What's Wrong With Right?

10/01/2012 01:07 pm ET | Updated Dec 01, 2012

Given President Obama's recent speech on religious freedom, I offer the following thoughts from the perspectives of Buddhism, yoga and recovery. We won't get into all of these in this short blog, but let's consider some of them. In summary, the president's views have been expressed in a recent article as:

  • Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable
  • Religious respect is a two-way street
  • Turn the other cheek
  • One nation under God
  • The danger of extremism

In 12-step programs we say, "Be quick to see where religious people are right." But to see where anyone is right, we might do a little exploration. First, we should know who to listen to in the first place. Check up on who's doing the talking. Who are they, where were they educated, what are their credentials, how do they live their lives. We should know who we're listening to so that we can decide how much credence we can give their statements. But ultimately, we must decide for ourselves what it means to be "right."

From my point of view as a Buddhist, a yogi and a 12-stepper, being right is dangerous! Let's look at it from all three angles. As a Buddhist, I try to keep a "right view." What does it mean? Mainly, it means that my views should be compassionate and non-harming. But there are so many levels where this can be applied. We have a feeling about something, then we have thoughts about that feeling, then we form opinions and from these we base our actions.

From a Buddhist point of view, everything is unreal, just like a dream. Starting from that basis, there is nothing to hold onto and no one to do the holding. Of course, it's easy to say, difficult to do. Was Buddha right? We're not asked in Buddhism to believe that the teacher was right. We're asked to investigate for ourselves. Buddha knew that belief is a tool of manipulation, so he asked us to learn to meditate or simply look within for our truths, rather than blindly follow the leader of the day. This is the most powerful way to understand what anything means, but it takes work. Another way to consider our view in Buddhism is to find a middle way. We avoid extremes. In yoga, this is considered a balance and one of the main purposes of a yoga practice.

From the point of view of yoga, there is no room to be right or reactionary. We try to practice contentment, no matter what's happening. Anyone who's taken a Core Power Yoga class at 104 degrees knows what this is about! The ancient yogis already knew that self-inquiry and meditation were the keys to happiness. In yoga we use sacred texts as guidelines for ourselves, not for others. We have no interest as yogis in controlling anyone or proving our points. One might say, "There is no 'right' in yoga." But again, different teachers in different schools have different opinions that change over time.

In 12-step recovery, the addict ego is so self-centered, so self-absorbed and so distorted that the entire notion of being "right" is in itself blasphemy! We're trained in 12-step to "turn it over" to a power greater than our addict egos. At the very least, we have a sponsor and a support group to bounce our ideas off of before acting out on them. If the guy who made the anti-Muslim film or the people who reacted used some of these tools, perhaps there would be less suffering for themselves and others.

Also, we should educate ourselves on the source material. With Google Books and other free book sources on the Internet, we can easily find free or inexpensive copies of basic texts. They might not make a lot of sense, because of the distance in time and culture between the source material and the present. But it's important to familiarize ourselves on some level with the original texts when we are considering important issues. Even if we simply meditate on a short section of an original text, we can gain some feeling about that it might mean. We let the information sink deeply into our beings. From that place we can consider the opinions of leading, respected teachers on the subjects. But keep in mind that all people, however scholarly or faithful, are still human and are subject to their own biases.

Anyone who's taken a comparative religions class knows that philosophical interpretations vary among scholars and leaders, and that some views and positions change over time. Even if their official positions change slowly, they are still subject to societal, cultural and political pressures. In the Internet age, we have a faster spread of all kinds of information than ever before. As President Obama says, with the click of a button we can say whatever we want to the whole world. Who really listens is another subject. Even when the Chinese or other governments try to limit Internet access, their ability to limit is limited. People always find ways to communicate.

Everything changes, even what is right in one situation at one time can be wrong in another situation at another time. We want universal rules, but there are none, except maybe compassion. When we begin to look at our own motives, the process of self-inquiry often reveals that things are not quite so simple as they may appear at first glance. This is a pretty simple point to prove.

Take a look at any object in front of you right now. It could be anything from a coffee mug to a candy bar. What is it? If someone came up to you and said, "No that's not a coffee mug, it's a unicorn," you'd probably think they were crazy. After all, it's a simple coffee cup. And you know that. And you are right. Right? But how right are you? Take another look using the following exercise. Ask yourself some questions. What is it called? How do you know that? Where did it come from? How did it get there? What is is made of? How does the process work? What are the scientific rules behind that process? What are the chemical components of that process? Where is the "real" coffee cup? Does it exist, in the way it first appeared to you, after this meditation? Maybe, maybe not. But you can see that physical things are not as simple as they appear in any moment. That is also true of our thoughts. Am I right?

Of course our minds don't have time to consider the molecules and physical laws behind every object, as we're trying to function in our everyday lives. These days, it's important to look more closely at things like food labels for our health. Isn't it equally important to look at our views on who and what is right? Once we begin the internal process, consult some sacred texts and consider deeply who we are listening to, we might have a chance of learning something from ourselves and each other. And perhaps we would hurt each other less. What do you think?

May all beings be free of suffering, right or wrong.

Read my new eBook, Perfect Practice: How Everyone Can Use Buddhist and Recovery Tools for Greater Happiness, now on Kindle. Get the free Kindle app for Mac, PC and your smartphone.

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