Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > The Dignity of Freely Thinking


Thinking with the way

The Union of Intelligence & Compassion

Jul 26, 2018


I do this real moron thing, and it's called thinking. And apparently I'm not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.
*George Carlin
I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realizing happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven's name, why is it so important to think the same things all together.
*Jean-Paul Sartre. Nausea.
When people are alone, they’re not so bad. However, when a group forms, paralysis occurs; people become totally foolish and cannot distinguish good from bad. Their minds are numbed by the group. Because of their desire to belong and even to lose themselves, some pay membership fees. Others work on advertising to attract people and intoxicate them for some political, spiritual, or commercial purpose. I keep some distance from society, not to escape it but to avoid this kind of paralysis. To practice zazen is to become free of this group stupidity.
*Kodo Sawaki, in Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo.

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The person who cannot bear his or her own solitude, will not know the joy of thinking. Thinking demands a measure of solitude, indeed all original thought, and all true thinking is original, arises from solitude. This may be a reason few persons think, for few are willing to embrace aloneness.

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Possibly, the most courageous act you will ever engage is to think. Indeed, I question how one can truly love well, apart from truly thinking well. Likewise, you would find that to think requires as much intensity and attention as anything else you would ever do. I am not speaking of mastering facts, almost anyone can do that. One can get a university degree, and never engage in thinking, only in the thoughtlessness of mere information collection, memorization, and giving back. Then, one becomes an efficient, information robot, programmed very well. Then, he or she can fit in and function well with the group, among others who do not think but manage, that is, arranging, rearranging, and applying ideas expertly.

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Roger was one of those rare college students who studied to learn, not get a degree to get a job. Later, this same year, I was given the honor to provide the recommendation for student of the year in our Department of Religion and Philosophy, and Roger was awarded the honor.

Roger, this day, came into my office. He wished to talk. I invited him to take a seat, turned, looked at him. His story began. He had returned home over the weekend. He attended the church he was member of, a Protestant congregation. The adult Sunday School teacher stopped his sharing, and he asked did anyone other wish to make a comment on the lesson. Roger wished to give a thought. He did. The teacher informed Roger his comment was unwelcome. Roger had voiced a thought not acceptable to the mindset of the denomination, so thought the teacher, and likely the congregation as a whole.

See, Roger was a thinker, not merely a repeater. Roger was a truth seeker, not a dogma devotee.

What came next, Roger sitting before me, is a sad commentary of the impact dogmatism of any kind can have on sincere devotees of truth. Roger said, "I will never again express my opinion in a church."

I affirmed Roger, but did not counter his conclusion. I could identify with Roger's conclusion, and could only agree that such was wise, if that was his wish.

* * *

I, too, had suffered much the like resistance for many years, including at the conservative Baptist college where we were sitting together in my office, in the mid-1990s, in Georgia USA. I even had a 'Christian' student tell me bluntly, "You're going to hell!" Another student, after I taught that one way to view the Garden of Eden story, in Genesis in the Christian Bible, is to read it as story, not history, had a crying fit. I gave reasonable support for this conclusion, but never claimed any one position the correct. Later, another student informed me the girl in my class was so upset by this, she went to her dorm room, laid herself out on the bed, and began crying. I am confidant she notified her parents, as other parents were informed of my teachings, then pastors, then the school got calls from clergypersons requesting my dismissal. The school did not fire me, but I was subtly pushed out, pressured into resignation, and in a manner everyone could appear to have clean hands ~ so goes the way of politics.

I taught the importance of questioning our assumptions, asking questions, not just agreeing with others, and acknowledging different potentially legitimate ways to view subjects, and all within the Christian context as a whole were the teachings. I believed the main purpose of higher education is to foster thinking persons, not just agreeing persons or hand out diplomas.

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Do we not forfeit the designation human, when we forfeit the dignity of thinking freely? We speak of freethinking or freethinkers, yet, is not thinking always free? If a group, however small are large, taboos freedom of thought, is that not the majority seeking control over the minority? And, is it not godless for so-called godly persons to discourage the dignity of free thought in the name of God? ~ as though the Good Shepherd is honored to be followed by a flock of thoughtless, gullible sheep.

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So, we link human dignity with the capacity to think freely, to think independently. Such thought is a profound, beautiful act of humbleness.

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Yet, it seems most persons see an illusory security in thinking-like, or what Kodo Sawaki referred to as "group stupidity," rather than thinking, and thinking-like is merely thinking-alike, not thinking at all. As stated by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, in the aforementioned The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, "Today people live relying on groups and organizations, drifting along in them like floating weeds without roots."

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As to spirituality and thinking, this is as much or more important than other areas of life. Our faith or spirituality is be intelligent. That we transcend thought, let go of thought, or do not cling to thought is seen, not in opposition to thinking, but as a statement on our relationship with thinking. Even if I am an efficient, wise thinker, I can thoughtlessly cling to my thinking and its thoughts. In our wisdom path, we walk with the path to grow in compassion, and compassion entails intelligence, maybe not being book-smart ~ this may not be true for some of us ~, but thoughtful, learned insight. Without this, we go along blindly, carried along by the opinions of others or by our emotions, likely both. So, we engage our spiritual practice to be wisely and intelligently caring for others and ourselves. If we do not think, and passionately, even if calmly, we forfeit the dignity of our path, and betray our own selves. We commit an act of defiance against life who gives us this gift and responsibility to engage mind to create together a more wise, caring society and world.

Yet, is any among us free of being thoughtless? innocent of not-thinking? ~ I would be skeptical of anyone who would claim to think and act with integrity always. ~ So, possibly not. I would not claim to be free of this, innocent of it. Thinking is not something that we can rely on to be consistent by its nature. Rather, thinking is again and again and again, and we may think in one area, and not in another. We may be stupid in ways we do not even see, such is the human condition. Yet, let us aim to be clear thinkers, with interest, intensity, and gratitude, seeking to learn each day, to grow in compassion all along the way. Possibly, at lest for this writer, a fitting prayer might be, "O Lord, help me be less stupid day-by-day." Or, "Our Lord, I pray for courage to think this day." Thank You!


*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at 77ahavah77@gmail.com .

*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.

*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.

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