September 24, 2010

This Sunday: What the Aggregates Mean

Dear Friends,

I hope you've had a chance to observe some of the "processes of being" at work in your very own mind this week.  I'm looking forward to our meeting Sunday, when we will put our observations together to see what they tell us about our true nature.

Which of the Aggregates, the categories of processes, have you observed most?  In my own experience, seeing Vedana is very hard.  I know it's happening, I can feel the results of that instantaneous liking or disliking, but it's hard to see at the moment it happens.  That's OK, though.  Just knowing that I have this like or dislike because, well, it just automatically happened, allows me to hold my preferences a little more lightly.

It's interesting to observe what happens with these hitch hiker attitudes, once we start making decisions.  In fact, it's this process that I find easiest to observe:  Sankhara, where mental formations morph into motive, or volition.  And it's soooo informative to watch this process.  We can learn so much about how bad decisions are made!  :-)    If you haven't yet, you might try the Practices # 8 - 10 on the handout from last Sunday, which I e-mailed out on Monday.

I just got an e-mail today with some information that explains a lot about American politics while illustrating the point Buddha made repeatedly, that we should beware of our own tendency to cling to views.  Here's the (scanned & virus free) main points:

In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we're right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn't. This is known as "motivated reasoning." Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

Also, you might just take a quick look at Practices 11-13 over the weekend, because I suspect we'll get around to talking about these questions Sunday evening. 

Can't wait,

Alameda Sangha
Every Sunday, 7pm
@ Buena Vista United Methodist Church
2311 Buena Vista Ave., Alameda
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