Posted inOther Teachings

Collective Bubbles of Delusion, by David R Loy, Part 1 of 2

June 27, 2016

We are good at finding reasons to justify what we believe, but it is much more difficult to examine critically and sincerely our deepest beliefs.


What makes human beings unique is also our Achilles heel – the defect that may yet destroy our species, along with most others.

Like other animals, we have instincts, but, thanks to our large neo-cortex, we can gain some degree of freedom from them by choosing how to respond to them. This is something that must be learned. We are born helpless and incomplete. During our extraordinarily long childhood – when the neo-cortex is developing – we are dependent upon, and vulnerable to, the conditioning controlled by caregivers.

So the downside of our relative freedom from instinct is our susceptibility to ways of thinking and acting inculcated by others. Much of that training process occurs before we have the conscious awareness to understand what is happening, much less any ability to evaluate it for ourselves. A common consequence is lifelong subordination to authority figures of one sort or another.

The sense of self develops in relation to other selves: we internalize our caregivers’ and siblings’ understanding of what the world is, and our role within it. And the conditioning does not end when we become adults. Since our egos are inherently insecure, in need of constant reinforcement, we remain very concerned about what other people think and especially sensitive to what they think about us.

Why do we usually believe something, such as a particular political ideology? Not because that belief-system is based on evidence. It’s no coincidence that children normally have political opinions very similar to their parents’. We learn to believe something because it is believed by others whom we respect/identify with/want to be like/want to be liked by.

We are good at finding reasons to justify what we believe, but it is much more difficult to examine critically and sincerely our deepest beliefs.

In fact, we are not usually aware that they are beliefs: they are not just true, they are reality. We do not normally distinguish the stories we hold about the world from the world itself.

The Buddha was aware of this problem, and emphasized the importance of not being attached to views. He applied this to his own teachings, which he described as a raft that can help us to get across the river of samsara (this world of suffering, craving and delusion) to the “other shore” of enlightenment. He warns us not to think “this is a great raft, I’ll carry it with me everywhere.” Let it go!

Click to read Part 2.

Originally published as Collective Bubbles of Delusion in ECOBUDDHISM, 2013. Written by David Loy, professor, author & Zen teacher in the Sanbo Zen lineage.

Image: The underwater dilemma, by torbakhopper, CC BY-ND 2.0, from Featured Image: Tiny bubbles, by frankieleon, CC by 2.o, from

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