"New York Philosophy" Message Board › Is Buddhism suited to human nature?
New York, NY
At Thursday?s Evening of Enlightenment a question I?ve heard asked many times before was once again brought up: is it in our nature to abide by precepts suggested by Buddhism?
Is it reasonable to expect a system that offers a path to a closer understanding of the nature of reality to be one that is conveniently suited to our perception of it?
It has been argued that such a practice as Buddhism requires is not well suited to human nature because of our tendency to be self-serving and to take the path of least resistance. I think that when evaluating the potential of Buddhism (or any system) to transform our perceptions the major argument to consider is not whether it is in our nature to be compassionate, for instance, but whether it is in our capacity to change our perceptions.
The assertion that humans are only capable of soft-core altruism because there is always a self-serving component (to whatever degree) to any act of altruism performed through conscious effort relies heavily on self-perception. If a transformation can take place away from the perception of one?s self as being apart form one?s surroundings then this argument starts to loose ground.
Any thoughts on this?
|A former member||
I agree with you. If we never tried to do anything that is not suited "to our nature", we'd still be living on trees like monkeys.
Monogamy, for example, is not in a male's "nature" -- males want to have sex with as many females as possible in order to increase their imprint in the future genepool -- and yet most societies are based on a monogamous principle.
Come to think of it, the fact that the populations in North America and Europe are drifting more and more away from ritualized imposed monogamy (a.k.a. marriage) towards serial monogamy or complete lack of monogamy in many individuals (a.k.a. players), shows that many people are less willing to go against their "nature". However, that does not mean that we should not attempt to follow principles that are against our "nature" or that it would not be positive to do so.
Human beings have cognitive powers surpassing that of any other species and therefore have the power to overcome their instincts. Saying that we should not do things that are against our "nature" amounts to suggesting that we should all act like animals. I think we can do better than that.
Virginia Water, GB
Compassion and violence are in our nature.
Lying and honesty are in our nature.
Hard work and lazyness are in our nature.
Knowledge and ignorance are in our nature.
A few things are going on here:
- we have unique cognitive powers that allow us to overide certain impulses, emotions, tendencies that in the animal kingdom or in our earlier ancestors would go unchecked
- we are part of social groups that apply certain pressures and norms that also contribute to reining in some of our evolutionary propensities least desirable in a modern environment
- still, plenty of our behaviors - even when we think of them as "rational" - are actually driven by emotions, and the "rationality" is really "rationalization" (cf neurological studies on "decisions" made by the brain distinctly before the subject consciously made the decision). The very useful teaching from Buddhism (though by no means unique to it) is that in order for us to really free ourselves from most of the controlling instincts, desires, cravings, we need to first be aware of them, and truly witness them in action. And that's both in our nature (self-awareness is a defining human characteristic) and against our nature (we "naturally" prefer to ignore or escape the reality that we are often controlled by our desires, habits etc...)
All that said, Buddhism goes very far in its advocation of selflessness, compassion, respect for life among other things. In these domains, it seems pretty clear that it pushes the envelope far beyond the "natural" standards found in most individuals or societies. Does it go too far for most people? Probably if the goal is to apply buddhist precepts to the letter or emulate buddhist monks. The good news is buddhism seems quite content with an incremental "progress not perfection" approach, as opposed to the absolute sin-based christian approach.
So i guess it's all right to push your nature a little bit at a time...
But wait, didn't Hyakujo say that enlightenment is a "sudden phenomenon"?