Why the World Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense is an eminently down-to-earth, practical, and non-technical response to the urgent questions posed by contemporary science and philosophy. This book aims for an intelligent general audience. It does not require readers to have any familiarity with modern or classical physics, philosophy, formal logic, or any other specific body of knowledge. The book takes the reader on a journey that examines our most basic assumptions about reality; focuses on fundamental questions of knowledge, perception, and belief, both in the light of quantum research (which yields contradictions) and ancient wisdom (which anticipated such contradictions); and ultimately suggests not only a new way of seeing the world, but a set of practical and ethical principles for living in it and experiencing it, free of mind-boggling contradiction. Why the World Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense addresses the two-not-two paradox that other works only identify. It is through reliance on perception rather than conception that we have an opportunity to resolve this essential paradox, and through which we can establish an effective moral, philosophical, and intellectual framework for living our lives. The primary purpose of this book is to help readers learn to perceive the world directly — as it is, not how they conceive it to be. It is through this perception that each of us can answer profound moral questions, resolve philosophical and ethical dilemmas, and live lives of harmony and joy.
The Trouble with Believing
When I was a child I lived on the side of a hill. It was a broad, grassy escarpment, furrowed by wooded gullies and pierced by outcrops of gabbro, and it rose high behind the houses of my neighborhood. I was told by adults that unicorns romped in those hills.
I don’t think I ever believed this, however. My friends and I often hiked there, and we never saw any unicorns. Besides, there was something in the eyes of the adults—a bit of glee, perhaps—that made them seem less than convinced of their own story.
The question of unicorns, of course, was never a serious one. But I was told other things—things that, even to the adults, were clearly not meant to be far-fetched. These stories were not so easily dispelled, for many people believed them. And I used to wonder, what was required for me to believe?
I was raised in a strict Christian home where religion was a daily matter of serious concern. I was brought up to believe that Christ was my personal Savior. This belief was of extreme importance to me as a child, because I was told that in order to be saved from eternal damnation, all I had to do was to believe in Jesus.
Well, I certainly did not want to be damned for eternity, so I was very motivated to believe what I had been told. But there was something enigmatic about the proposition. I wasn’t sure just what it was I was supposed to do—that is, will myself to do. What was my responsibility? If belief was, as it seemed to be, a moral question, what was I to be held accountable for? As it was presented to me it seemed rather easy. “Just believe,” I was told, “and you’ll be saved.” Just believe—but what could this possibly mean? Surely not just to say that I believed.
The incident that brought this matter to a head occurred when I discovered that my church frowned on the idea of evolution. I had, by the age of twelve, become convinced through my readings that the theory of evolution explained clearly how life occurred and developed on this planet. Suddenly, I discovered that my belief regarding evolution was in direct conflict with my religious instruction. I was in a quandary, for I did not wish to be damned, yet I could not choose to believe as my church would have me believe. I didn’t know what to do.
I knew, I was to be honest with myself (and I was taught, and believed in, the importance of being honest), that deep down I truly did not believe. To believe in creationism, I would have had to dismiss other things from my mind that I already knew (believed, really) and understood as valid. I was not at liberty to simply start believing any notion that others happened to declare was true, correct, proper or necessary. In other words, I was powerless to make myself believe what I—or others—would want me to believe.
Steve Hagen has been a student of Buddhist thought and practice since 1967. He became a student of Dainin Katagiri Roshi in 1975, and continued on to be ordained a Zen priest by Katagiri Roshi in 1979. He has studied with teachers in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and in 1989 received Dharma transmission (the endorsement to teach) from Katagiri Roshi. Steve founded the Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center (www.dharmafield.org) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he lives. He currently maintains an active role as the head teacher at the center, where he leads classes, meditations, sesshins and more. He has written four books that help to clarify Buddhism, and his Buddhism Plain and Simple is among the bestselling books on the subject.