The natural selection is a blind process that only has a single driving force – bringing our genes to the next generation. This means that we are genetically hard-coded to experience the world not as it actually is, but in the way that has increased our chances of survival and our opportunities to procreate.
Our ability to successfully survive long enough to bring children to the world depends on our basic needs being met, that we are able to take our place in a social context, beat our rivals and find a partner to have sex with.
Achieving these goals is based on three evolutionary principles:
- Achieving our goals will give us satisfaction.
- This satisfaction should be fairly short, to then make us strive for new goals.
- The brain should focus more on the short-term satisfaction than on its rapid waning.
With increased life experience, we can intellectually perceive the delusion that evolution has put us in. How many times haven’t we believed that if only we can afford to buy the new car, that we get the promotion to a better-paid job or that we manage to lose those kilos of overweight, then we will be happy. But soon the new car gets its first scratches or the neighbour buys one even bigger and more expensive. The higher salary that came with the new job is soon taken for granted, and the better-looking figure after the hard diet does not make us any happier.
Our constant pursuit of new goals and our inability to enjoy the fruits of them is the foundation of the Buddha’s insight into the dukkhā – the unsatisfaction of life that captures us in the hamster wheel of always believing that happiness comes “if only …”.
While this collective delusion has given us economic growth, material welfare, and unprecedented technological advances, this has come at the price of anxiety, feelings of failure, and alienation from the factors that can give us real happiness. The human drive to constantly strive for new goals has also put us in a state of collective insanity where we are on the fast track to destroy the conditions for human life on this planet.
But the Buddha not only came to understand about dukkhā, he also identified a way out of this state, based on insight through meditation, contentment with what we have, an ethical way of living, and the suppression of our ego.
The realisation of our delusion can be painful, but it is even more painful to be the prisoners of our genes.
This blog post has been inspired by Robin Wright Why Buddhism is True – The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.
Illustration: Pixabay.com – PIRO4D11