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Posts tagged “assumption

Assumption Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

“To think you know something is the most dangerous thing in the world.” Lao Tzu


This is one of my favorite stories about assumption. . .

Waaaaaaaaay back in 1981, two doctors, Dr. Barry Marshall (internist) and Dr. Robin Warren (pathologist) from Australia said they had found the cause of stomach ulcers in people. But it wasn’t even close to the prevailing belief among doctors or the public as to what causes ulcers, which was “stress” of course. Seems our Australian doctors had the whacky idea that ulcers are caused by a bacteria (h. pylori). I remember when this first made the news – I also remember how they were ridiculed and called crazy, especially by other doctors. . . “Why, everyone knows high stress and poor diet causes ulcers. . .” Yes, everyone, including doctors, who are supposed to be scientists, at least in part, with open minds who evaluate physical evidence and facts in the interest of giving their patients better, healthier lives and preventing needless deaths. What’s more, Dr. Marshall and Dr. Warren also found this bacteria causes stomach cancer. Now keep in mind, even if there is no cancer, stomach and duodenal ulcers cause much pain and suffering, can result in having to remove a large portion of the stomach, and can be fatal. So this was not something to be taken lightly, even as many doctors kept saying that ulcers were really in people’s heads and if they would just relax more and eat better they would be just fine.


Happily, Dr. Marshall did not give up. He couldn’t use mice to experiment in the lab, because h. pylori only affects primates. Regulations prohibited him from experimenting on people. So, a real hero, Dr. Marshall borrowed a cup of h. pylori from one of his patients and drank it, infecting himself. He followed the course of his own disease and biopsied his own stomach, proving conclusively that h. pylori causes stomach ulcers in people. (This, by the way, is the difference between thinking you know and actually knowing.) As a result of these doctors’ work, ulcers and stomach cancer claim far fewer lives in the industrialized world.

In 2005 (way too late, in my not-so-humble-opinion) Drs. Marshall and Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discovery.

But, one of the most amazing things about all this, to me, is how many people STILL believe stomach ulcers are caused by “stress”.

See here for a recent interview with Dr. Marshall.


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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

The Antidote For Assumption

There is a simple antidote for assumption. Simple yes, but also very profound. If you do it correctly, it will set you free. However, I should warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart. As Yuanwu said, “It is no small matter to step directly from the bondage of the ordinary person into the transcendent experience of the realm of the sage.” No small matter indeed. It’s a bit like unexpectedly being thrown into a rushing river or having the ground disappear from under your feet.

Ask questions. Yup. It’s that simple. As Socrates said, “Question everything.” and “Question authority.” The question the old Chinese (zen) masters recommend is: “Where does this (really) come from?” Another question I have found useful is “What am I really doing, and why?” (Or,  “What is _______ really doing, and why?”) Then keep your mind OPEN, waaaaay open.

“Because that’s what everyone does/says.”
“Because it’s always been done that way.”
“Because person X (who may be an ‘expert’) said so.”
Or one of my personal favorites, “Because GOD says this is what we’re supposed to do.”
Ad infinatum, ad nauseum. . . . . .

Clearly these are not answers at all, they are assumptions based on culture and other concepts, and they have nothing to do with what is actual, with reality. A concept is an abstraction, something apart from concrete reality, specific things, or actual instances. When you start asking, you will be shocked at how many answers are built on absolutely NOTHING but assumptions, concepts, and (LOL!) popular culture and public opinion. Even in science, which presents itself as being open minded inquiry, and built on facts. Remember, at one time the “experts” said the world is flat – they said illness was caused by evil spirits. . .and everyone believed them and adopted these concepts as their own truth. In times past human sacrifice was accepted by the majority. Clearly 40 million people CAN indeed be wrong, and often are!

Happily, there’s nothing that says you have to be one of them.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

OK – Time To Get Serious About Assumption


N June of this year a new book was released, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, by Matt Rossano. The author is head of the psychology department at Southeastern Louisiana University. (I haven’t decided if I want to read this book yet, once you read this post you will understand why.) According to reviews, one of the main premises of the book is that “Religion made us human.” Already I have a problem. . . . . .

