Only Stupid People Question Consciousness

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Last week on twitter, I had a quick exchange with Deepak Chopra:


“Consciousness cannot be created but because of it there is creation.”


“If we cannot “create” consciousness, then what DO we do? Awaken it? Liberate it? Reveal it?”

Then, someone else who I’d never spoken to chimed in with:

“You just are “IT”! The height of stupidity is to search for the donkey you’re riding on.”

It was an interesting comment on two levels.

One, the spiritual path most often associated with the exploration of consciousness is Buddhism. Unlike nearly every Western tradition that teaches blind faith in the existence of the Divine, Buddhism says “kick the tires.” It says this is the best knowledge we have today, based on the teachings. Try them on, test them out, question them. And, if they can be improved or enhanced in some way, have at it. Because we’ll all benefit in the end.

The Dalai Lama himself, who is the spiritual figurehead for Tibetan Buddhism, is fascinated by science and has actively sought a relationship with scientists to explore the relationship between consciousness and science. To explore a scientific basis for “the donkey you’re riding on.” Some of the most interesting dialogues I’ve heard have been between women and men of different faiths, spiritual traditions and philosophical persuasions talking about, contrasting and at times debating where their teachings and beliefs came from and how they jive or conflict.

So, I guess, according to our friend on twitter, all these people are behaving in a way that is the “height of stupidity” because they are actively engaged in testing the boundaries, framework and foundation that birthed their the ideas of consciousness and faith.

Well, if that’s the height of stupidity, count me stupid!

But, there’s something else that bugged me about the comment. I’ve noticed a growing trend for certain people who’ve practiced a particular spiritual tradition for a period of time to have little or no tolerance for those who show up and question why they do what they do. As if they were too good, too anointed, too enlightened or exalted to have to suffer the annoyance of inquiry. They are quick to pass judgment on those who do not instantly buy into the validity of a set of teachings as self-evident.

The arrogance of that mindset bothers me.

There’s a saying in Buddhism, “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” It essentially says those who’ve attained the deepest understanding of the teachings and the most profound state of liberation still walk the Earth, still blow their noses and brush their teeth and still have not earned the right to pass judgment.

One of the surest signs that anyone of any tradition that values compassion, kindness, respect and knowledge has not “gotten” the deeper jist of the tradition is that they seek to elevate themselves, show no tolerance and judge.

Last I checked, those weren’t Holy virtues.

Don’t be that person.

Curiosity is a good thing. Even curiosity about the basis of blind faith.

Kick the tires. Question authority. Judge not.

Peace out.

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36 responses

36 responses to “Only Stupid People Question Consciousness”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Jackie Ng and topsy_top20k, topsy_top20k_en. topsy_top20k_en said: Do Only Stupid People Question Consciousness? […]

  2. Joely Black says:

    This is a really interesting post, and I agree with you. A while ago on Tricycle (the magazine for Buddhists online), reported on a major spat between different zen masters. Perhaps the most well-known is the Brad Warner-hates-Genpo-Roshi phenomenon.

    These are people who are following a tradition including the precept to “do no harm”, which I thought would be inclusive of flinging online insults. “Right speech”, which is the practice of lovingkindness in what we say, hardly covers referring to the act of “searching for the donkey we’re riding on” as stupid.

    It’s not stupid, it’s what we all tend to do. Adyashanti often remarks on how it is incredibly easy for the ego to grab hold of spiritual paths for its own end, and when you combine that with the strange quality of the internet to bring out the worst in people, what you get are people who preach compassion and practice verbal violence.

    I’ve been getting seriously into the deep effects of meditation and exploring that very path. And it is deeply humbling. In fact, it’s very often quite embarrassing when you see what nonsense you’ve been up to, listening to the mind and believing it.

    I love the fact that you challenged Deepak on his quote. It is just the kind of thing we should be doing, and that Buddhist spiritual practice encourages. Very wise!

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by jonathanfields: Do Only Stupid People Question Consciousness?

  4. Jeffrey Tang says:

    I grew up in a strongly Christian household, and what bothered me was the way people preached a certain doctrine without ever questioning the basis for those teachings.

    It’s not enough to know what we believe; we should also investigate WHY we believe. As you said – kick the tires.

    Only disagreement I have: you say “judge not,” but the whole point of kicking the tires is to search for the true nature of the donkey we’re riding on. That requires judgment. So judge – but do so carefully and with respect.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Interesting point about “judge not.” But, I think weighing ideas is different than judging people, no?

