Friday, June 29, 2007

the ability to think and reason

Somewhere on a blog I just came across a passage attributed to the Lord Buddha. It went as follows: "Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings - that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide."

I have been to numerous danas, (almsgivings primarily to honor the dead) in the past few years. There is usually a bana, (sermon by a buddhist priest usually one close to the family) which lasts between half hour and an hour. Their preachings if even ten percent is practiced will make Sri Lanka the holiest land ever. No one appears to live by that doctrine. Is it because they believe what the priest says is true? but that they cannot practice, as it is too difficult!

I sense the undercurrent being, that's the priest's duty and what he says is right, but our lives make it impossible to live by them. To an extent there is an element of reasoning about the impractical expectations of the sermon. In sharp contrast, I find the practice and belief in other forms of communication being different.

In the context of Sri Lanka,( I find this applies universally too) I see how much people believe what they read in the papers, see on TV and what is told them by their teachers, and most of all by their politicians! There is very little reasoning behind what is absorbed. It is easy to believe and not reason.

To quote an example that occurred recently. There is heavy advertising on TV on the benefits of various brands of milk powder as they are fortified with vitamins and minerals and is good for children. I produce milk and one day when I was delivering my can of milk at the collection center, I was speaking to another dairy farmer who has a few cows and had brought his milk. He said he sells his milk to Milco at Rs18/- a litre. However he has two small children so he buys a branded powdered milk at about Rs200/- for 400g to give them. He does not give them fresh milk as it does not have the same benefits as he believes what he has been told.

In his case he is spending a large sum for an inferior product and receiving a small sum for a superior product and believes he is doing the right thing. He is also short changing his children's growth and nutrition in the process too.

One option is for the benefit of fresh milk to be advertised. This is not productive as there is a shortage of fresh milk and companies have no problem in selling products made from fresh milk. There is no point trying to get people to stop drinking powdered milk when they cannot get fresh milk. Remember the time when Nestle was advertising the benefit of powdered milk in Africa, in preference to mother's milk, which caused deaths. The water used to make the powdered milk was unsafe to drink.

It is easier for us to accept what is said or written at face value. We can then blame a third party if it turns out be wrong. If we make the rational choice and we then find out later we made the wrong choice we have us to blame! It is therefore easier to lay the blame on others instead of us.

How do we therefore explain the power of reasoning and analysis so that we make rational choices? This is most important for our daily lives. It must be understood that the rational choice I make may differ from my neighbour given the same facts, as his or her perception of a fact can be different.

The important point here is not the result of the process, just the process itself. In many instances what is right for me maybe wrong for you.

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