Cambodia Giant Roots overgrowing a temple
The Human Condition Part II
The basic claim of Griffith’s book, Freedom, The End of The Human Condition, is that in origin we humans are good, but due to a psychological misunderstanding (described in Part I) we sensed ourselves being bad, and through the psychological mechanism of projection the dis-ease was projected on the environment, and so we retaliated mercilessly.
I suggested to take Griffith’s explanation as a narrative, rather than as scientific fact, because a claim on scientific proof cannot be validated.
I think that the story has great explanatory power. In this part I will focus hereon.
Many, if not all religions, myths, lore, fairy tales, and so on speak of a golden past of mankind, when we were still good, had loving kindness and compassion, and when we were still cooperative and selfless.
The Biblical myth is a perfect example. We lived in Paradise, and were forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. With consciousness inquisitiveness arose and using this was the so called original sin. Once having eaten of this apple, that is when we tasted the fruits of our inquisitiveness, we discovered that we were naked, and we became ashamed. Of course, before we had been naked too, and nobody gave attention. Being expelled out of Paradise, according to the story told in Genesis, we did not change, but we were punished with the hardships of living outside Paradise.
Reading Griffith’s explanation, it will not be difficult to see the parallels. Nowadays it is not so strange to take myths more literal than before, which Griffith does. He is supported by the myths of mankind in general, and he claims also to be supported by the mentioned research in the behaviour of Bonobos, the primates that genetically belong to our closest cousins.
So, what is the novelty? As I see it, it is that the human condition cannot not be blamed on an inherently bad nature, but on the psychological and environmental situation of projection, which makes it possible to amend the problem.
Zhabkar states that we are individually mistaken about the real reality that is, about our common perception of reality. It must however be clear that when we are individually misguided, we also will be so collectively. This seems exactly Griffith’s point.
Zhabkar speaks of individual liberation only. From individual liberation a beneficial spin-off may reach other human beings. Zhabkar’s aim however is not saving the world. Griffith stresses the collective liberation and the benefits it will have for humanity as a whole, if only we could accept that we still have this core of mind that is essentially good.
The Buddhist bottom line is in fact identical because the essence of the mind was already liberated since ancient times, and we only have to recognise our Buddha nature.
Here there seems to me no difference between Griffith and the Buddhist view, only the scale, and the effects are painted on different canvasses.
Griffith expects that the sole recognition by mankind of his truth about the human condition will bring the metanoia he is so much hoping for. His hope seems to be vested in the people that are at the helms of society, and that, when they will see the truth all problems will melt as snow in spring. To me this seems overoptimistic.
Zhabkar, although the text of the Garuda has some passages on liberation as by lightning, overall holds on to the gradual path, to which most people are belong, and on that path one has to exercise. There is however always the moment of the aha-Erlebnis, the real breakthrough, which is comparable with the moment that, after looking for a while at a 3D-photo, with a flash you can see depth. It is the same picture as before, but totally differently perceived. The question arises if Griffith’s expectation that such can be achieved collectively is justified, because those at the helms of society do not seem the people that are qualified, according to the Bonobo research, to build and maintain peaceful societies. Many of them show the aggressive male lust for dominance that ruins communities.
Zhabkar stresses that his path is easy if you are willing to accept that Buddhahood is within you, not yet actualised, but such will be attained in time. Griffith over and over explains that his truth is unbearable for the deluded mind of mankind in its actual state of delusion. This is like tempting the gods, and any result will then seem unattainable. Although Griffith might feel to be a Prometheus, bringing fire (the light of reason) to mankind, he might be severely punished by this same mankind that is unable to hear the truth, according to Griffith.
Zhabkar states about people that are only dwelling in their own vexed perception:
Song 18.37: This (refuting the obvious truth) is the talk of people who invest their hopes in mental analysis.
Although they have heard (the true teaching), they have understood but complete nonsense, it is discursive thinking.
It has some sadness to read the reviews of Griffith’s book, and to see that all kinds of futile points that do not touch the core argument are used to disavow his real point.
Taking this together I think that Griffith and Buddhism do not differ too much about the analysis of the human condition, but that the ways in which a solution is envisioned differs greatly. Griffith means well to save the world and mankind from ecological devastation and psychological alienation. Buddhism seems not so much interested in the world as such, probably due to the firm belief that the world at large is ruled by karma, that is outside of our sphere of influence. However, the Dalai Lama says that praying to Jesus or Buddha for solving the problems we have created is not a solution. Religion is not fit for such a task.
My point of view is that the solution that Zhabkar advocates, to escape our human condition that is attain liberation through the training of the mind, can be enhanced by the individual and collective realisation that indeed not only our past is a golden one, but also our future, not by believing the myths about it, but through the experience, individually and collectively, that doing good, and paying forward, really makes the difference in our well-being.
The point where I guess that Griffith goes overboard is that he assumes that the recognition of our essence of mind will perform a miracle in the minds of all people, and produce a paradisiacal here and now. This ignores two points that each have to be attained as well. The first is the fact that the Bonobo research shows that aggressive males who want to dominate, and herein succeed by pure physical brutality can ruin communities. For a real change the world needs not only this recognition, but also a further shift to successful selection against male aggressive dominance. Also our school system with its emphasis on cognition and competition also has to be fundamentally revised.
The second point ignored by Griffith is that our current habituation has made etchings in our mind that cannot be removed with thinking alone. Although we might be good in essence, we still have our deep ingrained trait of projection of dissonances that has not been solved. It will take intensive training to remove these etchings.
My overall conclusion is that, while Griffith has a real point, his envisioned future might prove to be a chimaera, because much more is needed. This does not absolve us from doing our utmost to realise inside ourselves the awareness of our real human condition, and work on it, as well individually and collectively. Mahatma Ghandi put it this way: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” To achieve this another proverb is crucial: If you want to change the world, start with changing yourself. Essentially this is what Zhabkar suggests to do first, that is to say, that you have to train your mind to see reality in a new light. But Griffith’s insight about the human condition might be very helpful to realise that indeed we have the Buddha mind already inside.
In this way Griffith’s story can be seen as a great narrative.
If you want to post me a comment, please use the contact page.