Articles and Opinion
IS THERE AN OBSTACLE TO CLEAR THINKING?
Jose Antonio Cangco
We like to pamper ourselves. We take vacations, go to salons, take up hobbies to unwind, and listen to soothing sounds and music to relax. These are wonderful activities.
After the Lenten season, we go back and face reality. Problems. Jarring nerves. Wits on end. Is there no end to it all, short of entering the monastery? Even the great Dr. Freud was purported to have said when he was confronted with a new problem: "Stop! Stop! This is something new to me. I am getting confused!"
We say that if we could only clean up the mess inside of us then we should be able to think more clearly. We have experienced all of the above at one point in our lives, and for some of us this has posed a challenge to move forward.
Christians believe that true faith can be found in their belief in Jesus Christ, leading to happiness. Eastern philosophy states that the quality of belief is important and that the obstacles, if any, to clear thinking should be removed first to achieve pure faith in whatever religion a man practices - be it Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. It is common sense that with no obstacles in our consciousness, we will have a clearer mind to know our faith better.
According to eastern philosophy which by the way is not religious in nature, everybody is born with a pure essence of mind which can be translated loosely in western perspective as the inherent moral goodness in man. The trouble comes not in knowing what our pure essence of mind is. It does not matter whether the seeker of truth is occidental or Asian because the process of thinking transcends all beings. But the problem really is how to navigate through the maze of information, false doctrines and teachings which are floating in and around in our consciousness causing confusion and irritation. There may be terrorist ideologies, wrong values, harmful superstitions and faulty materialism which might have been inadvertently taught to us or which we ourselves have picked up and adopted to fit our newer lifestyles.
Although there is no mention of a pure essence of mind in western philosophy, there is so much to learn from it in our part of the world in Asia. In this whirlpool in our minds of wrong values, superstitions, and harmful ideologies, there are three sets of questions: First, is there an obstacle to clear thinking, so as preventing our own minds to understand ourselves? Second, if the answer is yes, what is this obstacle? Third, how shall we recognize this obstacle and prevent it from manifesting itself?
The first question is easy to answer. Considering the fact that most mortal beings like us use only a small portion of our brains to go on around with our daily lives in our communities there is obviously an obstacle. We don't have to observe pedestrians climbing over barriers to cross the street to know the answer. If every man uses his mental faculties clearly, precisely and unselfishly, most of the problems we are encountering - poverty, terrorism, global warming and a host of other troubles starting from our own backyard to our neighbors, communities and to our country - would greatly diminish. But the geniuses and gifted persons - those who use slightly more of their brains - who should be able to help us solve monumental problems are very few, far and between.
The answer to the second question is a little more complicated and takes us back to the basics. One of the fundamental premises I have always been teaching, besides the theory that the mind is comprised of the consciousness and the subconscious, is that consciousness is significantly much smaller than the other, the repository of knowledge and information, the library of great wealth.
What happens when we are thinking? Do we just take any information that comes into mind and spew it as our penny's worth of thoughts? One of the secrets of great men is clear thinking which is knowing when a bit of information that comes into their consciousness is relevant or not.
Even great men are capable of simple thinking so here is a simple process of how we think and what goes on in our heads while we are engaged in this mental activity. When we think we use data and information. These may originate from an external stimuli such as that we are receiving through our physical senses like sight and hearing or sometimes they stem forth from a past problem or situation which we have encountered earlier. With the input from the environment, our senses or from a simple recollection of a problem, we then evaluate these with knowledge contained in our memory. These exchange and evaluation of data is thinking.
The path to clear thinking is however teeming with obstacles. Our mind is like a traveler who is waylaid on the road towards his objective because there are storms of wrong values and harmful ideas flooding his way towards clear thinking. A useless bit of memory or an impertinent kind of information is therefore the obstacle to clear thinking.
The answer to the third question is a bit more advanced but not complicated enough to prevent the average Juans and Marias from understanding and knowing its value. Like the sages of old, exactly how do we know when a bit of information that barged into our consciousness is useless and not relevant for us?
As an example, Filipino children have been brought up believing in the western tradition of Santa Claus, which is not entirely bad because it opens their young minds that there exists different cultures and institutions because having a closed mind is worse than ignorance. Before they reach Grade I, children ought to have already outgrown their belief in the existence of the Jolly Old Man. While mature people do not believe in him anymore except as an entertaining tradition for kids during Christmas, entertaining Saint Nick, a.k.a. Santa Claus, as absolute truth has its dubious consequences.
The previous example is very simple and childlike but extending it likewise to false doctrines and destructive ideologies as in those believed by proponents of terrorism also holds true. For us ordinary mortals to be on the safe side, any questionable ideologies and harmful doctrines which we may have and even presently are tenaciously clinging to, should be examined and evaluated in our pure essence of mind. The two tests to be considered are if these are true for all situations and if these are beneficial for other people without any selfish thought or reward for ourselves.
In other words, the problem to our achieving a clear mind set occurs, like in geek speak, during data transfer. While data, information and knowledge are being passed from memory to our consciousness and vice versa, some false and useless bits of information obstruct the process. They hit, bump, and push away the information which we really need. Recognizing, isolating, and preventing these oppressive bits of information from cropping into our consciousness and disrupt our attempts to clear thinking is what 5,000 years of eastern wisdom is all about.
It would not do justice to compress this knowledge in some paragraphs like in here but my unsolicited advice, in laymen's terms, is to keep an open mind. Do not follow anything blindly. If it is true it will be accepted by your whole being, if it is false it will stand out like a sore thumb. By using the eastern philosophical belief of the existence of a pure essence of mind or in western thought as the inherent moral goodness in man to evaluate our personal undertakings and journeys in life, we will know the harmful ideologies present in ourselves.
To conclude, let us not be afraid of eastern philosophy. It respects all kinds of faith, and even teaches us how to achieve a clear state of mind for us to navigate our way towards pure faith.