  5. I don’t think it is so much as searching for the donkey you’re riding on but to discover whether you’re riding a donkey or a racehorse.

  6. “Kick the tires.” I love this. And what sage advice. We should never stop asking questions, exploring our evolving curiosities, analyzing authority.

    Voltaire said, “He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.” I think there is an unfortunate tendency in this society of ours to grab for a ready-made answer, to put check marks next to open items, to feel we have made progress toward certainty. But I think it is foolish, and maybe ignorant, to rush to answers. It is braver, and more honest and meaningful to let the big questions echo, to trace the trajectory of their whispering, to accustom ourselves to the constant state of wanting to know but not being able to.

    Thank you for encouraging all of us to kick those proverbial tires on the big, bad car that is life.

  7. Anne Wayman says:

    Is the tendency to become arrogant about spiritual practices or beliefs newish? Is it part of what I perceive as a general swing to more fundamentalism?

    Knee jerk I tent to think fundamentalism is a cover for fear – it sure is in me when I get that way.

    Regardless, I work to avoid it in me.


  8. Tisha Morris says:

    An enlightened person need not tell you they are enlightened!

  9. George says:

    I am very stupid. And very curious. It’s interesting that you are quoting (talking to?) Deepak. I have never seen him mentioned in a blog post before.

  10. Nelia says:

    Poor fella. He wasn’t conscious that he was an ass that didn’t need riding.

    I agree with Tang. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with judgment (accept, perhaps, calling someone a donkey). The problem is when judgment becomes static and unable to reflect new information and perspectives.

    Great post. I feel you on this one.

  11. Hey Jonathan –

    For whatever reason, I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations surrounding spirituality/religion/beliefs/faith lately, going as far as writing an article on it. This is strange to me, because I’ve never really been one to talk about these kinds of things. My own beliefs are muddy at best, and my motto’s always kind of been, “To each his own.”

    That being said, in a lot of these conversations I’ve been having of late, the thing that has surprised me is how few people are like your friend who talks about “the pinnacle of stupidity.” I’ve been finding that a lot of people are really open to these discussions and can discuss it in an intelligent and well-reasoned manner.

    This is surprising because I think one of the reasons I stopped talking about this topic in the first place was that I couldn’t find such open-minded people. All that to say, I know people who are close-minded exist, but I’d like to think their numbers are shrinking.

    Call me an optimist.

  12. Lindsey says:

    I am so glad you wrote this. I have in the past been struck by what seems like closed-mindedness or intolerance from people who I view as deeply religious. But instead of questioning that, myself, I tend to be intimidated by their bright faith and assume they know something I don’t.
    Thank you for calling into question that mindset, and highlighting the importance of always asking why, and more.
    I am fascinated by questions of consciousness, presence, awareness. I write about it all the time. I think I need to teach myself more about Buddhism!

  13. There have always been Western spiritual traditions that questioned themselves. The Quakers, for example. The Unitarian Universalists. The United Church of Christ. Reform Judaism. There are even factions of the Lutheran and Catholic church that commonly question their faith, their beliefs and their place in this ever-changing world.
    Please look past the fundamentalists and the biblical literalists. Then you’ll see the rest of us. 🙂

  14. AWESOME!

    I would not call those people enlightened at the very least. If you claim to understand such delicate truths but still able to judge others then chances are you are a Milena away from reaching enlightenment.

    So, I would just brush those people of as ignorant in their own right and leave it at that. The best word to describe them would be a hypocrite. That is all. They might understand things on the intellectual level, but they still do not GET IT.

    Thanks for pointing this issue out, as I encounter this more and more often.


  15. Amy Oscar says:

    As a fellow question-asker (and tire-kicker) I feel you. I had a run in like this a few weeks back – and wrote about it on my blog – wherein I mentioned, in a playful, offhand way something about fairies. The response was immediate–and stunning. Two people pelted me with, “So U R a Pagan?” And when I responded, “No, I believe that God is in all things,” one of them sent me a tweet that said (paraphrasing here), “There is only one true God… ” and so on.

    This is what separates the true seeker/mystic from the people who follow, unquestioned, whatever dogma they’ve been fed. The Seeker/Mystic ALWAYS asks questions, always feels around the edges of the universe, searching for the place where s/he ends and God begins.

