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Dharma and Intuition
(This email was my response to a friend who became unreasonable when I questioned certain dogmatic statements, based mainly on intuition, about the character of a mutual friend.)
James: Dear Mark, it is my experience that people who think they are “right” about something aren’t really interested in other opinions, so trying to get them to appreciate a different way of seeing things is often difficult. It is my view that the reason you think you are “right” about your intuitions is because being “wrong” about them would call into question your jiva’s good opinion about itself. You obviously had a strict moral upbringing, so there may be some kind of pride in it – only you would know.
The truth is that sometimes our feelings are right and sometimes they aren’t. I don’t think in terms of right and wrong as far as my behavior is concerned, because I act spontaneously, not reactively. The situation requires a certain response and it comes naturally. My behavior is invariably non-injurious. As far as others are concerned, I try not to see things through a right-and-wrong filter, because I have a lot of compassion for dharma-breakers because, unless they are criminals, they basically can’t help it owing to excessive emotionality. Criminal investigators have their suspicions, but they are required by dharma to not charge a person with a crime until there is hard physical evidence. If we relied on the intuitions of the police to maintain order there would be no dharma.
Yes, there was cause for suspicion, but there was a lot of evidence that you ignored. Samsara is shades of gray, always. Feelings are just feelings; there is nothing right or wrong about them. If you have them you should quietly build your case by gathering the facts and let the emotion caused by them dissipate. Intuition can be helpful – but never as one’s primary means of knowledge, because appearances can be deceiving. One’s views should be based on hard and fast evidence, and one should be careful not to ignore facts that contradict one’s views. You are not being fair to the object if you run with your feelings, and you are not being fair to yourself either, no matter how much you value your feelings.
There are always two sides to every coin. I had my suspicions about her too, but I had counter-intuitions too. It was never completely clear to me what she was up to, which suggests that intuition is unreliable. Which intuition should I believe? Situations like this argue for an objective evaluation of the facts, not how you feel about a particular fact. And, when all is said and done, the big picture – love and compassion – should determine one’s actions, not a few minor infractions of dharma.
Perhaps you imagine yourself as some kind of righteous person, and I think you are dharmic by and large, but I also think you are unaware of how important it is for you to be right and to uphold dharma. I think it compromises your compassion. It certainly makes you look opinionated, not to say dogmatic. People – evidently not you – are weak and make mistakes. The discomfort Mary caused was very insignificant. The discomfort you caused her was unnecessary.
Actually, I would be pleased if you kept your suspicions to yourself unless you can present them in an objective light. I can’t change your relationship to them, but I don’t have to listen to them. There is not one Vedanta scripture that supports intuition as a valid means of knowledge. There is a better way to deal with disturbing situations.
Finally, this dharma topic is not a proxy for any other issue. I have known you for a very long time and I love you. I am happy with our friendship.