There is an idea out there amongst some practitioners that what we need to do, as human beings, is return to some primitive state and that we’ll be fine. The problem they argue is that civilisation has perverted our innate altruistic tendencies.
Yet, the buddhist perspective is that ignorance is primordial, that we need to uproot it, see things as they truly are, and we will be free of suffering. You only have to look as far as humanity’s nearest living relative, the common chimpanzee, to see that the primitive state isn’t so fine. Prone to occasional cannibalism, infanticide and a willingness to kill to gain new territory reveal a rather unenlightened state of affairs.
Any cat owner has probably witnessed their pet’s delight in torturing a bird or mouse. And we need only look to how the killer whale plays and tortures seals to see that cruelty exists outside of hominids. Yes, there a plenty of cases of animal altruism, but the point is that it’s not the only state of affairs.
Nor have primitive societies lived in primordial bliss. New Zealand’s indigenous population wiped out 43 species before the arrival of white man. That they learned from it and institutionalised environmentalism through a system of tapu is to their credit. But it took another more dominant race to bring the Maori’s cannibalism to an end. Don’t think that I am criticising the Maori here. White man’s consumerism is even more deadly and we still haven’t learned from it. More credit to the Maori.
Buddhism argues that ignorance is primordial and Zen argues that we have to move beyond thinking, not before it into some instinctive state. We have to let go of clinging, just doing that will end consumerism. We have to let go of harming others, and that will create a paradise on earth. We have to let go of the idea that we’re separate beings, and that will end our identification with suffering.
This is an evolution and a massive revolution. It is a reversal of our instinctive, ignorant state of being not a return to it. It’s hard work because it moves us beyond our comfort zone. It’s liberating.