What exactly do we mean when we say “human’? Technically speaking we are animals, primates, homo sapiens.  Surely you have heard it said that humans and chimpanzees share 99% of DNA – what you may not have heard, or thought about is, one of the things this means is that a human and a chimpanzee could produce viable offspring. That’s how close we are! A very similar situation as is found with domestic dogs and wolves.



So. . . .again, what exactly do we mean when we say “human’? There are some basic assumptions here, assumptions that I think can result in bad science, especially in the areas of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology.

First there is an assumption that “humans” are unique in a special way, superior somehow to other “animals”. Hmmmmmm. Let’s see, would you say that otters are superior to giraffes when it comes to living most of life in the water? Are bats superior to dogs when it comes to flying? Are bears superior to chinchillas when it comes to catching salmon to eat? Now, compared to a dog, humans are positively stupid when it comes to sense of smell. Compared to cats, humans are blind in the dark. Bonobo (a species of chimpanzee) social structure makes that of humans look horribly primitive. Hmmm, yes, chew on that one a bit – humans may not be the most highly socially evolved critter on this planet. And I have kept my examples within the class of mammals. Insects, critters that technically don’t even have brains, have adaptations that are truly brilliant compared to humans.

“Humans” are different, yes. But so are giraffes and dogs and chinchillas. What is actual is that nature (evolution) adapts each species to it’s environment. “Humans” have their adaptations and so does all the rest of life on this planet.

What about intelligence, consciousness, self-awareness, etc? Does this really set “humans” apart from the other “animals”?

Well, when it comes to intelligence, dolphins have bigger brains than we do, and may actually be more intelligent than people. There is a school of thought that emerged in the 1980’s that says we may not be equipped to correctly evaluate the intelligence of other species, because we are limited by our own adaptations and biology. As I said in a previous post, we only have one lens to look through, the “human” one. And how can we hold other species to the same standard we apply to people? Another way to say this is: Maybe you have to be a dolphin to correctly evaluate the intelligence of dolphins.

Science has debunked all the myths of what we want to believe sets us apart from the other animals so far: Other animals use tools, have symbolic language and complex communication, practice deception, form lifelong friendships, make choices and decisions, have some degree of self awareness, etc. It has been known since 1967 when it was written about by Desmond Morris in his book The Naked Ape, that dolphins, chimps, whales, and elephants have culture. Where mammals especially are concerned, the only real differences in any of these things are in degree, not kind.

So. Whatever else religion may or may not have done, it didn’t make us “human”. Nature, through evolution, made us what we are.

Now, lets look at some of the things “humans” do that other “animals” don’t. Other “animals” DON’T invent religions and then go to war over them. Other “animals” DON’T go to war over ideology. Other “animals” DON’T kill, maim, and torture others over religion. Other “animals” DON’T invent religion and then try to force it onto all the other “animals” through government, public policy, and culture.

Oh, they do fight, and some even have “wars” – ants and chimpanzees come to mind as warring creatures. But chimps go to war for only 3 reasons: territory, resources, and mates. Ants go to war for only 2 reasons: territory (expanding colonies literally need more physical space) and resources.

Interesting, no?

I think I’ll come back as a chinchilla in my next life!

Sources – related reading:

What Makes Humans Unique?

Are humans unique?

Do Animals Know Who they Are?

A Comparison of Some Similar Chimpanzee and Human Behaviors

Liberating Women – an interesting perspective from bonobo social structure

How ants carry on war

Apes of War – is it in our genes?

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

Absurdity of Assumption – Part 2

Well. . . . .

Sometimes a perfect example drops right into one’s lap! This is an actual, verbatim conversation from a public forum. I did not participate in this conversation in the forum. My comments, added for this post, appear in italics.

Notice how Person X’s words are full of assumptions about life, reality, and Person M – Person X definitely thinks s/he knows! Notice how personally Person X takes what is said, as if it were some kind of attack, and something to be ‘proven’. The error here is not in Person X’s personal truth – the error is that Person X thinks personal truth is universal truth – and that people who don’t believe this ‘universal truth’ are somehow wrong or lacking or bad or something negative somehow.