    When we keep our hearts and minds open to what comes, we don’t need anyone – not some random tweeter, nor Buddha nor Deepak, to define God/spirituality for us. It arises from the world around us, and from within, when we ask our questions – when we kick the tires until we get the answer that we seek, the answer that we need, to experience true personal relationship with the divine.

  16. dave says:

    ‘Kick the tires’–such a wonderful analogy for spiritual inquiry.

    I think it’s useful to at least look down at the donkey as you’re riding it. If for no other reason than to make sure you’re not riding through life ass-end first.

    Speaking from experience there 🙂

    Thanks for a great post.

  17. One of my primary volunteer activities is teaching others about spirituality. The first thing I tell them is that they must question everything. Chatting with a really smart guy today, I used the phrase ‘balanced skepticism’ and he stopped, looked off into the distance for a half-second, and said, “Yeah; balanced skepticism. It’s the balance that’s hard.”

    There really are ‘truths’ to be known. But you don’t learn them by having someone else learn them for you.

    I love bringing the same balanced skepticism to my business coaching. Every time someone quotes one of the allegedly immutable laws of business (nonsense like “the customer is always right”) I like to ask them “Why?” Sometimes a good ‘why’ reveals chinks in our armor; other times, it polishes it.

  18. Mick Morris says:

    Jonathon, I’m glad my tweet back at Deepak did not elicit this type of response….. Deepak made a comment about atheists losing to which I replied about them also not being subject to dogma and rituals about which they do not know the origins (or have never bothered to question) so maybe they are the winners after all.

    I love the quote from buddha about not believing something just because he said it, but making sure it “fits” for you by trying it out.

    Then again, maybe it would have been good to get a reply like the one you did….. it provided good blog fodder>

    Thanks Jonathon!

  19. Dave Doolin says:

    Yeah. I get it.

    I’m going to go wash the dishes now.

  20. Lance says:

    “Judge not”. I believe deeply that “judging” is something we do way too much of. There is no way for us to fully understand how another person has gotten to where there at without “walking in their shoes”. And there is no way for us to do that, especially going back in time.

  21. Completely agree Jonathan. Anyone telling you what you should and shouldnt question is way off the mark. Its absolutely fine and dandy to not allow oneself to question the existence of “donkey”, but another completely to tell someone else they are “stupid” for doing so.
    Reminds me of the last conversation i had with a friend who had recently converted to what i (with no judgement intended) called “happy-clappy” christian beliefs. The conversation ended with me asking him “so if i dont believe in what you believe then i will be eternally damned for the rest of time?”. To which he replied “yes, you will”.
    All goes to show that anyone trying to put a lid on what we as human beings are capable of dreaming/ being is narrowing and restricting our rights and freedoms.
    thanks for the post

  22. I think I want to trade my donkey in for a unicorn.

    • @Michael Martine
      Everything looks better from the back of a unicorn!

      @Jonathan Fields
      Loved this post. Intellectual curiosity is such a forgotten or under-appreciated attribute. I find that the nature of our questions is often more revealing than the answers we provide. In so many ways we let our established patterns (those we practice and those we witness) contribute to a persisting fundamental attribution error by which we assign motivation to others based on observation rather than a deeper understanding of the context.

      My favorite quote, from Anaïs Nin, strikes at the heart of that behavior:
      “We don’t see the world the way it is. We see the world the way we are.”

      Thanks for sharing your insights. Much appreciated.

  23. Angela says:

    Hi Jonathan – I’ll take your kind of stupid any day! I found myself in a similar (offline) situation with a someone who played lip service to the idea of questioning and not judging those who question while at the same time not agreeing that the question had any merit because the answer was obvious. It’s also worth noting that we’re not all convinced by the same answers either. Great post and comments!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, I’ve bumped against the line of thought as well. Curious how some folks don’t see that if something is self-evident, the conversation wouldn’t even be happening. So the simple fact that there’s a question is proof that there’s something to have a conversation around

  24. francis says:

    islam, judaism, catholicism, christianity,,, etc.

    Religious systems of this world and all alike they are,
    for they have fought and killed both near and far;

    And then once a week or multiples times a day they pray,
    yet as hypocrites they begin each new day;

    Days that are filled with deceit and lies,
    for in their religious systems Truth cannot abide;

    And so the fruit of death is born of their religious ways,
    because life is but a pawn in the wicked game they play!

