Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"I think therefore I am"? Descartes was wrong

Wisdom Quarterly

By the way, Rene Descartes was wrong. He is a famous philosopher in the Western tradition. He is most famous for deducing the maxim, "I think therefore I am."

He was wondering and reasoning and questioning. What is true? Do I exist? How can I know? What can I be sure of? As he thought and pondered, he realized that the only thing he could be sure of what that he was thinking.

If I am thinking then I am. I think therefore I am (exist). But it is not true. Based on the evidence, he should only have concluded: "I think therefore there's thinking."

In a sense thoughts think themselves. It is actually more complicated than that: They are dependently-originated. What's that? Dependent Origination is a teaching so subtle that the Buddha declared that it was on account of not seeing, not penetrating this teaching that both he and we had wandered on in this round of suffering.

Wisdom and insight are better than knowledge and thinking.

The "I" he posited was assumed. There was identification with the thinking. And viewing it as personal, he was logically trapped: A self exists. And it has all of these problems, thinking being one of them.

Had he meditated under a tree like Newton or Siddhartha, Descartes might have realized: This is a mess. Thinking is no escape. It leads to logical dead ends and fundamental assumptions. What if I were to let go of thinking and just being?

By not identifying, I might be freed because I have heard said by many, "The Truth shall set us free." It does. Thinking is not the way to enlightenment and liberation. Stillness, samadhi, and insight are.

Meditation is letting go, allowing stillness, then systematically
investigating reality with the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (DN 22).