Person M, in true zen spirit, does not take it personally, and keeps going back to the ACTUAL. Person M is much more patient than I would be in such a situation; I can never see the point of talking with someone like Person X. I have nothing to prove or defend, and I prefer to use my energy for other things.


[Person M] No cause, no effect, no previous moment. Just now, just THIS!

[Person X] Just this arose from somewhere. The house that appears NOW
arose from the past. The cause of this now is the past. You exist as an
illusory form because in the now of the past your parents had sex. If they
did not there would be no now for you. If there is no cause and effect
there would be no response to my posting from you now. My posting was
the cause of your response. This is all illusion yes, but in the illusion cause
and effect exists and functions. To deny this is to say that the illusion is
the same as your zen experience which then would contradict your belief
that this is an illusion. If the illusion is not the same nature as your
experience of non-illusion how can you say cause and effect do not exist.
They exist in the illusory world, to deny they don’t is to say then that the
illusory world is the same as your zen experience.

[Person M] Say what? The above paragraph is way too complicated for me to decipher. All I can say in response is that there is no past and no future, just now, so there can be no cause-and-effect. Just THIS!

{Babaloo’s comment} Person X’s statement above is a perfect example of western (particularly American) ‘logic’. It is really a complex chain of assumption and attachment. A psychologist I once knew had an interesting way of describing such chains – he called them “belief structures.” And he said, “the acronym for belief structure is BS, and we all know what BS stands for!”

[Person X] To the worldly compassion may be subjective. Some may label
certain acts as compassion, others may not

[Person M] No comment.

[Person M (requoted from earlier)] What objective measurement would you put on compassion?

[Person X] Compassion has a definitive effect. The measure is again a
worldly illusory measure, but it is increased worldly happiness and peace
as well as that which brings liberation to others. From virtuous actions
arises virtuous effects. Even acts of compassion from those who are just
following some guide will have an increasing seeable affect, but there is a
difference between acting concepts of compassion and acting out of
compassion. Compassion sees others suffering and tries to free others
from that suffering, though ultimately compassion transforms the human
aggregates to that of a Buddha to perfectly do this.

{Babaloo’s comment} Person X’s statement above is full of assumption and judgement.

[Person M] You started this paragraph saying this ‘measure is again a worldly illusory measure’, so I can’t disagree with that. I won’t argue with you about your illusions.

{Babaloo’s comment} This reminds me of a line from Richard Bach’s book, Illusions: “Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.”

[Person M (requoted from earlier)] What do you have to say of compassion when the duality of subject and object dissolve?

[Person X] The compassionate being becomes even more effective in the
transformation of others. What do you have to say about the normal self
when duality of subject and object dissolve? From your experience you
still eat, drink and interact,

{Babaloo’s comment} Person X assumes a ‘compassionate being can be effective in transforming others’!!! There is no transformation – everyone is already enlightened. It is only a matter of awareness. The very idea that anyone can ‘transform’ anyone else is antithetical to zen.

[Person M] When duality dissolves there is no self, normal or otherwise – so I say nothing.

[Person X] If subject and object have dissolved how do you chose what to
eat or drink, or even to join this site and respond to posts. You express
your subjective experience and make use of objective functioning things.

[Person M] Subject/object are not dissolved all the time. I have illusions and sometimes I have attachments to those illusions. So what?

[Person X] The duality of subject and object dissolving is perfectly
expressed through compassion as they have only dissolved for you not the
others in the world to which you abide.

[Person M] When subject and object dissolve there are no ‘others’ – just THIS!

[Person M] Without self there are no others.

[Person X] There are no others to you because you project no self on
others. There is a self that appears even though there is no self to your
experience. You project your subjective view of no self onto the objective
appearance of the world of form and the others who inhabit it.

[Person M] No. There are no ‘others’ because there is no self. There is no good because there is no bad. Just THIS!

[Person M (requoted from earlier)] Without valuation there is no suffering.

