When to Put Up or Shut Up: A Mindful Perspective

When to Put Up or Shut Up: A Mindful Perspective February 23, 2021

In this week’s Meditation for Freethinkers I’m going to break one of Buddhism’s long-standing traditions. It’s known as the 2nd attachment; a teaching that advises people to keep quiet and not share their opinions and views.

(Needless to say, I’m going to offer my opinion and viewpoint about this teaching, in order to show why it’s so important for people to offer their opinions and views.)

As a freethinker, using traditional forms of Buddhist meditation can be a challenge. In learning to be mindful, a practice deeply steeped in Buddhist thought, freethinkers have to – ironically – be mindful of not being led by religious influences that aim to detach them from life, rather than engage with it. / Photo by Scott R. Stahlecker

The 4 attachments in Buddhist thought

To provide some context, there are a total of 4 attachments which Buddhist teachings advise people to tame or overcome. The first attachment is about getting too attached to sensory experiences. The second represents becoming too attached to our opinions and views. The third counsels against becoming too caught up in traditions and rituals. And the final attachment requires that we rid ourselves of our own selfish ego.

For it’s believed in Buddhist circles, (much like overcoming bad habits), that many of the things that we attach and cling to in life can cause us emotional suffering. Taming or overcoming these attachments allows us to relieve some of that suffering. This makes sense, and taken at first glance all these attachments are worthy of contemplating. Yet, every freethinker should question the merits of the 2nd attachment, which is a teaching that essentially advises people to keep their mouths shut.

The teaching should be questioned because free speech is a fundamental right. These days, with so much political and civil unrest happening around the world, it is especially important that people exercise this right. In countries where peace reigns, it may not be necessary to speak up. In many other parts of the world, though, it’s not only important for people to speak out, but they might even have to take their opinions and views to the next level and fight to be heard.

To be fair, there are good reasons why Buddhism teaches people to refrain from overly expressing their views and opinions. At a minimum, expressing our views sometimes entails gossip, and we could all benefit from keeping our mouths shut. Then there is the garbage of opinionated BS being freely tossed about on social media. So, there’s good food for thought in this teaching, and I like how this passage on a Buddhism information website flushes out the headier details:

“We all know people that have stubborn opinions about various topics. Where did these people learn these opinions?”

“The answer is mostly through their customs, traditions, and religious doctrines and ceremonies. As to religious views, many refuse to change their views on the grounds that their parents, grandparents and ancestors all held the same views.”

“Others may not really be interested in correcting and improving themselves. People like this will defend any arguments against their old ideas by saying this is what they have always believed.”

“Clinging to your views with stubbornness is based on ignorance. The ignorance we are speaking of is the falsehood that things are desirable, worth clinging to, and will endure the test of time. Whereas the truth is that all things are transient and worthless.”

To put this in context, social media platforms provide a carnivorous feast for the gluttonous opines to continually spew out ephemeral nonsense. But a Buddhist might ask us to view all the gibberish going on from an existential point of view. Since the world is changing so fast, whatever is happening in your part of the world will likely not be happening tomorrow. Recklessly throwing out opinions about these fluid events is probably pointless. Each one of us would be much happier if we didn’t get so caught up in all the nonsense going around.

The ostrich affect

However, there is a danger in being too passively silent. There are a lot of things happening in the world that can ruin the peace of mind that we seek, but we must feel compelled to act. This is the enticement of religion is it not? To escape the troubles of life by seeking either churches or caves where we can have peace and quiet and pursue spiritual bliss? Yes, there is peace to be enjoyed in detaching oneself from the ills of modern life and the pangs of human suffering. But there is also great satisfaction to be gained by diving headlong into the pool of human misery and trying to make a difference.

As a freethinker, using traditional forms of Buddhist meditation can be a challenge. In learning to be mindful, a practice deeply steeped in Buddhist thought, freethinkers have to – ironically – be mindful of not being led by religious influences that aim to detach them from life, rather than engage with it.

In certain situations, such as the one we have been discussing, Buddhist philosophy can even be at odds with the principles of freethought. A freethinker isn’t really concerned about pursuing spiritual bliss. Or in ostracizing himself from real life when it compels them to stick their neck out and offer a secular point of view. The goal of the freethinker should be in fighting to preserve freedom of speech. And this goal can’t really be accomplished by holding one’s tongue.

About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister and now writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. You can read more about the author here.

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10 responses to “When to Put Up or Shut Up: A Mindful Perspective”

  1. Playing Devil’s Advocate, I always considered the Second Attachment to be about clinging to an opinion even after proof it’s not a good or correct opinion. E.G., “I just can’t meditate because I can’t make my mind blank.” This is an opinion I once had before taking meditation practice…and it turned out I didn’t understand what meditation was at all. Once I knew better, my opinion changed.

  2. You’re right. I also think it contains that meaning as well.

    When I begin this post I was going to use a quote from Joseph Goldstein on the 2nd attachment in “The Experience of Insight.” Here’s the quote:

    A great meditation master from Thailand when asked what was the greatest hindrance his student had, answered, ‘Opinions, views and ideas about all things. About themselves, about the practice, about the teachings of the Buddha. Their minds are filled with opinions about things. They are too clever to listen to others.”

    There are a couple of things I see wrong with this perspective that any freethinker should challenge. The “master” chastises his students for thinking they are too clever to listen to his “opinion.” And also, that they have opinions about the teachings of the Buddha, the practice, and themselves. In other words, the master is presuming he knows everything. If he does know everything, (which he/she does not) then the 2nd attachment makes perfect sense.

