People find it easier to subscribe to ideologies than to think for themselves. An ideology is like a pre-packaged fast food meal, whereas critical thought is more like an all-natural home-cooked meal requiring an hour or two of prep. With an ideology, like Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism, Catholicism or even Buddhism, you can read the readings, do your homework, and regurgitate the same ideas as others. You can fit in and pretend to be living despite never doing any serious examination or yourself or others.
As seasoned meditators, we can acknowledge that this is not a wise way to proceed through the world. An ideology is an externally-defined set of principles. People grab at them blindly as a response to their lived or thought experience, but they simply grab. They take the ‘outside’ and bring it ‘inside’. When an external source claims to have answers for us, we grab at them. But this prevents us from questioning ourselves. It prevents us from reflecting or looking within. It’s much easier to just choose an ‘ism’ and echo it, rather than formulating our own individual perspectives. This is as much of a spiritual fallacy as thinking that material wealth will bring us lasting happiness, or confusing sex with love.
Writing this piece was inspired by a “self-help” article I read on Medium (it was very popular) in which the author pretended to be digging into some existential issues but was really just regurgitating some Marxist principles about capitalism and saying it’s the reason everyone is unhappy. Easy conclusion! This is ideology in action— when we don’t think for ourselves, we have nothing interesting to say. We then use our ideologies to formulate bottled opinions, allowing us to participate in virtual intellectual dialogues without ever having to think critically. View any newspaper’s opinion section, blog, or bookstore’s New Releases section to see this in action. It’s not a spiritually tenable way to live or think, but it allows people to fill the void with lots of noise, and noise sells.
To navigate the world with nuance and wisdom, we should instead be taking the ‘inside’ and bringing it ‘outside’. This is the opposite of idealism. It’s a sort of spiritual intuition that we cultivate in our practice. We get to know ourselves. We question our deepest held assumptions and beliefs. Eventually they crumble and a more truthful interpretation replaces them. This happens constantly throughout our lives, in cycles. We can then take this deep inner-wisdom and bring it into our ‘external’ lives.
Instead of mopping up shallowly reductive ideas in the world and using them to inform our internal perspectives, we are taking our own deepest wisdom and applying it to our everyday lives. This is the spiritual journey. It varies for every individual. Don’t be a sucker for ideology; don’t assume that words are true just because they’re words. To be reflective and mindful means to think critically for yourself, to realize that the world is vastly more complicated than our simplistic interpretations of it.