Darwinism and the nature of problems

One could best highlight this Buddhist concept when considering the science of the great evolutionary Charles Darwin. According to Darwin any creature or sentient beings (Buddhists include insentient beings as well) are motivated by the obstacles or ‘problems’ they are experiencing.

In other words, ‘nature’ rewards those who successfully overcome their problems with an expansion in ‘brain capacity’ and thus ever greater levels of awareness. This follows that human beings are believed to be where they are today.

They are the ‘pinnacle’ of evolution, because they successfully mastered innumerable challenges. One could say that without problems or obstacles this development would have never been possible. Therefore, it is only natural for the Buddhist practitioner to show an appreciation for ‘problems’ and perceived obstacles as they enable us to further our development.

To elaborate further on this, and to perhaps use a metaphor to better grasp this concept, one could ask the question ‘why has a beautiful colored fish in the coral reef its form and colors?’ Well….because it has a big problem. Because there is a shark out there that wants to eat the fish (i.e. threatens its life) for instance.

Thus, it had to learn (adapt) how to swim fast and hide between the reef, and camouflage accordingly if it wants to survive. Therefore, even though a fish hasn’t got an evolved consciousness to the extend we do as human beings, every cell within it is nevertheless motivated (unconsciously) to make it through to see another day.

There is no doubt from a scientific standpoint that the constant environmental pressures exerted on the fish have caused its cells to produce form and color, and advanced its brain cells. In other words, without the external stimulus that is exerted through the shark (i.e. the problem), the fish wouldn’t exist in the first place as no motive (drive) would have stimulated it to BE what it is NOW. But it doesn’t stop there.

Each time the fish makes an evolutionary move (which is a constant invisible cellular process that never stops, even though to the observer’s eye it looks like the fish is and stays what it is) the shark will also have to change its behavior because it too wants to survive (i.e. after all it wants to eat fish).

This is the master plan of nature. This way the expansion of ‘intelligence’ is promoted and which thus has resulted in a brain (human) that for the first time in evolutionary history has the capacity to be ‘enlightened’ as to what life is all about. It becomes clear that there is a reason for overcoming challenges after all.

Furthermore, it is an interesting proposition to think that if a psychologist would have the ability to speak with the fish and ask it what it thinks about the shark, he or she would probably get a very conflicting answer such as “I hate it – I wish it wouldn’t be here, I can’t see why I have to face this monster – I like to have an easy life”. This makes of course perfect sense as the fish is unable to consciously recognize that the challenge of facing a ‘monster’ has brought about the fish’s very existence.

Thus, it is only too understandable that the fish would find it very hard to bring up feelings of appreciation, and we come to think of it carefully, we too would find it a tall order to appreciate our daily problems as they come into our lives.

Yet, if we think deeply, what would happen if we could truly understand and embrace our life in a way that would enable us to appreciate our daily challenges as great opportunities and fuel for personal growth?

What if we could see our illness, the conflict at work, in our relationships, our feeling of depression, etc., as a motivational push for greater spiritual development, for a push that forces us to open up to our unlimited potential?

Well… I guess we still wouldn’t really feel comfortable with something that could potentially kill us. But let’s not forget, only physically – not spiritually, as life goes on eternally in Buddhist terms.

Yet we will all have to admit that without a certain threat, there is no doubt that our motivation would not kick in to get us where we need to go. For the serious Nichiren Buddhist that kick leads to the discovery of an even greater self – that of being completely enlightened about life. According to Buddhism this is the master plan, a homecoming to our Buddhahood that has always existed, and is now revealed, yet something that can only be experienced when we are motivated enough.

Yet, the conscious part of us is motivated to be free of obstacles and challenges – our conscious awareness says I want to be able to be free of problems and thus I keep pressing on to overcome what lies before me. One could say that this is evolution in its purest form, spiritually as well as materially. Obstacles and challenges are a constant that drive everything whether that is the bacterium that has been challenged by a dose of penicillin, survived the onslaught, and has thus changed its cell structure to become immune to a similar threat in future, or the person who is seeking to surmount the perceived obstacles in front of him or her.

Conflict is opportunity for growth

Thus if one really comes to think of it, evolution is a process fuelled by conflict. Only as human beings do we have the ‘conscious’ capacity to be enlightened about the illusive ‘meaning of life’ and look at conflict as an opportunity. We are the pinnacle of life, fully capable to understand ‘what it’s all about’ and this is the true benefit of ever increasing awareness.

However, even though it is the aim of Buddhism to end all conflict between us and the environment we live in by walking the ‘middle way’ , it is also quite clear about the about the fact that our internal conflict will never end even when enlightened to such understanding.

Initially, this may seem to sound counterintuitive to the purpose of seeking enlightenment in the first place. But when we expand this idea further it becomes quite clear why this is the way.

Buddhism sees conflict as an integral part of the function of life, i.e. as outlined previously, it is because of the functions of like and dislike that we can make distinctions and thus have an awareness of self. Perhaps a good way of explaining this is by use of yet another metaphor.

The two poles of a battery – how conflict creates energy

Consider the function of an ordinary battery. It has two poles, one negative the other positive. It is precisely because the positive pole wants to be as far away as possible from the negative pole that in the process of ‘opposition’ something miraculous takes place – the creation of ‘energy’.

Now…if one were to take away the negative pole there would be no more positive either. In other words, the creation of energy is simply dependent on the opposition of two apparently different poles. Yet, even though the poles appear distinct, they nevertheless are part of the same paradigm and only ‘look’ different.

In fact, every living cell in the body has electrical charges of the same complexity, even the air around us is positively/negatively charged; water as well has a constant electrical current flowing through it. Thus, the question occurs….what would we be without opposition? What would we be without ‘conflict’? Put differently, would an aircraft be able to fly without the opposition (resistance) provided by the air? As we know, it would not.

This shows that our very definition of the perceived ‘self’ is completely dependent on that which provides opposition. When taking this one step further, from a psychological point of view, as mentioned earlier on, our own internal representations are of similar complexity. There seem to be always at least 2 opposing expressions at work when we are ‘thinking’ or ‘feeling’.


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