From BBC’s Life on Air. (Part one of six, go to BBC on YouTube for the rest.)
Again, simple on the surface but it has profound implications the more clearly it is seen – and lived.
We are all living our past.
This personality, with all its likes and dislikes, is a product of its history. It is a product of my personal history, that which is more or less unique to this individual. And it is a product of culture, evolution, and how this universe happens to be put together. There is really nothing personal about it. It all comes from somewhere. Anything this human self does has infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of the universe and out to its widest reaches.
Also, all my stories are based on my past, and these guide how I orient and act in the world now. They are about the past, whether they appear to be about the future, past or present, and I live from them – whether I believe in them or take them as guides only.
There is a great liberation in seeing this, to the extent it is investigated in daily life and in more and more areas of my life.
Alex, the parrot studied by Irene Pepperberg, is dead. I don’t know why this story – among all the other news in the world – brings up sadness, but it is probably because I have an especially soft spot for the lives of animals, and how they have been and still are treated by humans. The other species we share this planet with are one of the remaining groups to be included into the circle of us.
Alex, and many other animals studied these days, show us that many other species are not only very similar to us emotionally (why wouldn’t they be, when we share ancestors, when we share biology related to emotions, and when we display similar signs of emotions in similar situations?) but also cognitively.
In science, we justify experiments on animals (as substitute for humans) scientifically because they biologically are so similar to us, and yet justify it ethically because they are different from us. In science or society at large, very few point to that discrepancy, probably because it is convenient to not look at it too closely.
And including other species into the circle of us does not mean that we all need to become vegetarians or that we release all animals from captivity. It only means moving in the direction of treating them with more respect, remembering that they too have emotions and some cognitive abilities, and that they too want to avoid suffering. They are not so different from us in that way.
The golden rule applies here too. How would I have wanted to be treated if the roles were reversed, if I was that cow out on pasture, or that rabbit in the science lab, or those elephants losing their territory to humans?
How specifically will this look in real life? How will it influence how we treat animals in a range of different settings? That is something that will look different in different circumstances, and something that will evolve and change as we do.
Another exploratory and less organized post…
From the previous post:
How are beliefs ties up with biology? From a conventional view, we donâ€™t quite see the connection. Biology is biology, with its drives and impulses and neurotransmitters and whatever else. But if we look a little closer, we find that beliefs are essential also here. Mainly, biology is destiny only as far as there is an identification with this human self. If there is a belief in a separate self, and it is placed on this human self, there is a sense of I in this human self, including its biological aspect. I am caught up in it, have little or no distance form it, I am at the mercy of it. So when there is a biological drive or impulse, it is experienced as an I, which means it is acted on without much thought or sense of choice. (It goes the other way as well, beliefs create what is conventionally interpreted as only biological impulses.)
I want to explore this a little further, to clarify it for myself.
Biology taken as an I
Biological impulses are taken as an I only when there is a belief in a separate self, and this is placed on our human self. When they arise, they appear as I, so there is little or no distance from them. Sometimes, we act blindly one them. And at best, there is a sense of a struggle. I (body) wants this, but I (mind) shouldn’t or can’t.
The most dramatic example of this for me happened in one of my first sesshins. There was excruciating pain in the legs, so the biological impulse (or so it seemed) was to get up or at least change position. But since it was a sesshin, my mind said “sit still”. What I took myself to be was (a) in pain and (b) opposed to change the circumstances so it would go away. So there was also a sense of drama and conflict. I was at war with myself.
At some point, when the pain got so intense I felt I couldn’t take it anymore, there was a dramatic shift. The pain was still there, but there was also complete freedom from it. The pain just happened as anything else happened… the sounds from the streets, the sight of my own body and others in the room. It was there but without identification, without seeing it as an I with an Other.
Effects of beliefs interpreted as biology
Looking a little further, I see that the effects of beliefs are often interpreted as biology. In particular, a lot of it comes from the belief in a separate self. This belief in a separate self, placed on this human self, automatically creates fear, desire, longing, a desire for self-preservation, and so on. And all of this is typically interpreted as coming from evolution and biology.
If there is a belief in a separate self, and it is placed on the napkin on the table (unlikely, but it could happen), there would still be fears, desires, a sense of a need for self-preservation and so on, only now, it would obviously not be coming from evolution or biology. Maybe we instead would think that is is inherent in the particular fabric the napkin is made out of.
Together, we get a fuller picture.
Evolution does select for organisms that know how to take care of itself and produce offspring. This is embedded in the biology of individuals, showing up as what we call drives, impulses, traits and whatever other terms we have for it. Drives are real, in that sense.
When there is a sense of a separate self, and it is placed on this human self, then these drives are taken as “I”, which sometimes creates a sense of tension and drama. I (as body) want this, but I (as mind) want something else. I want to be free from pain, but I shouldn’t move. I want to eat, but I have taken a vow to fast.
And also, from that same sense of a separate self comes lots of things conventionally interpreted as having to do with biology: fears, desires, impulse for self-preservation, wanting to eat when hungry, sleep when tired, wanting to avoid pain, wanting pleasure, wanting release from tension, and much more.
With a belief in a separate self, placed on this human self, there is (a) a caught-upness in whatever biological impulses arise, and (b) an active production of impulses that may appear as coming from biology.
Absent of a sense of a separate self, there is (a) freedom from whatever biological impulses arise, and (b) an absence of a production of impulses that may appear as coming from biology.