[Person X] There is no suffering for you since you hold no valuation, but
others suffer from it. Also with correct valuation there is no suffering as
compassion is not a source of suffering. You may say you have no
valuation, but from your no self appears a valuation of your experience
through your illusory self. You place value on your experience.

[Person M] I didn’t say I place value on my experience. I said it is all I have. Everything else is hearsay, someone elses experience.

{Babaloo’s comment} Our own experience is all any of us have, indeed. In my view, zen is not personal, but it is individual. As R.H. Blyth said, “My zen is not your zen. A man’s zen is not a woman’s zen. It is the same, yes, but it is different. . . We must be on our guard against the absolute. . .We must respect the individual.” Arguing about whose zen is the “correct” zen (as Person X does) is NOT zen!

[Person M (requoted from earlier)] Without effort all things exist.

[Person X] Tell that to the construction workers working in the hot sun to
build a sky rise or to the person who works day and night to support their
family. Again you are projecting your view of Buddha nature onto the
illusion which is just not how the illusion or those in it functions. For you
without effort, but for those without your experience, by the sweat of
their brow things exist.

[Person M] Okay, I’ll change that statement to ‘With or without effort, all things exist.’ Is that better for you?

{Babaloo’s comment} Person X says “. . .for those without your experience. . .” How can anyone have someone else’s experience?!?!!! Person X assumes that everyone will interpret an “experience” the same way!

[Person M] Compassion does indeed arise from the mind, but like all products of the mind, is not spontaneous. Spontaneous is before mind, before self, before duality, before valuations, before compassion

[Person X] The spontaneous may be before the mind, but when it appears
through the mind to the world of form, compassion is spontaneous. It may
not be spontaneous for you, but it can be. Your spontaneous nature
appears as bill eating and drinking and doing things, a being of
compassion spontaneous nature appears through a spontaneous mind of

[Person M] Read my statement on spontaneity again. If a being acts without engaging the mind (or to be really technical about it – without becoming attached to the engagement of the mind), then he acts spontaneously. If he engages his mind and is attached to it’s concepts, like the concept of compassion, and places a value of ‘good’ on compassion, then he is not acting spontaneously.

[Person M] A car is used to go from one place to another. When you realize that one place is no better than any other, attachment to the car dissolves. And like you said you still use it to go here and there. Compassion can be used also without attachment though you do not believe this.

[Person M] I use it to go here and there but I am not attached to it. I don’t live in the car…see below…

[Person M] You don’t live in your car.

[Person X] You do live in your mind and body though and like a car that
functions to get you from here to there, the mind and body function. The
nature of the mind and body can be changed which in turn changes its

[Person M] I live in my mind and body when I create dualities such as self/other. When dualities dissolve so do mind and body.

[Person M] Compassion is an illusion.

[Person X] So is a car, but as you say so long as you are not attached to it
you can use it to go here and there. A person can not be attached to
compassion and still use it, like a car, to perform a specific function, the
liberation of others.

{Babaloo’s comment} I just cringe at the above statement!

[Person M] Okay, I finally agree with something you’ve said, although I’d advise you to be careful with the ‘specific function’ part. That’s getting very close to intent, and intent implies something planned, something not spontaneous.

[Person M] I am definitely a worldly being.

[Person X] I was meaning a normal worldly view to which your own
experience is contra to. Your experience is not shared by most of the
world views.

[Person M] It is shared by most of the worlds religious teachings, or at least by most of the people on whom religions were founded (even though now the teachings have been polluted)

[Person M] There is indeed a contradiction in your statement above, but it is not what you think. The contradiction is with ‘liberated being’ and ‘chooses’.

[Person X] I was speaking of your view. Do you not choose anything? Or
do you just eat what is offered or is it a spontaneous appearance of your
body walking to the fridge to spontaneously grab food? Do you not go
anywhere unless requested, or do you just see you body move from place
to place doing things?

[Person M] When there is a self, an ‘I’, then yes, ‘I’ do all those things. When self dissolves, then no, there is no ‘I’, no anything to be done.

