What is an Idea? (part three)

In our ongoing exploration of the meaning of “idea,” we see that skill in linguistic manipulation often means that our philosophy is correct by agreement among ourselves while others have unproved ideas. This is a cultivated talent of all good debaters. While we have principles, they have ideas (notions or opinions). Meanwhile, our group, (whatever that is), country, or community thinks about what is truly important and create principles of varying actual logical sense.

There is a story called, “The Lord of the Flies”, about lost boys living on an island with no adults, no education, fending for themselves. They invented strange rules, principles, and attitudes as well as an ability to punish others for seemingly innocuous reasons. It causes me to think about different cultural values. For example, I saw a documentary about the Inuit and their shamanic culture, which has a tremendous number of rules. I cannot remember the details but it would be as if I was going to take a cookie, I had to first turn around three times. It was like that to my thinking - very unusual and seeming unrelated to the issue at hand. If one did not perform actions in that correct way, according to the principles of their community, this might cause the entire village to starve in retaliation by the gods who were displeased. People who broke rules, little tiny rules, were made to pay huge penalties as well as confess and have dishonors heaped upon them. These, to my mind, are unusual ideas regarding rules.

So, we have ideals in the form of principles and others have ideas in the form of notions or opinions, because they cannot really prove it to our satisfaction. In a more positive way, “idea” and “ideals” are interchangeable as meaning guiding principles. Certainly, ideals determine how we treat or interact with others.

Democracy is a familiar example of a guiding principle based upon agreement among the people in this and other countries, producing certain sets of rules and structure. The Ten Commandments are another set that we could casually call a good idea, a very good idea. However, they are not just a good idea. They are guiding principles based upon divine inspiration – it came from God. So these guiding principles, ideas, or ideals, because they come from God, are impossible to criticize or change by even one word. It is divine law.

The ideals of Buddhism are presented to us in the active form of living ideas such as compassion, love, and caring for others. The value of seeking wisdom and other important concepts used as guiding principles are not just divinely inspired written in stone, but must be developed over a very long period of time and honed in skillfulness by the living organic being in order to benefit.

Practical applications

So, what is an idea and how is it used in everyday life? In my opinion, one common method of displaying “idea” is a showing a copy of a pattern without consideration of how that pattern was formed. One could copy an idea and retell it to others. For example, in a recent renovation project at the Hermitage, the workman arrived, electricians, plumber, and carpenters asking me,
“What do you want to do here?” My eyes just sort of moved around here and there as if trying to escape because I have no fresh insight of what I was talking about and am relegated to reproducing a pattern, “Uh, uh, Jack said that he would like to have that wall over here.” I do not know why Jack said that or why that was important. Maybe Pema Dorje told Jack his idea, then Jim, Jack, and Pema Dorje talked about it, and I am telling the pattern to the actual workers. I have no idea why I am the one to have to do this, as I am not even a very good copier of that pattern! This becomes apparent when the electrician says, “Well, I don’t know. What if we do this?” I reply, “Oh, that sounds good too.”

The electrician removed an old fan in the outer Dharma hall, looked at me sadly and said,
“You know, the previous owners had that heavy fan just clutching onto one ceiling tile.” As we gazed at it together, he said, “You know, they installed it right next to the stud. Isn’t that interesting?” This probably happened 30 years ago and little did they know that they would be critiqued later on. Anyway, I digress, a copy of a pattern without consideration of how that pattern was formed. To be continued…


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