Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection is elegant. Sometimes individuals mistakenly assume that evolution moves only in one direction only – as if for change to be valid it must be ‘progressive’ in a non-stop trajectory of development. The reality is something quite different. In fact, evolution occurs just as much by ‘regression’ as it does by ‘progression’ - such is the random nature of its unfolding. The human big-toe, for example, is actually a ‘deformed’ thumb similar that found on the human-hand today. At one time in human development, an early version of ‘us’ could climb trees and hold onto branches with the minimum of effort early in our development – similar to chimpanzees and other extant monkeys. However, when early humans took to pedal walking upright (along the ground), the thumbs on the ‘lower hands’ quite literally ‘devolved’ into a far more rigid ‘toe’ to aid balance and stability whilst standing, walking and running on two legs. This development ‘freed’ the human-hands to develop all kinds of dextrous activities which resulted in tool-making and the beginnings of the transformation of the environment.
Positive developments within human evolutionary development, therefore, are not always ‘progressive’, and yet such ‘negative’ changes make way for some quite stunning improvements in human-activity and thought-processing, etc. This observation can be applied to the individual with regards self-cultivation. Not every change in life is ‘positive’ or necessarily ‘conducive’ to well-being or progression, and yet if used in an appropriate manner, can be adapted to advance our psycho-physical developments outside of our perceived safety zones. Sometimes, for human-beings to develop more completely, it is the ‘uncomfortable’ and the ‘unthinkable’ that must be embraced and treated like a long-lost friend. To achieve this, as individuals we must bravely advance into situations that usually we would possess no possible reason to be associated with.
Many people, living in the modern world, are trained from birth to prefer those situations that confuse them least. Inherently, this also means that we tend to choose to live in situations that challenge us least. In a very subtle manner, we avoid the very challenges and conditions that would develop us the most, if only we allowed ourselves to manifest within them. Fear of failure, fear of suffering and fear of ridicule often keeps us from bravely exposing us to situations whereby we would not ‘voluntarily’ venture. Perhaps it is helping a homeless person covered in lice, urine and excreta, or assisting a disabled person with no social skills. It could be less obvious than this – such as mingling with those who hold intolerable ideological or political ideas. It could be an atheist mixing with a religionists – or a Socialist with a fascist, etc. My point is that sometimes, we must not artificially shut ourselves off from various realities just because we do not ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ them. Compassion and loving kindness work best when applied in situations and circumstance where neither of these attributes are thought to exist.
If we firmly understand whatever spiritual, political or social reality we subscribe to, then our reasoning and logic should be so strong that exposure to contradictory ideas and situations should not ‘weaken’ but only ‘strengthen’ our resolve. Difference, although very real and tangible, should not be considered as an excuse for walling ourselves off from expressing a greater love for humanity whilst cultivating an insight into the spiritual essence of all reality. The Daoist sage Zhuangzi once said that a truly enlightened being must be indifferent to praise or blame – surely the only way to test this is to voluntarily enter into situations where we would usually never choose to enter. We must bring ‘light’ to the darkest corners of the Earth through such undertakings!
Poverty is not a problem, as it limits unnecessary travelling and pointless experiences. I am not saying that poverty is correct, or even preferred, but when it comes to remaining ‘stationary’ and having to study ‘here and now’, having no options premised upon purchasing power can be an advantage. Focusing upon ‘awareness’ here and now is a definite advantage if the objective is to develop meditational insight as the mind exists, rather than being taken with the external world of ever-changing phenomena. Indeed, the Vinaya Discipline is nothing but the acceptance of voluntary impoverishment, and if this reflects or mirrors actual impoverishment, more’s the better. This is because the Buddha rejects wealth premised upon the accumulation of material goods, and instead advocates the accumulation of spiritual insight and loving kindness toward all beings. The giving-up of self allows the individual to experience a new collectively with existence which is freeing, fulfilling and accepting of all difference. We may exercise our economic muscle and travel places to entertain the mind, but this process, although enriching in one sense (like a Viking raid), nevertheless delays the real work of directly facing the essence of the mind as it exists here and now, with all its impurities, depressions, insecurities and dysfunctions. Travelling from one place to another is as the Ch’an masters say – mistaking everything in-front of a horse and behind a cow – for the essence of the mind! Being ‘where we are’ is a powerful weapon in the fight against ignorance and the injustice of the world. No one can take away your profound acceptance of things ‘just as they are’ - as this acceptance in no way equates to ‘agreement’ with the status quo! Outer change, if it is to last, must come from within. The outer structures of society must emerge from the deepest recesses of the mind. How we live as a species must be an outer expression of the deepest functions of the inner psychic fabric...