Biology and beliefs

 

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Another exploratory and less organized post…

From the previous post:

How are beliefs ties up with biology? From a conventional view, we don’t quite see the connection. Biology is biology, with its drives and impulses and neurotransmitters and whatever else. But if we look a little closer, we find that beliefs are essential also here. Mainly, biology is destiny only as far as there is an identification with this human self. If there is a belief in a separate self, and it is placed on this human self, there is a sense of I in this human self, including its biological aspect. I am caught up in it, have little or no distance form it, I am at the mercy of it. So when there is a biological drive or impulse, it is experienced as an I, which means it is acted on without much thought or sense of choice. (It goes the other way as well, beliefs create what is conventionally interpreted as only biological impulses.)

I want to explore this a little further, to clarify it for myself.

Biology taken as an I

Biological impulses are taken as an I only when there is a belief in a separate self, and this is placed on our human self. When they arise, they appear as I, so there is little or no distance from them. Sometimes, we act blindly one them. And at best, there is a sense of a struggle. I (body) wants this, but I (mind) shouldn’t or can’t.

The most dramatic example of this for me happened in one of my first sesshins. There was excruciating pain in the legs, so the biological impulse (or so it seemed) was to get up or at least change position. But since it was a sesshin, my mind said “sit still”. What I took myself to be was (a) in pain and (b) opposed to change the circumstances so it would go away. So there was also a sense of drama and conflict. I was at war with myself.

At some point, when the pain got so intense I felt I couldn’t take it anymore, there was a dramatic shift. The pain was still there, but there was also complete freedom from it. The pain just happened as anything else happened… the sounds from the streets, the sight of my own body and others in the room. It was there but without identification, without seeing it as an I with an Other.

Effects of beliefs interpreted as biology

Looking a little further, I see that the effects of beliefs are often interpreted as biology. In particular, a lot of it comes from the belief in a separate self. This belief in a separate self, placed on this human self, automatically creates fear, desire, longing, a desire for self-preservation, and so on. And all of this is typically interpreted as coming from evolution and biology.

If there is a belief in a separate self, and it is placed on the napkin on the table (unlikely, but it could happen), there would still be fears, desires, a sense of a need for self-preservation and so on, only now, it would obviously not be coming from evolution or biology. Maybe we instead would think that is is inherent in the particular fabric the napkin is made out of.

Together

Together, we get a fuller picture.

Evolution does select for organisms that know how to take care of itself and produce offspring. This is embedded in the biology of individuals, showing up as what we call drives, impulses, traits and whatever other terms we have for it. Drives are real, in that sense.

When there is a sense of a separate self, and it is placed on this human self, then these drives are taken as “I”, which sometimes creates a sense of tension and drama. I (as body) want this, but I (as mind) want something else. I want to be free from pain, but I shouldn’t move. I want to eat, but I have taken a vow to fast.

And also, from that same sense of a separate self comes lots of things conventionally interpreted as having to do with biology: fears, desires, impulse for self-preservation, wanting to eat when hungry, sleep when tired, wanting to avoid pain, wanting pleasure, wanting release from tension, and much more.

With a belief in a separate self, placed on this human self, there is (a) a caught-upness in whatever biological impulses arise, and (b) an active production of impulses that may appear as coming from biology.

Absent of a sense of a separate self, there is (a) freedom from whatever biological impulses arise, and (b) an absence of a production of impulses that may appear as coming from biology.

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