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Coffee & Wisdom 02.92: The Joy of Having No Opinion Part 2

David Breeden is speaking all week about opinions.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden and the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, and this is Coffee and Wisdom Summer Edition when we are live on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9:00 a.m. Central Time. We’ve got some construction going on outside today, but we’ll hope it’s not too noisy. This week, we are discussing the joy of having no opinion. Yes, no, don’t know. We discussed how this is a very American way of thinking, that everyone has an opinion and if they don’t know well, they must be clueless. I also mentioned on Tuesday the idea of beautiful life philosophies. Beautiful life philosophies seem to be the oldest human philosophies. These are that we must make life as good as we can make it now, because later on we don’t know what’s going to be going on. That as opposed to the later monotheisms in which the end and judgment is always near. And of course, the big deal is the afterlife, not this beautiful life now. Now, the context here shifts because Daoism, the oldest religion that we have that is at least recorded in language from China, Buddhism, stoicism and some other of the Greek and Roman philosophical traditions are beautiful life philosophies. They are approaching the world and trying to make it better here and now, not after some sort of end of the world. I also mentioned on Tuesday that opinion is a very important thing in American thought. So important that the US Supreme Court has said that a statement is an opinion that merits protection under these conditions.

It’s a matter of public concern. It’s expressed in a way that makes it hard to prove whether it’s true or false. And it can’t be reasonably interpreted to be a factual statement about someone, a particular person. So those are protected speech. Those are protected opinions. And as we know, the line between a true opinion and an opinion that is very clearly not the case, as in reality is a very fine one indeed. And the US Supreme Court does protect the idea of expressing an opinion. One of the people that I didn’t mention the other day, it was a precursor to the beautiful life philosophies within the Greek and Roman traditions that Socrates, who had this to say, strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and weak minds discuss people. That’s not very nice. Perhaps it’s certainly saying that gossip is a very weak form of thought. But you get the idea that the as long as we’re talking about ideas and our opinions of ideas, really, do we get all that bent out of shape if someone disagrees with us? Whereas if we talk about events or people, then our opinions, our judgments begin to get problematic. And I think that’s key to understanding what at least in the Greek and Roman traditions these philosophers are saying. The other day I did quote from daily stoic dotcom, something that you can look up, it’s free online.

And this is from an essay called The Curse of Having an Opinion about everything. It says this The Stoics opinion as the source of most misery. It’s what makes subjective situations and makes them good, bad, wrong, unfair, essential, deserved or outrageous. It also takes things that have nothing to do with us and makes them problems for us. And so the Stoics are saying, watch what you have an opinion about because it may make you unhappy. I also mentioned the founder of Stoicism Xie of Kitayama, who lives somewhere in the three hundreds before the Common Era. One of his famous sayings that we don’t know that much about him. Most of his work has disappeared. But he said well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing that’s essential within the stoic way of thinking that we really have to be careful about everything we do because it all adds up to what our lives are all about. A little saying from Marcus Aurelius here, from his meditations often have I. Wondered how it is that each of us loves ourselves more than all other people, yet place less value on our own assessments of ourselves than on the opinions of others. That’s the interesting that a Roman emperor would be thinking about the opinion polls for Roman emperors. But you get the point that, yeah, we do love ourselves unnecessarily almost, and mental well-being anyway.

It’s good to love yourself pretty well, but that then we take the opinions of others and think that those are more important than our own opinions. You see where stoicism is going with that. And the most famous formulation of stoicism is from Epictetus. We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgment about them. So our judgments, our opinions are what makes things good or bad very often. Now, again, we’re talking about what we call mental suffering, not the fact that, yes, you can be in pain, you can be hurt if you’re interested in stoicism. There are lots of books out there, lots of free websites. You don’t have to spend any money to look into it. But if you’re very interested, what are the better? Translations of Marcus Aurelius Meditations is by Gregory Hayes, widely available. And another fun book is The Daily Stoic. If you like to get up in the morning and do some meditation and think about things, this is three hundred and sixty six meditation on wisdom, perseverance and the art of living. The translator is Stephen Handelman with some commentary by probably the most famous neo stoic at the moment, Ryan Holiday. Now, I do want to go back into, again, that oldest of human written religions anyway, which is Daoism Dao, as in Chinese are a couple of characters put together, meaning the way or the path, the data ditching the oldest written part of Daoism as from the sixth century B.C..