[Person M] Those that ‘become one with their true nature’ have no NEED to display compassion. This is true.

[Person X] You are right, but those who are not one with their true nature
need them to. They have needs liberated beings don’t, hence the value in a
liberated being abiding spontaneously in a spontaneous mind of

[Person M] Okay. I just wanted to make that distinction.

[Person M] How can this being have compassion for ‘others’ without first having the illusion of ‘self’?

[Person X] How can you function and talk to others without first having a
view of self? There are illusion others appearing and interacting with
your illusion appearing self. The being is aware that there is a self that
appears to others but is are not attached to it, just as you have a being the
appears and are not attached to it.

[Person M] How can I stay attached to the earth without having knowledge of gravity? How can I catch a ball without having knowledge of parabolics? That’s how I can function without ABSOLUTELY having a dualistic self/other split going on all the time. (It does go on most of the time, but not all the time.)

[Person X] Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them. (By
dissolving the self you dissolve the concept of others, thereby saving them
How is the suffering that is appearing in the now helped by a being who
has no concept of self?

[Person M] When self dissolves, attachments dissolve; when attachments dissolve, suffering dissolves. This is Buddhism 101.

[Person X] With eyes one can see how suffering is helped by the mind of

[Person M] Compassion will not end suffering. It might make both you and others feel better for a while, but the suffering will return. the only way to end suffering is to end attachments; the only way to end attachments is to extinguish your concept of self. The only two ways i know to do that are zazen (shikan-taza — clear mind), and koan study – although in actuality koan study is really just  a technique to lead you to shikan-taza — clear mind.


For the first part of the Absurdity of Assumption, see here.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.


I marvel at the assumptions people make. I completely understand why some of the old zen masters whacked their pupils over the head with their staves. I understand why the Dalai Lama said some people should just kill themselves. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone and thought to yourself, ‘where on earth are they getting this stuff?’ It hasn’t even the loosest connection to anything real. I mean, if you listen to people, and some of the incredible things they come up with. . . .it would be hilarious (and sometimes it really is) if it weren’t for the fact that they actually believe what they are saying. (And it’s generally considered very impolite to burst out laughing.) No amount of talking will help. Their minds are made up. They KNOW. But bless their hearts, they think they are communicating and that what they have to say is important.

And Kwan Yin help you if what they think they know concerns *you*. They KNOW what you are thinking. They KNOW what you are really doing. They KNOW and it’s their sacred mission to disabuse you of your illusions. This happens with people who have “known” you for years, and it happens with people who just met you ten minutes ago, people who couldn’t possibly know. It’s at this point that I usually begin strangling my purse or umbrella or whatever I happen to be carrying and profoundly wishing my cell phone would ring, or someone would come to the door, or a meteor would fall on me. What usually actually happens is that I am stunned into silence and looking at them with my mouth hanging open, and they either think I’m an idiot or that I agree with them. If I have the faintest inkling they think I agree with them I try to begin drooling or scratching my butt so they will dismiss me as an idiot.

It’s enough to make you wonder why people think they need drugs to reach an altered state of consciousness.


(***I want to stress that this is an actual verbatim conversation, and that this is the total conversation, I have left nothing out, and that it comes from an area for discussing religion and spirituality.***)

Person A asks the question:
“I know how to make rain but there’s no cloud at the start of the god finger what do I do?”

Person B responds:
“If I eat a banana, why is there a snake in my garden?”

Person C responds:
“If anyone understands either of these questions, could you please translate?”

Person D repsonds:
“zoom nout nout using the pinch button, and see if you see any white clouds anywhere around your planet! You should be able to find at least one there are two though every time. You can move the cloud to where ever you want it. If that does not work try reinstalling the application.”
END of conversation

I rest my case.

My response (after I stopped laughing):

To Person A:
You are in an area for the discussion of religion and spirituality, NOT video games about playing god.

To Person B:
No, no, no. You’re confused. It was an apple that was eaten, and the snake was there first, and the garden belonged to a guy called “god”.

To Person C:
No one understands anything, apparently.

To Person D:
Reinstalling the application won’t help.



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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.