Believing versus Knowing
There is a difference between believing and knowing and it is one that most people overlook. It is a very serious confusion in relation to self-knowledge.
Beliefs are a substitute for knowing. Beliefs are either someone else’s knowing that we have taken on or an interpretation we once arrived at in a particular situation and that we continue to apply it to other situations later. The “knowing” I am speaking about here is not mind generated. I am speaking of the kind of knowing we get from our own direct experience. How we interpret our experiences is turned into beliefs. The mind extracts some kind of meaning from a particular incident and turns it into a belief. We do this automatically and our personal interpretation becomes our own personal wisdom system, our own belief system. The mind is a belief maker.
Let me give a few examples of what I mean by this difference. You know when you are hungry, you know you had a dream, you know how to do certain things, you know you have given birth to a baby. You do not need to believe any of these things because experiental knowing is direct. You may believe there is life after death or that there is a God, or that your government is doing a good or bad job or that your lover would not cheat on you ever, but this is not knowing.
Beliefs help us to cope with the uncertainties of daily life and the multitude of experiences that make up daily living. They form a scaffolding in the mind which helps us to operate in daily life but they are not truth. This scaffolding of beliefs is vulnerable collapse at any time. All that has to happen for our scaffolding to become unsteady is for any of our cherished beliefs to be challenged by lifes vicissitudes. It happens all the time.
Beliefs offer a false sense of security but they also offer a functional programme for dealing with daily life.
We are emotionally attached to our beliefs and this is why we find it difficult to have them challenged. Beliefs serve us with a sense of security, a feeling that we know what is going on, and that we have control over our lives, that we can predict what will happen.
Beliefs are so deep rooted in our psyches that we are not consicously aware of them but they are what dictate our actions and emotions. Beliefs are adopted unconsciously.
In fact, we come to think we are our beliefs. We become the believer in the beliefs themselves. “I am my beliefs”.
One problem is that, most if not all of our fundamental beliefs were created when we were children with a limited view of the world. And also, because life is so complicated, we take on the beliefs of those around us. We inherit the beliefs of our cultures and families.
Beliefs are filters of Reality.
The sum of our assimilated beliefs is what we know as “the ego”, the stream of thoughts which arise in response to every situation. This ego is the storehouse of beliefs, so it automatically taps into the beliefs previously taken on in order to interpret each new situation. Once assimilated the beliefs are below conscious awareness but they are active in that they are what dictate action and emotions. They run our lives. Unsuspectingly, our beliefs have taken over the space that once was us in our natural state.
We have become our beliefs, it seems.
We haven’t really but we do forget who we are behind the beliefs.
These layers of interpretations, built upon each other, relating to the various circumstances we encountered in life are our personal belief system. It’s what we act from and it’s by its values that we interpret our experiences.
As long as our experiences are in alignment with our underlying belief system we feel we are in control of our lives.
A group of beliefs that lean in the same direction, interpret experiences from a particular point of view, are an attitude. For instance, if at some point we interpreted our experience of authority as being untrustworthy and along the way found many instances which “proved” that this was a correct interpretation we develop a fearful attitude around authority. We define ourselves as this sort of person, not consciously of course. We simply behave and feel in this way automatically in every situation where this belief was triggered. Each time this belief is triggered further layers of cementing interpretations are poured on top of it. A hardened attitude develops.
To all intents and purposes we have become the believer, in thought, action, and deed.
Not only have we conflict between our personal disparate beliefs, inner conflict, but we also run into conflict between our beliefs and those of others.
Any time we find ourselves in conflict with another over ideals or values is a good opportunity to identify our own beliefs or attitude in that particular area.
It is only by encountering conflict that we are alerted to our own underlying beliefs. The beliefs show up in action because they are the assumptions from which we live our lives. It is upsetting to have our beliefs challenged because it points to the fact that our whole life has been founded on the interpretation of some experiences, and there is the chance that we got it wrong.
Beliefs are an adopted security system to help us to survive in the world but they are not who we are.
Because we become lost to them, we lose contact with who we really are, in the end they hide from us the security they promised us in the first place. Knowing who we really are is the security we long for, not the false security offered by the adopted beliefs.
In order to get back to knowing who we are, to being who we really are, it is necessary to uproot our beliefs and challenge the assumptions on which we have based our lives.