Can Anyone Be Free from Bias?
Published on May 7th, 2015 | by Harmonist staff8
By Karnamrita dasa, see part 1 and part 2.
While human beings are touted as the “rational animal,” we are actually quite irrational (read, biased) in many ways. We often act on our feelings despite our thoughts about the right or wrongness of a certain perspective. Think about your attitudes toward race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, fatness or thinness—or a host of material dualities—food, color, or sports teams. You likely have at least a few biases in some of these areas. Thoughtful people, who desire to do the right thing, don’t want to have unfair bias, and while they may have fewer than less aware persons, they can’t completely give them up. So what about in the field of spirituality? To realize oneself as a soul should mean free from material bias—right?
There are indeed yogis or mystics who have realized themselves as souls who are free from material bias. They have equanimity of mind toward the material world of things and its dualities and see everyone as a spiritual spark, part of the Supreme Source. The spiritual seeker, when studying the world’s faith traditions will often conclude that the universal truth beyond the bias and sometimes fanaticism of religion, is mysticism which is beyond even religious designation—at least as they are traditionally practiced.
Generally mystics or persons of spiritual wisdom focus on the energy of Universal Light as the highest aspect of the Supreme—beyond the sentimentality of those who worship a personal God. In fact, it seems that belief in a personal God goes hand in hand with religious wars and intolerance toward other conceptions, names, or forms of God. However, the mystics are not fighting with others. They are satisfied with their spiritual lives and don’t have to convert anyone. This is one reason religion has a bad name—fanatical bias, and intolerance toward other views. That is a fair critique, though it doesn’t have to mean that mystics have the highest conception of God.
Does the fanaticism of the religionist negate the possibility of a personal God? Does it point to a Universal conception of the Supreme One, the White Light, the formless, impersonal, Brahman as the unifying and Absolute Truth, or highest aspect of our Source? According to the Vedas of India, this Supreme Light, or Brahman conception, is only the entry level, or the most easily understood and experienced feature of the Supreme Spiritual Truth. Bhakti, or pure loving devotion to Krishna, is like a combination of the mystical vision of all-pervading Spirit (Immanence) and a personal conception of God beyond the universe (Transcendence).
Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman (All-pervading light energy), Paramātmā (Witness in the heart, and Lord of the Universe) or Bhagavān (the source of all while also residing in the spiritual plane). Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.11
In the metaphysic of Sri Chaitanya, who is Krishna playing as a devotee of himself, God is seen as inconceivably and simultaneously One with everything, and yet different from everything as well. In other words there is Oneness, but at the same time, there is variety, or as Prabhupada coined it, variegatedness. We could call this Dynamic Oneness which includes spiritual form and personality. Krishna, being the Source of all manifestations or energies of God, such as the material world, contains and harmonizes everything. Being a Gaudiya Vaishnava, or following the line of teachers from Sri Chaitanya, this is my bias! Yes, there is bias or preference in spiritual life, though those with a Brahman conception of God, would not agree.
Excellent article that is very easy to follow and read. I love the questions that are brought up and the points being addressed. It is interesting to notes the underlying presumptions about the readers understanding. Just one question; Who is the audience for articles such as these?
In loving service,
I think and write about the tendencies I have experienced on the spiritual journey while I was exploring different paths and also those I have read about in others. Thus I contemplate a spiritually educated or yogic audience with a predilection (i.e bias) for an impersonal Source. Whether I am successful or not in explaning convincingly the possibility of a personal Deity behind what is thought to be an impersonal energy Source remains to be seen. In part two I share a story from Shrimad Bhagavatam which posits a material and spiritual bias and outlines the distinction.
Thank you for your kind response. I can see how you are really writing to your audience now after re-reading. There really seems to many impersonal perspectives out there in the ‘yoga’ scene. Bias and the subjective qualities of consciousness is something that can potentially open the door to a “moksha plus” idea that Guru-Mahārāja speaks on.
I especially like the easy to follow flow of thoughts. The main reason I asked this question was because of the use of “Prabhupada” with no honorary prefix (i.e. Śrīla, Divine Grace…). I Just wondering about the context for the readers; looking forward to the next one!
The notion that our bias is somehow irrational strikes me as unfounded. Most of the time bias forms as a response to real events and observations in our life. These may be seriously narrow or incomplete, but they are real.
Thanks for your comment Kula-pavana! In response, I would say that it depends on your definition of bias, which like many words, is understood variously. Perhaps we could say there are reasonable and unreasonable bias which would depend on the person and their frame of reference–though even here some would emotionally agree or disagree with a certain bias or think it well reasoned or not. We may question what is “reasonable” bias–reasonable for what purpose? Human beings are biased creatures, no doubt, and there is both a positive and negative aspect.
Here is the dictionary.com definition of bias: “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned; unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group; prejudice.” Thus the general thrust of bias is negative when we get to the “unreasonable” part in the definition, which is very common.
While we have opinions based on our experience, that is usually very subjective and may be in response to something unrelated to the situation or person we are dealing with or observe. In any case, the realized jnani’s (spiritually wise persons) like the Kumaras had no material selfish bias (not considered a good quality), though they discovered that there is spiritual bias which contrasted from material bias, and is actually an ornament of the soul.
Thus some biases may be good materially, or within one’s limited sphere, while not helpful spiritually or for realizing the higher Universal perspective. Thus bias is a fact of life within the material and spiritual realms, but the deciding factor of whether a bias is helpful depends on one’s life purpose and who or what is the center of one’s life–one’s material egoic life or centered on our Source. There are some of my thoughts on the matter–which is a rich topic.
Kula-pavana, you don’t think Creationists have a bias and that they are irrational? 😉
No, I do not think their bias is ‘irrational’. They make certain assumptions, but they are not what I would call ‘irrational’. They reason that God exists, they even have real experience of Him, they believe in their revealed scripture which tells them God created every species – these are all examples of rational thinking or thinking based on certain reasons. Religion is a very established part of human existence and it permeates all aspects of human thought. Fear of clowns can be described as irrational. Fear of flying in an airplane can be described as irrational, because it is not based on someone’s actual experience or statistical probability of harm.
Say there’s a book that says clowns are evil. The book says it’s the word of God. If a Clownophobe takes it to be true and has a certain thinking about it that is “rational” and coherent within the context of that belief system, is that not irrational? Can’t one definition of irrational be that one chooses sources of knowledge in a way that defies the common parameters of rationality? Wouldn’t believing the creation stories of scripture literally when there are mountains of empirical evidence to the contrary fall into this category?