(Note: This article first appeared on my Affirmation Spot blog on January 15, 2008.)
“I question assumptions and long-held beliefs to discover new and beneficial ways to live.”
If we are to have change in the world or in our lives, we must learn to question. Questioning is difficult. The group does not like to be questioned. So much so, that in many instances the questioner is ostracized or even put to death. Jesus, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi are all examples of those who challenged the status quo and felt its wrath.
The ego is not much more forgiving. When we challenge its dominance the ego can be nearly as viscious as the group. Stress, depression, and self-destructive behavior are defense mechanisms used by the ego to maintain its control.So, questioning is scary. Nonetheless, a failure to question is an invitation to slavery, tyranny, and unhappiness. We must question so that fresh ideas can be aired and new possibilities created.
Questioning is not the same as not believing. In fact, questioning is really an empowered type of believing that takes belief to a whole new level by verifying it and testing it against reality.Today we have three very short stories. The first two illustrate the trap of failing to question. The final story offers one way to test the validity of our beliefs and assumptions and come out stronger because of it.
There is a story of a woman who was preparing a ham to be baked. Before placing it in the oven, she sliced an inch off the end of the ham.
Her daughter was watching her bake a ham for the first time. She asked, “mom, why did you cut an inch off the end of the ham before you placed it in the oven?”
“I don’t know,” replied the mother, “my mother always cut an inch off a ham before she put it in the oven.”
Curious, the mother picked up the phone and called the grandmother to ask why she cut the end off a ham before baking it.
The grandmother answered that she had no idea why she cut the end off hams before baking them. “My mother always did it,” she said.
Finally, the mother and the grandmother got the great-grandmother on the phone. The grandmother asked, “Mom, why did you cut an inch off the end of the ham before placing it in the oven?”
The great-grandmother replied, “I cut the end off the ham because my oven was too small to fit a full ham.”
We learn by watching and absorbing the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of those around us. Often we don’t even stop to question them. Two generations of this family always cut off the end of the ham. They never quetioned it. They did it because they had seen their mothers do it.
Nothing changed until the great-grandaughter finally asked, “Why?”
Blind Leading the Blind
We have generational blindness leaning on generational blindness.
The Buddha once spoke to a group of young Brahmins (priests) about their “belief” in Brahma (God). “Who among you has personally seen or spoke to Brahma,” asked The Buddha?
The Brahmins answered, “None of us has seen or spoken to Brahma.”
Buddha continued, “Well then, which of your teachers has seen or spoken to Brahma?” Again, the youths answered that none of their teachers had actually seen or spoken to Brahma.
Finally, Buddha asked, “Who in your lineage going back seven generations has seen or spoken to Brahma?” The young Brahmins admitted that no one even going back seven generations had actually seen or spoken to Brahma.
“Then,” said Buddha, “If not you, nor your teachers, nor their teachers going back seven generations has seen or spoken to Brahma, you are but the blind leading the blind.
Buddha was not attacking their beliefs. He was trying to get them to examine their beliefs and ideas and to become a fully awake and responsible human beings.
Challenge Beliefs and Put Them to the Test
During a visit to the town of the Kalamas, the Buddha was asked a crucial question.
“Reverend Gautama, many teachers enter our midst teaching that their way and their way alone is the path to salvation. They extol the virtues of their own doctrines while tearing down the doctrines of other teachers. This creates doubt in our minds about all their teachings. For how are we to know which speaks the truth and which speaks falsehood?”
Buddha replied, “Kalamas, you have doubt in circumstances where doubt is understandable. Where doubt thrives uncertainty is born.” The Buddha proposed a test against which to measure any teaching including his own.
- Do not believe something because it has been passed down and believed for many generations.
- Do not believe something merely because it is a traditional practice.
- Do not believe something because everyone believes it.
- Do not believe something because it is written in a book and has been recited over and over.
- Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning.
- Do not believe something because it fits your preconceived notions.
- Do not believe something because you trust who is saying it.
- Do not believe something only because your teacher says it is so.
“Kalamas, when you yourselves know directly something is unskillful, unwholesome, blameworthy, rejected by the wise, harmful to yourselves or others, leads to poverty or unhappiness, you should give it up.”
“One the other hand, Kalamas, when you know directly that something is skilled, wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise, and leads to well-being, prosperity, and happiness, you should accept it and practice it.”
We all need to examine the beliefs that are driving our actions in this world. When we look at the state of the world we must conclude that there is more each of us can do to make a difference. It all begins with questioning age-old beliefs. Even beliefs based in truth can become clouded by generations of unexamined hatreds, fears, and prejudices.
Every change, personal or global, begins with the courage to question.
Keep seeking, keep searching, my friends.
Ray Davis is an author, thinker, and advocate for human potential. He is the author of the Anunnaki Awakening series. Signed copies of Book 1, Revelation, are now available within the U.S. from his website, AATrilogy.com or outside the US from Amazon or by order from your local bookstore.