Should you have an opinion?

by Bob Schwartz

Opinion: Judgment, view, attitude, appraisal.

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
Hsin-Hsin Ming/Verses on the Faith Mind by Seng-ts’an, translated by Richard B. Clarke

I am a person of occasional opinion, in a world of opinions. Maybe you are such a person too. Maybe you have media to carry your opinions, circumstances in which you express them or are asked for them or are expected to have them as a part of your work or craft. Maybe you mostly keep your opinions to yourself.

Verses on the Faith Mind, written by Seng-ts’an, Third Ancestor of Zen, is a frequently read Zen text (some say it is the first). Its message is that discriminative thinking tends to lead us astray from the path of self-realization and enlightenment.

Of course, the text itself presents a bit of conundrum, if not contradiction. A recommendation against distinctions is itself a distinction. So we may already be confused.

But there is no conundrum, contradiction or confusion. Having opinions, making judgments and choices, and discriminating are elements of action. A fork in the road demands a choice. (Although, as the wisdom master and baseball great Yogi Berra famously gave driving directions to a visitor, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”)

It is the place those opinions hold that is in question, or more precisely, it is the way we hold and use those opinions that matters. Opinions can be a habit or practice. Just the process of generating opinions has the potential to move us away from our selves, even as we are under the impression that we are simply reflecting ourselves. And then when we express those opinions, in whatever form, however loudly and widely, the impact is our responsibility.

Have opinions. I do. But pay attention as those opinions well up in your mind, more attention when you express them and set them loose on the world. You should be aware of them, of the good they might do, of the harm they might do, not only to others, but to yourself. Verses on the Faith Mind suggests that the fewer the better.

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