Dharma Talk on Wanting to Believe
Good Morning everyone,
Today I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about a recent youtube video that seems to have taken people by storm. That video is called Plandemic. I will admit that i have watched it and I have very strong opinions about it. Negative opinions. Be that as it may, i didn’t take it seriously… at first. Over the last few weeks, it seems to keep creeping up in places I would not have suspected. Friends, coworkers, nurses, people I know and respect seem to quote it or reference it as fact or “something to think about”…
This worries me… a lot. And this is not the only video of this type out there. It seems that conspiracy theories are cropping up at an alarming rate and people seem all to willing to champion them as “facts” or “truths” and repeat or repost them without thought of ramification or consequence.
In researching this phenomenon, I came across an article published by Propublica by Marshall Allen. In it he discusses Plandemic, but also provides a checklist he considers when covering stories as an investigative journalist. I found this checklist to be a valuable tool for Buddhists when we consider how we interact with the world and ourselves. I would like to put Plandemic and other conspiracy theories aside and go over each point on the checklist briefly and discuss its application in Buddhism.
To set the stage, I believe one of the lessons of Buddhism is that we tell ourselves stories about the past and future and then cling to those stories as if they were true. We want to believe the narratives we have created and this is a part of what causes us to suffer and keeps us from experiencing life as it unfolds. We cling to our narratives and often blind ourselves to opportunities to cut through to what actually is. This checklist may be a way to help ourselves break down the narratives we cling to and possibly form something more grounded in reality.
The salient points of the checklist are:
Is the presentation or story one-sided?
Is there an independent Pursuit of the Truth?
Is there a Careful Adherence to the Facts?
Are those Accused Allowed to Respond?
Does the work Claim some Secret Knowledge?
To illustrate how these could be applied, I think it is easiest to take an example when someone has hurt, annoyed, or slighted us. When it begins, we often feel a negative emotion and then begin a narrative. We then ascribe intentions and personality traits to the other that are consistent with the story we want to tell. By the end, we have a story that explains what we felt, why we felt it, how we feel now, and whose responsible for those feelings. This story then becomes our reality and we begin to act as if the story we have created is true and our emotions are justified.
There are problems with our narratives and the checklist can help us examine it to see why they are problematic. First, our story is clearly one sided. We created it almost entirely from scratch based on only our own input. Our own biases, history, misconceptions, and assumptions have worked their way in whether we are willing to acknowledge them or not.
Second, because the stories we tell ourselves are so real to us, it is very easy to commit a sin of omission, namely that relevant facts that don’t confirm our narrative are left out. Our stories are not necessarily concerned with getting at the truth, rather they are meant to assuage, justify, or explain our feelings. To be clear, I am saying that the story we tell ourselves is often more important to us than actual reality.
Further, the stories we tell ourselves, especially the ones we really cling to, rarely let the others speak for themselves. Think about the way the other’s in your stories tend to be reduced to pronouns. They did this, he/she did that, etc. Not often do we tell stories that use the actual names of those involved. Why is that? I suspect it is because it is easier to play the story telling game when we minimize the other… taking away their name is a subconscious way of doing just that.
Finally, lets talk about Secret Knowledge. I mentioned earlier, that in telling stories, we experience an event/feeling, we and ascribe intentions and personality traits consisted with the narrative we want to tell. Our story proposes that we know an awful lot more about another, hell even ourselves, than we actually can know. Our stories mistake “knowing” someone for actually understanding who they are and why they do the things they do.
And what about ourselves? Are you confident enough in your own self knowledge and understanding to be sure you know why you do the things you do or react the way you do?
So, if we take this checklist and apply it to the narratives we create, I think something becomes clear: The stories are one-sided, are primarily unconcerned with fact or truth, minimize the other, and assume an awful lot more than can actually be known. In essence, the stories we tell ourselves are essentially false as soon as we begin to create them.
So what though? Why does it matter? It matters because they separate us from reality and rob us of our opportunity to actually experience and participate in our lives as they unfold. We invariably cling to our created narrative and use them to create ever more elaborate narratives that also aren’t real. We then clutch at them because we would rather they be real than actual reality. I believe this is what the Buddha referred to when he said that we are asleep. Our narratives are like dreams that we have mistaken for reality.
And this is why we practice on being in the present. On realizing when we are telling ourselves stories. On realizing when we are reducing the other to make ourselves feel better. On realizing the humanity of others. On realizing when our thoughts and beliefs are not grounded in truth or reality. On realizing when we think we know much more than we actually do.
While i cannot lend any validity to Plandemic, i can say i understand why people would believe it. Its a narrative that justifies the way some people feel (or at least want to feel). We all do this. But we are also all responsible to apply this sort of checklist to make sure that we are not clinging to a narrative over and against reality. That path only leads to suffering.