    So the need for those who yet have a conscience to “Come Out of her, MY people”…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace)” that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) is under the control of the evil one”(1JN5:19)……. francis

  25. This is refreshing. There are many ways to the same place!

  26. Admit it. You were just mad because you thought he was inferring that you were stupid.

    The donkey comment is really just about the point that there is nothing to search for and nothing to find because you already have it. Buddhists are big into nothingness.

    Without our paradigms — thought boxes built with language based on word associations — there is nothingness and its full awareness of consciousness. But of course no one can communicate this state with words. That’s the catch 22. Even the Buddhists have failed to capture the state because they are using words. But they seem to do a much better job using words as pointers to the state of nothingness than most religions. The religions that build up the ego and fortress their thought boxes seem to miss the mark the most.

    I think the critical issue you hit on is that our thought boxes keep us unaware and unconscious. Most people never experience the nothingness because of thought boxes. It is tough to let our thought boxes go and disbelieve them. All religious paradigms keep us unaware by their very nature. It is only by deep critical questioning of our thought box assumptions, rules and beliefs that can we get more aware and let go into the void. Questioning everything is critical. Near death experiences are also helpful.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Actually, didn’t really care a whole lot about being called stupid, I’ve been called way worse than that (hey, I’m a NYer, lol). And I agree, the Buddhist/Eastern notion of emptiness is one that is extremely difficult for the Western mind to relate to, something I still strive to explore, understand and experience

  27. Im going to play the devils advocate on this one Jonathan 🙂

    I definately agree with you 100% on enquiry and questioning so called authority regarding spiritual matters as honestly who determines who is the authority? But another so called authority.

    And the wheels on the bus go round and round.;)

    I covered this in a post I did on Spiritual Hierachy

    As for judging, we all do it, the only reason we assume its wrong is because either we dont like it, or we have been told its wrong. A classic case of this is people quoting Jesus saying ” Do not judge ”

    Yet later in the bible, he says judge for yourselves.

    A contradiction? It might appear that way

    Yet I would suggest that the context it was used in initally was similiar to saying to someone

    ” look judging carries its own set of consequences, if you do it be prepared to get back what you put out ” i.e judgment back from other people.

    So as for judging we all do it and its not so much in my opinion of deeming it wrong, stopping or getting rid of it, as rarely does that happen. Usually it just shows up in another area of our life by judging those who do or do not judge 🙂

    So for me, i like to look at it as just being aware that we do it, and being prepared that when and if we do it, we have to be ready for the boomrang to come back around and smack us in the ass

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Jon – I think we actually agree. No doubt, we all judge all day long, we weigh and value ideas and options. I certainly have strongly held opinions on many things. But, I’m also careful to hold my self open to conversation around those opinions, open to the idea that I don’t know everything and in fact, I can learn and grow from other people, other ideas and worldviews. I think what I was really trying to say is that it troubles me when someone positions themselves as superior, especially in the context of a spiritual pursuit that treasures the idea of nonjudgment, then not only judges others, but does it in a nasty and public way.

  28. Hello Jonathan,

    Perhaps you missed the profoundness of the tweet because you were too quick to judge the intention of the tweeter.

    As you continue on your journey, I suggest you read the book “On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” by Alan Watts. Of all the books in my library it is a favorite and I think it would be worth your time.

    Sometimes you have to just know something is truth without actually understanding it…and as you continue down the path you are on, more pieces will fall into place. Enjoy the journey and the ride on the donkey…

  29. Randy says:

    “Consciousness cannot be created but because of it there is creation.”

    And once again we hit a wall by taking an existential concept into conventional terms.

    I’m not a fan of this guy… he’s an opportunist, but he steals good stuff.

    You might as well just used “existence” instead of consciousness. If everything already exists (otherwise it’s not a thing) then anything new that exists isn’t really a creation but a manifestation of a creation that already exists.

    It truly is semantics and people like Deepak evoke that semantic into millions.

    If I think a new thought did I create a new perception or just re-implement an old one? If I change every part on car did I make a new car?

    Mental masturbation.

  30. Jim Vickers says:

    Faith is a matter of dependence. We have faith in something only when we are depending on that object of our faith. There is no such thing as blind faith. Whatever “blind” faith is, don’t call it faith. Call it gullable. Call it stupid. But don’t call it faith because true faith cannot be blind. You do not have faith unless you “know” what or who you have faith in. That means it’s not blind.