Beliefs and Suffering

Beliefs are absolutely crucial. A belief is an emotional state toward some conceptual representation held as true. Intensity of a belief is a function of the emotional energy invested in it, faith, not of its validness. We identify and are therefore attached to our beliefs, not willing to give them up easily. We defend beliefs through defense mechanisms as rationalization, projection, identification, denial, intellectualization, etc.  Beliefs shape our world. During hypnosis, due to the fact that intellect is asleep, any suggestion given to us we believe unconditionally and can completely determine our perception. Beliefs guide and limit our actions. Beliefs are contagious.  Beliefs can hold emotional energy in place like a net or reinforcing bars, they are what keeps traumas in place.

In general, holding on to beliefs that do not accord with reality or the laws of nature will cause suffering. Two pivotal beliefs that are the root causes of suffering are (as pointed out by Ramesh Balsekar, a disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj who is one of the modern day Titans of Advaita Vedanta):

  1. We are actors who have free will. This is called the belief in 'do-ership'. This belief is the direct cause of types of suffering as blame, guilt and pride .

  2. Happiness results from certain outcomes. This belief results in expectations and attachment to outcomes resulting in sufferings as anxiety, worry and disappointment.

The Advaita Vedanta, among other philosophies, recognize that there is no free will. All actions are the result of prior conditioning triggered by particular circumstances. Freedom in the Advaita Vedanta is not the ability to do what you want, but rather to be free from suffering. Conditioning can be changed by learning. Learning from our past mistakes but also by studying this philosophy that aims at changing our conditioning to align with reality so that our actions will also align with nature. Blame, guilt and pride become meaningless in this view. Getting rid of the belief in do-ership then will liberate us from these types of suffering.

The Advaita Vedanta also recognizes that happiness springs forth from the heart. True happiness is reached when we realize our true selves as consciousness and we can abide there constantly. It is not related to outcomes in this world. On the contrary, the less we are attached to the world, the happier we are. Recognizing this truth will rid us from the sufferings of anxiety, worry and disappointment.

Getting rid of false beliefs

So we see that the road to fulfillment, spiritual development, is really getting rid of beliefs that are not true. We do so by the process of enquiry. Enquiry is the questioning of our beliefs. As beliefs are stored into our subconscious whenever intellect agrees with a certain representation or when the intellect is not fully functioning (as during our formative years, or when excited), we don't hold all our beliefs in the conscious part of our mind at any time. Only by questioning, querying the subconscious we can bring certain beliefs to the conscious part of our mind.
We should also pay close attention to our feelings (shadow work). Whenever we feel bad it is nature's indication that we harbor beliefs that are not true. When such a feeling is triggered by a circumstance it can point to the particular belief that is the culprit.

Rather than try to ferret out all our petty beliefs however, a more efficient approach is studying philosophy, especially metaphysics. By contemplating philosophy we arrive at insights that shatter old incorrect beliefs. So the best approach really is first study philosophy to realign our beliefs and then engage in some sort of spiritual practice to get rid of the remaining die-hard beliefs that have lots of emotional energy invested into them.