But these ideas were already old by the time they were finally written down on bamboo sheets. Ursula Le Guin, I have mentioned before, sci fi writer, very famous. She also is my favorite of the translators of the doubt. Ching. I’ve done a translation too, and I like hers better. I think it’s a very brilliant book and I definitely recommend it. It is available just about everywhere and also there are free PDF online so you can find out how she was looking at the data. Ch’ing The most famous articulation in the data ching about this idea of opinion is in chapter twenty four. There are lots of translations of this, but this is fairly standard in the way that it probably what it probably means. Those who stand on tiptoes do not stand firmly. Those with long strides do not walk comfortably. Those with loud opinions never get heard. Those showing off do not shine. No one sees the conceited as worthy from the point of view of the way all the above or crumbs on the face or saw that no one wants to see those who pursue the way that is. Daou do not do these things. So you see it. A lot of the Chinese philosophy is about actions with others and you see how these ideas are coming together. So those who stand on tiptoes do not stand firmly.

Those with long strides do not walk comfortably. Those with loud opinions never get heard. So it also expresses this idea that these loud opinions lead to it’s like having crumbs on your face or sores that nobody wants to look at. These are faults in the person that really are apparent and that people don’t want to deal with, so don’t have loud opinions, says ancient Chinese wisdom within Buddhism, which of course is a Hindu origin and then goes into China and later becomes enmeshed in a kind of Daoist Buddhist idea. This is early from an early sutta, or we usually say this sutra in Buddhism in which a seeker goes to the Buddha to talk and that’s you gotta so it’s the aggy batched got to suit up. And so he asked the Buddha about the nature of the cosmos. What’s what’s the universe like, the relationship between the mind and body? We’ve talked a lot about that. We still don’t know and what comes out. Or death? Yeah, that’s something we still don’t know. And the Buddha warns that an opinion on such topics, it views a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a rising of views, of better views. It is accompanied by suffering and does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation to calm, direct knowledge, flow, awakening. You’re not going to become an awakened nirvana person if you are worried about the afterlife or the nature of the universe or the mind body problem.

These are big questions you don’t have to think about, or you’re going to have your mind full of contortions and thickets. The most famous articulation of the Buddha’s idea about having opinions about things we don’t know about comes from the shallow Lucja. I hope I said that right Sutta. And it says this. This is quoting the Buddha. Suppose a man was struck by an arrow thickly smeared with poison. That’s the story his friends and colleagues, relatives and kin would get a field surgeon to treat them. But the man would say, I won’t pull out this arrow as long as I don’t know whether the man who wounded me was an aristocrat, a Brahmin, a merchant or a worker. He’d say, I won’t pull out this arrow as long as I don’t know the following things about the man who wounded me, his name and clan, whether he’s tall, short or medium, whether his skin is black, brown or Tonnie, and what village, town or city he comes from. I won’t pull out this arrow as long as I don’t know whether the bow that wounded me is made of wood or cane. Whether the bow string is made of white will work, fiber, sun, hemp fiber, sinew, San Severa fiber or spurge fiber. So you’re catching on to what he’s saying here and whether the shaft is made from a bush or a plantation tree, whether the shaft was fitted with feathers for a vulture, a hair and a hawk, a peacock or historic, whether the shaft was bound with sinews of a cow or buffalo, a swamp, deer or gibbon, and whether the arrowhead was spiked, razor tipped, barbed made of iron ore, a calf’s tooth and lands that shaped that man would still not have learned these things.

And meanwhile he’d died. You get the point if you’re going to be wounded by an arrow worrying about all the things from who shot it, why they shot it, what it was like, what kind of bullet was like, what kind of wood is the arrow is what kind of tip, et cetera, is really not the real point. And then the Buddha goes on to say this in the same way. Suppose someone was to say, I will not live the spiritual life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal, or that after death a realized one neither exists nor doesn’t exist that would still remain undeclared by the Buddha. And meanwhile, that person would die. That’s, I think, probably the best articulation of this idea that, you know, we’re going to live in some confusions and mysteries in this world, but we have to live some kind of beautiful life all the same. So let’s worry about that instead of who made the arrow that makes our lives a little bit painful.

So, yes, the idea here being that a beautiful life is one that is tied into living in some mystery, maybe not being quite so personal in our our offenses toward religious ideas, political ideas, opinions in general. And then you can have a beautiful life. That’s the idea anyway, from the ancients. Instead of worrying about the end of the world, always being near the theme for this month at First Unitarian Society is story this coming Sunday because it is a Memorial Day weekend. I will be doing a question box talk. I’ll be live online. And if you have a question you would like for me to answer, Minister at First Unitarian, Doug is my email address. Send those questions in so that I can make a list so I don’t have to watch chat while on Sunday morning. But anything you’d like to talk about, like, hey, you know, your idea about opinion there is really, really bogus. Let me tell you about this, too, etc.. And I’d be very happy to talk about First Unitarian society ideas in general and that kind of thing. And so do send me something, minister at First Unitarian dot org, and I’ll be back next Tuesday with yet another edition of our Tuesday, Thursday, summer wisdom next week. Yes way. No way. What is the way? That’s a good question. Thanks for listening today. And I’ll see you on Sunday.

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