Worldview and the Social Self

by Ven. Wayne Hughes (Ren Cheng)

We (individually and collectively) develop our worldview, our perspective and interpretation of the world around us from our experiences. Worldview is the beliefs we hold about how life and the Universe works. Worldview is not handed down genetically or imprinted on our brain; it is learned and therefore can be changed.

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha’s worldview began as one of a privileged member of his society. Feeling that there must be more to his world he stepped outside the confines of home and encountered people and activities that dramatically altered his pattern of belief. The sick, the injured and the dead were new to his experience and fundamentally changed his worldview. Siddhartha went on to practice asceticism, to study with the Hindu masters of various schools, and to finally to realize a radically different perspective and interpretation of his world. The act of sitting beneath the Bodhi tree in meditation brought about more change. The Buddha determined the root cause of the suffering in the world, the inability to realize the fact of causality and the impermanence of all things, even of the “self”.

So, worldview is subject to impermanence like all other things. Through learning and practice and social engagement we have the opportunity and the responsibility to bring about positive alterations of the negative aspects of our own worldviews.

Social Self

Being a “Social Self” we recognize that we like all things are deeply interconnected, and constantly changing in this causal world of ours. Interconnectedness means our thoughts, words and actions have an impact on the people around us and that we are affected by the thoughts, words and actions of others. As Engaged Buddhists, we practice to develop positive social interactions through the six social relationships of family, teacher, partner, parents, employees and spiritual teachers or mentors.

Speed of travel and of communication has made this an even more interconnected world than ever in history. Information and goods that once may have taken years to get from one place to another now get there in seconds and hours.

It is a dangerous thing to live as though there is no consequence for our actions or as though there is no accounting for actions we have taken in this causal universe. Living without this awareness we may bring great harm and suffering upon ourselves. Anyone with any degree of understanding will surely seek to live with this awareness and take action.”A Spiritual and Social Practice, W. David Astor, Engaged Dharma Blog

The concept of the Bodhisattva, no matter what school of Buddhism one ascribes to can be seen as the ideal example of a Social Self. The Bodhisattva’s actions are not taken for selfish or egocentric reasons. Instead, they vow to lead, to extinguish, to master, and to follow for the benefit of all. They realize deeply the debilitating consequences of negative or neutral actions, and the empowering actions of the positive.

Our Worldview

For many years I held the worldview that “respect must be earned”. This was a limiting way of looking at the people that surrounded me every day. Only those few I had regular contact with had the opportunity to “earn my respect” while the majority didn’t. It wasn’t until I took a deep look at this perception of the world that I came to understand how it weakened my ability to connect with others.

As a social self I freely give respect to all. By beginning from a position of respect a social hurdle has been eliminated, a social expectation already met at least by me. Even those that may have “done me wrong” deserve respect because they have enabled me to practice compassion and altruism.

At any time/place during our lives we have a worldview, whether we recognize it as such or not. It is that perception of the world that drives our decision making and our actions. Through meditation practice and self-honesty we can determine that worldview and the effect it has on how we interact with the world. Through practice and commitment we can exchange negative worldviews for positive ones.

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