[Summary: Psychological research demonstrates that various hidden factors determine moods. Relates to rites and rituals which have a hidden effect ]
While psychology and Buddhism are two different disciplines, both have things to learn from each other. In particular there are often peices of research in psychology that cast light upon the mind and mental processes. The New York Times recently ran an article asking the question “Who’s Minding the Mind”. Putting aside the deeper question of what exactly is the ‘self’ anyway … the gist of the article is that all kinds of hidden messages in our environment affect the way that we think.
New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it
These experiments are discussed in slightly more detail in the article.
Sometimes nonconscious effects can be bigger in sheer magnitude than conscious ones,” Dr. Schaller said, “because we can’t moderate stuff we don’t have conscious access to, and the goal stays active.
There are hundreds of such research papers that examine the unreliability of thinking, and the process of consciousness. But the striking thing from this article is how it relates to Buddhist imagery and ritual.
There is a kind of consensus with a lot of Westerners and ‘modernized’ vipassana practises that ritual and symbology of Buddhism is mere superstition and mumbo-jumbo; something that can be pared away with Occam’s Razor, to access the ‘real’ teaching. But if the presence of a briefcase on a table changes the subjects behaviour as in the article, then what can we say of the subconscious influences of rituals – such as bowing to the Buddha Rupa, chanting or lighting the candles and incense? When Thai people bring their new cars to the temple for holy water sprinkling, or offer food to the Sangha when starting a new business, it is a similar aspect of the psyche they are accessing. Perhaps they can’t explain it clearly, and resort to clichés such as ‘for good luck’ or ‘for future life’ etc .. but these rituals are an ordering of the mind, and an active re-committing of the self to Dhamma. From the evidence presented by the New York Times, we can assume that the subconscious affects of the rites and rituals we do has a lasting and pervasive effect on ones character, that can only be positive.