    In many respects the Buddhist’s 2nd attachment is equivalent to the Christian’s perspective of just having faith.

    This relationship between the master and the teacher is a lot like the relationship between preacher and disciple. What is being taught should always be challenged, primarily because it’s usually a belief that requires faith. But it is not like the relationship between a math teacher trying to teach a student that 2 + 2 = 4. As you mentioned in playing the devil’s advocate, having an opinion like 2 + 2 = 5 is pointless. Knowing it equals 4 “changes your opinion.” Indeed, an opinion is no longer required. It’s like having an opinion that the election was stolen, or the virus is a hoax.

    Sorry to get long winded, and I know you know what I’m talking about here. But with this post I really wanted to emphasize that freethinking principle of challenging everything and encouraging people to express their opinions. 🙂

  3. I appreciate your example and you’re right. I’ve seen this attitude in some yoga studios, too–that’s there’s one “right way” to do yoga and only one guru to follow.

    Freethinkers often have a “baloney meter”, which is probably why they’re freethinkers–they won’t buy into an idea just because someone tells them it’s so.

    On the plus side, I’ve studied meditation under a couple of instructors, and they were absolutely great. My favorite stressed there’s no one way to meditate and gave us options.

  4. I’d add that there’s a challenge in writing posts like this. It’s tough to include everything to give the topic some justice, which is why I appreciate insight such as yours to help fill in more details and offer some points for discussion.

    I envy you in that I didn’t have a meditation instructor to learn from and bounce ideas around when I was first learning how to meditate. Especially opened-minded instructors.

  5. Yes! I quite understand–you don’t want to write a book because people won’t read it all. So you have to focus on the points you most want to make.

    I joined a yoga studio near my house about 20 years ago, and in order to make more money, the studio owner later brought in meditation classes (and pilates, and other stuff…). Two of the instructors were former military, one was a yoga teacher who meditated. One was a pilates teacher who meditated. Occasionally we had a guest teacher. They took turns teaching classes, and we got a variety of approaches and philosophies from straight-up Buddhist to wacky making-it-up-as-you-go-along.

    The yoga studio also had subscriptions to Yoga and Mindfulness magazines–the first offering a shallow take, the second all about meditation.

    I had bought Buddha’s Brain before taking meditation classes–funny enough, I bought it at the gift shop in a UU church that was hosting Neil deGrasse Tyson (he was friends with someone in the church). Since the talk was free, I felt obligated to support them with purchases.

    I wanted to learn meditation, but I was firmly convinced I couldn’t do it–my opinion was that I was too monkey-brained. When I opened myself to a variety of approaches to meditation, I learned that my opinion was wrong…but I had to let go of the opinion to grow.

  6. At the time I got interested in meditation I was living in Alaska, and not the most populated area. Zero Meditation teachers there. To be honest though, I had such a bad experience with religion that the last thing I wanted to do was become a “follower” of anything again. As I got into mediation, I enjoyed some profound changes. I had to get my info from books, but so many meditation books are tainted with Buddhist philosophy. Which was why I thought a Meditation for Freethinkers might be helpful to some. So people could get the best out of meditation, but leave the indoctrination behind.

    Do you still do yoga? I’ve thought about it trying it. It seems like a great way to blend meditation with physical exercise.

    How was the Neil deGrasse talk?

  7. The talk was wonderful; he’s a very good speaker, and yes, I still do yoga. There are a variety of “flavors” of yoga and the trick is finding what appeals to you. You can get all mystical with it (I don’t), or you can just appreciate the benefits of joining your breath with your movements. Mainstream (hatha) yoga is considered very safe because you never use more than your own bodyweight and a good teacher stresses that discomfort is bearable but pain is never okay.

    Tai chi is also good because it involves constant flow of movement. Check out David-Dorian Ross’s channel on Youtube and see if you like his philosophy. It’s a form of martial arts. Like yoga, at its best, it’s a steady form of exercise that many people can do for their entire lives, and focuses on the breath.

  8. Yoga sounds a lot like meditation. You can really get into it and use it as a spiritual outlet, or just reap the secular benefits. Tai chi looks interesting too, but I think it’s got a bad wrap as something only old-timer do. I’ll check at Ross’s channel when I have a spare moment.

  9. David-Dorian Ross discovered yoga and tai chi while in college in the 1970s and one of his fitness DVDs fuses the two. He speaks about the difference; in tai chi, the body is every in motion front-to-back, side-to-side. In yoga, the poses are more static; you get into a pose, hold it, then get into a different pose. There is an arm of yoga (flow yoga) where the poses are linked as in the Sun Salutation, but usually the poses are just a series of individual ones.

    Ross has some practices with a weighted ball, and another with weighted sticks (kinda like wooden swords) to add more of a physical workout component.

    You can get all woo with yoga and tai chi if that’s what you want, or you can get all competitive with them (“stretchier-than-thou) if that’s what you want…or you can just view them as range-of-motion and stretching practices that links the breath to movement and puts the body into a parasympathetic state which makes it easier to meditate. Tai chi uses martial arts moved slowed down.

    In other words, you can use both practices as a means to an end.

    One story I’ve heard about yoga is that it was a practice designed to prepare the body to sit in meditation. One story I’ve heard about tai chi is that it’s to prepare the body for martial arts training.

  10. Interesting … Occasionally, I will do a few simple yoga posses in combination with stretches in the morning. I also use this time to begin focusing on my breath. I need to do it more often. When I take the 01-15 minutes to do this I have a much more relaxed and focused meditation session.

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