Reflections on The Path – Part 14

— The Second Couplet
— If you Believe
— Knowing and Believing
— Beliefs and their roots
— Belief and the varieties of Faith
— Faith from first to last
— Fucking Beliefs
— How Can You Ever Know?

The second couplet in the Path begins with this sentence (emphasis added): If you believe that your life does not end with death, you must bring into agreement what you think with what you feel and what you do. The first part of that sentence addresses someone whose beliefs point in a particular direction. I’ve already shared some thoughts about our beliefs in relation to death and continuity. I’d like to take another run at that from a slightly different angle. 

The Ceremony of Death is an experience carried out with the living, as opposed to the Ceremony of Assistance which is for the one who is dying. It seems very interesting to me — and very uncharacteristic of the formalities that generally surround interments, cremations, funerary rites and memorials of all kinds, in that this one (The Ceremony of Death) is focused on the question of beliefs, and specifically our beliefs about death. The ceremony broadly addresses two positions demarcated by their ways of looking at what it calls, “a life separate from the body”. But it also indicates a convergence between these apparently irreconcilable visions. It says: 

May those of you who do not feel the presence here of another life, separate from the body, consider that although death has paralyzed this body, the actions he/she carried out will continue to act, and their influence will never end. This chain of actions that was set in motion in life cannot be stopped by death. How profound it is to meditate on this truth, even though we may not completely comprehend the transformation of one action into another! 

And may those of you who do feel the presence of a separate life consider that death has only paralyzed this body, that the mind has once again triumphantly freed itself, opening its way toward the Light…

It goes even further regarding the attitude to death, life, and our beliefs when in a truly surprising leap of “level” it addresses us with this advice:

Whatever our views, let us not weep for this body. Rather, let us meditate on the root of our beliefs, and a gentle and silent joy will come to us… 

What an astonishing way to conclude such a ceremony. In the context of the expectations one might have as to what is appropriate for these kinds of occasions, this seems to me to take a shocking turn. Silo, who, as we have seen, so often emphasizes the importance of the beliefs about these themes, now seems to imply that (at least in some ways) these beliefs are perhaps not so different from each other and that what is more important is to dig deeper into the substrata of our specific beliefs. I say ‘more important’ because discovering this source promises, unlike the beliefs themselves, to bring us joy. It is as if to say that it is in these hidden foundations that their value is to be discovered, rather than in their surface content. It puts me in mind of themes touched on in certain of the Principles of Valid Action. For example, in principle 8, Comprehended Action which says: “You Will Make Your Conflicts Disappear When You Understand Them In Their Ultimate Root, Not When You Want To Resolve Them.” Or principle eleven, The Negation of Opposites, which says: “It does not matter in what faction events have placed you what matters is for you to understand that you have not chosen any faction.” 

In the case of both those principles they clearly point us to something deeper than what we believe is happening, or even than beliefs about our own identity (as in the denial of importance of my position, opinion, or faction). They do not ask us to discard anything, but rather they invite us to comprehend things in a new way. And, like the meditation in the ceremony of death, they invite us to seek out the source of our beliefs (whatever they may be). 

It is perhaps useful to recall that this is not a matter of whether the belief is true or false. Long ago, before Plato or Socrates, the ancient thinker Xenophanes said something like this:

“…no one has the clear and certain truth, nor will anyone ever know the truth about the gods and all things. If in the best case, one happened to speak exactly about how these things really are, still they would not know it but only have guessed right — anyone can have an opinion.”

No wonder that later sceptics were so keen on him. Whatever else Xenophanes may have meant I think his comment may be the first that we know of, at least in the West, which expresses the idea that belief and knowledge aren’t different in their conclusion but in their way of grasping that conclusion. On the fourth day of the meditation described in the Inner Look, Silo also draws a distinction between knowledge and belief, rooting this difference not in their particular content but in the various levels of work of the consciousness. He has indicated a range of levels, from deepest sleep to the most lucid awareness, where each level is a particular ambit with its own characteristic forms in which it organizes experience. This is easily understood if you compare the forms of your dream life to those of your more lucid daily consciousness. 

In Chapter VI, Sleep and Awakening, he tells us (the emphasis is mine):

  1. I cannot take as real what I see in my dreams, nor what I see in semi-sleep, nor what I see when I am awake but in reverie.
  2. I can take as real what I see when I am awake and without reveries. Here I am not speaking of what my senses register, since naive and dubious “data” can arrive from my external and internal senses as well as from my memory. Rather, I am speaking of the activities of my mind as they relate to the “data” being thought. What is valid is that when my mind is awake it “knows” and when it is asleep it “believes.” Only rarely do I perceive reality in a new way, and it is then that I realize that what I normally see resembles sleep or semi-sleep.

There is a real way of being awake, and it has led me to meditate profoundly on all that has been said so far. It has, moreover, opened the door for me to discover the meaning of all that exists.

