we can function while holding on to our assumptions and acceptances, we will find that what we assume to be true has no concrete truth whatsoever if we take a logical approach to investigating our assumptions. For having certain experiences, we adopt beliefs on reason. For example, before learning about deciduous trees, a child may assume the belief that trees without leaves are dead, cannot be brought back to life, and will fall and decompose within a matter of years. This belief about all trees arises in the child because the child has repeatedly seen trees lose their leaves and fall. What the child doesn’t realize is that he has imposed the rule that explains the behaviors of trees in past times and places on all figures that resemble those initial trees. Thus, his mental construct, or rule, will cause him to incorrectly predict what happens to a dormant deciduous tree, and he will be left bewildered, as if reality has been changed, when in truth only his rule was exposed to be limited to describing a single experience that he had. It is a function of survival to take truths on faith; to make unbreakable rules about reality. However, adopting a rule means excluding the possibility of something breaking this rule from happening; and as the only way that we can say that something is impossible is by saying that it doesn’t accord with our rule, rules are circular and do not assure us of what will happen, as change is always possible. While we may argue that there are concrete universal rules that can’t be broken, one cannot argue against those rules existing simply because the acknowledgement of the rules causes the rules to be true. No matter how logically irrefutable rules may be to us, logic exists of the mind, and therefore so do the rules. In a conversation with the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda illustrates the issue of knowing what is real beyond perception and reason:
Castaneda: “I really felt I had lost my body, don Juan.”
Don Juan: “You did.”
Castaneda: “You mean, I really didn’t have a body?”
Don Juan: “What do you think yourself?”
Castaneda: “Well I don’t know. All I can tell you is what I felt.
Don Juan: “That is all there is in reality— what you felt.”
While it may seem to us that this physical reality is concrete and unchangeable, it may be argued that the only reason we feel this way about our reality is because we have not ventured further into logic and proving its existence.
In the same way that things and rules exist of the mind and cannot be said to be concrete or intrinsically real, importance is merely an illusion, and good is no more an opinion. We think that things make us happy or satisfied because they intrinsically are good and promote happiness; they cause satisfaction in us. However, there is nothing to say that it isn’t our happiness that makes things good. The same goes with importance. As don Juan explains, “there is no way for me to say that my acts are more important than yours, or that one thing is more essential than another, therefore all things are equal and by being equal they are unimportant” (Castaneda, 82). In truth we cannot say whether something is better than another, because we can only say that we feel or believe that something is better than another. The only knowledge is that of belief.
Ultimately, characteristics of things are chosen. Beyond experience, nothing is inherently better than anything else; things just are. If we say that medicine is better than bullets. One may assume the counterargument that it is obvious, or reasonable, that medicine is better than bullets; as humans who derive all happiness on the foundation of living, it is self-evident that living is a good thing. However, this argument does not counter, but in fact supports the concept that things are only good because we believe them to be good, and no more. Don Juan comments on the subjective nature of good and importance:
“Your acts, as well as the acts of your fellow men in general, appear to be important to you because you have learned to think they are important…. We learn to think about everything, and then we train our eyes to look as we think about the things we look at. We look at ourselves already thinking that we are important. And therefore we’ve got to feel important! But then when a man learns to see, he realizes that he can no longer think about what he looks at, and if he cannot think about what he looks at everything becomes unimportant” (Castaneda 81).
While some argue that medicine and healing are truly good, they state that they are only good from the human’s point of view; therefore, they have no intrinsic goodness. By arguing that they are good and being a human, the supposed counter argument is necessarily supporting the argument that things are only good subjectively. It is thinking that makes something important or good. We don’t realize that the only reason that we believe that things are inherently good is because we are constantly believing that we know that these things are inherently good. We don’t question because we are correct. But the person that believes that healing is bad inherently, beyond the opinion, is also correct: There is nothing one can say about whether he is right or wrong for his logic, as he would only be wrong for the accuser’s logic. So if good and evil exist nowhere beyond the mind, the opinion, what are good and evil? For don Juan, “we may laugh, or cry, or rejoice, or be sad or be happy. I personally don’t like to be sad, so whenever I witness something that would ordinarily make me sad, I simply shift my eyes and see it instead of looking at it” (Castaneda 83). The world is empty: things just happen.
Whether something makes us sad or happy is our choice— we allow the world to affect us as we choose. Supporting this, we can say that stubbornly disbelieving that disbelieving is not our choice is our choice, as in reality there are no grounds to which, in order to make it valid, we can relate the claim that disbelieving that disbelief is a choice is not a choice: One cannot refute the statement that disbelief is a choice. In this way, if a person believes that life is good and death bad, then he or she is right. If a person believes that death is good and life bad, then he or she is right. The only thing that matters is which reality makes one feel best.