Friday, June 15, 2012

Our true nature?

Often we hear that humans are innately both good and bad, with the capacity for kindness as well as selfishness, all in one big human nature soup. But is it really like that?
Imagine an old man (or woman) who has just returned from the mountain top, after many years of dedicated meditation. Is he more likely to want to: 
a) Share universal wisdom in a meaningful way to reduce suffering in the world
b) Stab kittens and puppies and eat all of his dastardly meditative competitors
Okay, those may not be the only two possibilities, and perhaps we're influenced by Hollywood and other cultural influences. But in actuality, I think something very much like (a) is really what usually happens. When we spend time clarifying our minds, compassion scatters selfishness like the sun clearing the clouds.

See Greg Burdulis or Matthieu Ricard as examples. Even a comparatively useless fellow like yours truly had quite a powerful experience of compassion that radically changed my outlook on life and its purpose.

Here's a brief outline of what I discovered (or maybe just decided) (see my other blog for more):
  • Being mean usually happens when we're manifesting an anxiety or insecurity that we're unable to cope with in a healthy way internally.
    • I may be hungry and irritable, but if I can maintain mental clarity, I can quarantine that miasma from other people. And not by suppressing it or otherwise worsening things for me.
    • If I want to make a decision that may slightly harm someone else but benefit me, there's a little voice I have to squash first. That's easier to do if my mind isn't calm.
  • Having a calm, lucid mind exposes all anxieties and insecurities as extraneous. As those melt away, there's progressively less that can hurt me, and thus less to worry about. This happiness-that-cannot-be-stolen frees up a lot of mental room to do other things. In most people who try, the inclination seems to move toward doing nice things and away from doing mean things.
    • Doing "mean" things, to any degree, for any reason, no longer seems to have a purpose.
    • Doing nice things still has the beautiful byproduct of feeling good.
In other words, I think there's a strong argument that compassion is a fundamental component of human nature, while selfishness and malice are adventitious (that is, parasitic). Doing away with compassion requires some brutal conditioning, whereas eliminating selfishness requires only seeing the world as it really is.

There's also a final step here. What does one do with the compassion uncovered from all this practice? In addition to straightforward ways of helping people (volunteering, charity, etc.), there's this big one:
  • Having noticed the turmoil in my own mind that led to all the suffering I caused myself and others, it's reasonable to assume that everyone else is doing it, too. This gives a clear target for compassion: help them understand how beautiful things look from this other perspective.
    • Decreases my need to blame other people. Instead, I'm more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt with their actions.
    • Reduces the need to focus on the "details" of the world: most social problems can be solved by simply enhancing the empathy of the actors. All other strategies are forceful and thus less efficient and less durable.
So get on the train, transform your mind, and join the inevitable compassion revolution. Or keep yelling at stoplights :)