Year of Discovery (Week 26: Fundamentalism and Enlightenment)
This last week continued to be a week of immense discovery. I wrapped up my time in Paris, explored new ideas in Amsterdam with new and old friends, and headed to Uganda to settle in for the next while.
This week, I thought a lot about the connection between our inner world and our outer world, and I journaled: ‘The hotter the world becomes, the colder it becomes too. The extreme temperatures that we see outside symbolize the extreme temperatures we experience inside each of us. The more we cultivate and practice building true inner peace, the more equanimity we are able to establish in ourselves and in the world.’ I’m becoming more curious about how much of the work towards lasting peace and a happier, healthier world is external versus internal.
Today, I’m sharing reflections on fundamentalism and enlightenment.
I listened to an episode of the podcast Capitalisn’t where hosts Luigi Zingales and Bethany McLean interviewed Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and professor Gary Saul Morson about their new book, Minds Wide Shut. The conversation centered around fundamentalism, defined as rigid adherence to ideological thinking which alters politics, economics, religion, and literature — and how it’s the greatest threat to democracy.
The trends they spoke about mirrored some conversations I’ve been having during my year of discovery:
- The importance of cultivating an open mindset (like Galileo who posited that things might not be what we perceive them to be) vs a consciousness that ascribes to: ‘this is how the world works and it’s fixed’.
- The rise of atheism correlated with the rise of a search for certainty, community and ideology elsewhere (even if more extreme). In a place of fear, we double down on searching for certainty, even in places certainty doesn’t exist.
- The danger of: “We believe in science” over “We believe in the scientific mindset”, which makes science a ‘fact’ rather than an evolving discovery that allows room for error and experimentation.
What can we do about rising fundamentalism? Shapiro and Morson say we can inspire people to debate in safe spaces rather than proliferate the current status quo: shame in isolation or social pressure to scare and intimidate people.
In my personal experience, I witnessed conversations last and this year during the Congress storming, Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, cancel culture and COVID regulations with a lot of surprise and sadness. The perspectives of the various issues were painted in black and white, rather than a deepening of a colorful discussion that revolved around compassion for the sharer and the listener. Different sides had the opportunity to learn and build greater understanding and empathy and contemplate the true nature of the suffering of humanity. Instead, many people operated and spoke from the fears of being misunderstood or taken advantage of or not being enough, which deepened our fundamentalist beliefs and didn’t allow space for discovery of anothers’ experience.
When we argue simply at the ideological level (because we are afraid) without building a strong foundation of empathy and trust at the human level, we will not be able to have productive conversations and move the world forward in an inclusive and equitable way. When Professors Shapiro and Morson talked about safe spaces in their podcast, they talked about having a small circle of friends and close confidants that one can share their biggest assumptions and beliefs and be open to being challenged. But how do we ensure that circle is representative of the diverse world we live in? How do we ensure that the circle is wide enough in its members’ experience and upbringing that truly challenges our core beliefs and allows us to ask the hard questions while learning about the experience of someone else?
In many books and podcasts I’m listening to now, there does seem to be a growing convergence among economists, philosophers, scientists, engineers and others around what we can do to stop an increasingly divided, fearful and close-minded world. What will it take in each of us to break down our internal barriers, overcome our fears and be brave to ask and answer the hard questions? Breaking open each of our rigid mindsets and beliefs is the first step towards creating a more connected and kind world.
As I deepen my spiritual practice, I sense that the more I learn, the less I know. Buddhist wisdom appears relatively simple but is incredibly deep upon contemplation and introspection. The wisdom will be something I continue to try to understand, experience and internalize for the rest of my life. For me, the wisdom breaks down and sorts out our root and primal beliefs, which monks would say is the true meaning of our lives.
The dharma talk this week was on enlightenment and the pathway to enlightenment.
“Our own life is our own subjective experience…Enlightenment is simply having the mind of clear light (in the very subtle mind) mixed simply with a mind of emptiness, (cultivated through direct experience in the ultimate truth of everything). This experience is free from all mistaken appearances —or the idea that things are separate from our mind. In our meditation mind, we can gain awareness to the very subtle mind which concentrates on the ultimate truth.” — Monk Kelsang Sangkyong
This was a note I had taken during the talk and that I had to re-read many times. The feeling of simplicity that Monk Kelsang Sangkyong conveyed through his words as he shared the wisdom from his contemplation inspired me. It was clear that his daily training and reflection enabled him to share the wisdom and the ultimate truth in a way that wasn’t forceful and was grounded in deep logic, rationale and lived experience.
He shared that the real source of happiness is inner peace, not external goods or negative emotions — like anger — that disturbs our inner peace. He shared how it’s futile to hand over our happiness to inanimate objects — the car, money, house, status — because the objects don’t have the intention to generate positivity in our hearts. External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful in the first place.
Anger, on the other hand, destroys our inner peace. Ironically, because we believe that our happiness should not be tainted and should be increased, protected or cared for, we think anger will protect our happiness. In reality, anger destroys our happiness.
So what can we do to cultivate an enlightened mind and one wired towards more peace? The monk said that we need to learn to be our own psychologist and help our mind from within. Our mind cannot do what we want it to do otherwise, so we need to work underneath and inside of our mind and help it from within. The bad mental habits that we have contribute to bad karma — which also shows up in anxiety, etc — and learning to re-train our minds to form healthier habits that become the default is the goal towards a more peaceful mind.
Questions to reflect on:
- What part of your lived and daily experience contributes to an enlightened mind?
- How do you use meditation or other meditative practices to build a more peaceful mind?
- What is the role of anger in your life? Does it really protect your happiness?
What I’m listening to this week: The Smoke and Mirrors of ESG Investing