It is perhaps self-evident that our beliefs are a central factor behind, and key to understanding our actions. It’s an idea we considered earlier when Silo asked us to consider the consequences of different attitudes in front of death.  If what we believe will orient us in different ways, a belief as important as things don’t end with death will surely have consequences in what we do and how we orient our lives. Some might conclude that if this is true (death is not the end) then what follows is that you should take refuge in Jesus, sacrifice to the appropriate deities, have trust in Anubis, invest wisely, cling to the ways of your ancestors, etc. Silo suggests a different conclusion. He says the consequence of that belief is the need for internal unity, the need to bring into agreement what you think with what you feel and what you do. 

But as we have seen, having recognized the fundamental importance of the content of our beliefs, Silo indicates that they are nonetheless just surface phenomena that arise out of something deeper. You’ll find another approach to some of these same themes in this excerpt from my correspondence with my friend, Danilo.

Closely related to the question of beliefs and their consequence is that of faith. Silo clearly recognizes faith as a defining characteristic of individual and social consciousness, and he distinguishes between destructive fanatical faith, a sometimes equally dangerous naive faith, and a faith in life that opens the future and is necessary if we are to advance toward any constructive goal.

In the same work where he gives us this kind of practical taxonomy or classification of types of faith, he also looks at other ways in which the term is used. For, example he points out faith can mean a type of belief that is not based on rational argument – and you can take that on faith!  A particular case of which might be the acceptance of claims based on the authority or reputation of their source (as in the infamous and oddly named fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam). Faith is also used to indicate a degree of confidence in a claim or claims, as when someone says, you should have great faith in… well, in whatever. Most importantly for our present reflection, Silo tells us that faith is a characteristic of individual and social consciousness and the psychological state of a subject, expressed in ideas and images, that serves as motivation and orientation in practical activity (cf. Dictionary of New Humanism entry on Faith) 

The importance of a certain kind of faith is a theme to which he often returned. In his earliest public speech (The Healing of Suffering, May 4, 1969, he spoke of the importance of faith: 

There is yet another kind of suffering that does not recede even with the advance of science or with the advance of justice. This type of suffering, which belongs strictly to your mind, retreats before faith, before joy in life, before love…Only inner faith and inner meditation can end the violence in you, in others, and in the world around you. All the other doors are false and do not lead away from this violence.” 

In 1981, some twelve years later, I was privileged to be part of a group of friends accompanying him through Europe and Asia. On September 27 of that year we spoke in Madrid. After the other members of our team had given our talks, Silo spoke: 

Some time ago I was asked, “Why don’t you explain your thinking?” And so I explained. Later, others said, “You don’t have the right to explain your thinking.” So I kept silent. Twelve years passed, and once again I was asked, “Why don’t you explain your thinking?” So once more I will speak, knowing beforehand that again I will be told: “You do not have the right to explain your thinking.” 

I said nothing new on that first occasion; I’ll say nothing new today. But what was said then? I said: Without inner faith, there is fear; fear produces suffering; suffering produces violence; violence produces destruction. Therefore, inner faith prevents destruction. 

Today our friends have spoken about fear, suffering, violence, and nihilism as the principal examples of this destruction. They have also spoken about faith in oneself, in others, and in the future. They have said that we must modify the destructive course that events are taking by changing the direction of human actions. In addition, and most fundamentally, they have told us how to do all this—so I will be adding nothing new today.” 

A little more than a month later we spoke in Mumbai, India, and Silo again spoke of faith: “Everything that improves life is good; everything that opposes life is bad. That which unites people is good; that which divides them is bad. That which affirms “there is still future” is good; to say there is no future or meaning in life is bad. To give the peoples of the Earth faith in themselves is good; the fanaticism that opposes life is bad.” 

That talk concludes this way:

Because, if faith in oneself is not renewed, in the sense that one is able to contribute to progress, and if faith in the possibility of change in others is not renewed (even when those others are not without their shortcomings), then we shall stand paralyzed before the future—and the dehumanization of the Earth will surely triumph.”

So, belief and faith are key to many things but they are also the problem. In more than one conversation he referred to beliefs as, las putas creencias, the fucking beliefs. While not quite that colourful, consider what he says about beliefs at around 1:30 in this conversation: 

I’ll conclude this reflection with this little anecdote. I had been asking Negro about a powerful experience I’d recently had. I couldn’t decide if it was a purely psychological phenomena, or whether in some way it was, as it felt, truly transcendental. I expected an ambiguous or indirect response. He answered surprisingly directly. I was deeply surprised and wanted him to expand further on the subject. So, some days later I asked him again. And again, he gave the same short direct and shocking answer. I tried again 6 months or so later and he looked at me very seriously and said something like: What does it matter what I tell you? You will decide whether it is true or not according to your judgment, your beliefs. You are like someone walking with a cloud of smoke around your head. You have to wake up, clear your eyes, and see what is real. Then you’ll know.

  1. I’m not sure why, since it is different in form and intent, but that anecdote about waking up and seeing  always reminds me of the famous allegory of the Buddha’s about the man shot by an arrow (