The human mind cannot hold two opposing and contradictory beliefs at the same time, for example, I believe in God and I don’t believe in God. When this happens it is called “cognitive dissonance.” At all costs the human mind has to rid itself of the dissonance. This could include the suppression of information and unconscious denial. A more elaborate unpacking of what cognitive dissonance means is here presented.
A theory first postulated by Leon Festinger ( 1957), which holds that when an individual finds himself in a situation where he is expected to believe two mutually exclusive things, the subsequent tension and discomfort generate activity designed to reduce the disharmony. Festinger presents two basic hypotheses: (1) the existence of dissonance (inconsistency) is psychologically uncomfortable, which motivates a person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance (consistency); and (2) when dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, a person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.
Festinger further explains cognitive dissonance by defining the meaning of the two words "cognitive" and "dissonance." Cognition (the noun form of cognitive) is "any knowledge, opinion, or belief about the environment, about oneself, or about one's behavior." Dissonance is "the existence of nonfitting relations among cognitions" ( Festinger, 1957, p. 3). Cognitive dissonance, then, can best be understood as an antecedent condition which leads to activity oriented toward reducing dissonance.
Festinger's concept of cognitive dissonance suggests that the human organism will always try to establish internal harmony, consistency, or congruity among his opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and values (i.e., a drive toward consonance among cognitions). He conceptualizes cognition to be decomposable into elements or clusters of elements. When confronted with some contradiction to a strongly held belief, people tend to try (either consciously or unconsciously) to find some element of the contradictory input with which they can identify” (Jay M. Shafritz, ed., International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration: A-C, vol. 1, p. 414).
Maintaining consonance at all costs to avoid dissonance can be a risky undertaking in more ways than one. Maintaing cultural consonance is at the heart of paradigm wars, government’s not-so-convincing-explanations, conspiracy theories—and yes, even UFO disclosure. A lie, in other words, is better than the truth if truth means rocking our secure boat.
In Buddhism, the process of maintaining consonance in the face of cognitive dissonance with regard to Zen’s mythology such as the patriarchal lineage, seated meditation, etc., cannot be underestimated or ignored. Teaching Zen mythology to Zen newbies for the sake of consonance is a major function of pop Zen.
The effort of The Zennist blog has been to hammer away at the artificially created consonance—the Zen myth—by showing that institutionalized Zen, including pop Zen, does not have much real Buddhism as a basis. The so-called Zen lineage, for example, has more to do with Confucianism than Buddhism (The Zennist, “The Confucian Zen lineage”). The institution of Zen we have in place has largely been a concession to Chinese, Korean and Japanese culture. Its present form has very little if anything to do with real Buddhism.
On the other hand the literature of Zen, like philosophical Taoism, is of great value. Zen’s grasp of pure Mind is exemplary and very helpful for the adept who wants to see what the Buddha saw. It is not off the track with regard to the Nikayas or the Mahayana canon. But where cognitive dissonance is met with involves the institution of Zen, itself, which has nothing really to do with awakening to pure Mind; with first achieving Bodhicitta so the Bodhisattva path can commence. The institutional Zennies are going to protect their turf no matter what the cost, attacking those who are exposing the myth of Zen for what it really is.
What this portends for modern Zen is a Zen without Buddhism; a Zen of rituals, not a single one having been taught by the Buddha. Is it any wonder that in Japan Zen is regarded as the “funeral religion”?