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Lions Roar : November 2017
that first retreat that Buddhists have an actual tool for dealing with the problem. And what really enriches meditation for me is that it’s not just a therapeutic or self-help tool. It is grounded in a philosophy and view of psychology that I think are funda- mentally true. One thing I’m trying to drive home in the book is that this tech- nique is ultimately connected to deeper spiritual and philosophical exploration. What I mean by that is looking at something you would have previously considered as part of yourself, and seeing that it is not necessarily part of you. That is an incremental move- ment toward the esoteric-sounding concept of not-self. When you talk about the illusions we suffer from, it seems to me you’re talking mostly about strategies we use, perhaps for evo- lutionary reasons, that do not deliver what human beings really want out of life. Yes, except they are not necessarily strategies we consciously entertain. You might say these behavioural strategies are imple- mented via features of our mind. For example, when we have the intuition that the conscious self is the doer of deeds and the thinker of thoughts, that is part of a strategy in a certain sense. From natural selection’s point of view, it’s a useful intuition to feel you are in charge. To take another example, if you see an enemy and perceive the essence of a bad person in them, that’s useful in Darwinian terms. It leads you to say negative things about that person, which is a good strategy to undermine rivals. That doesn’t mean you’re conscious that it’s a strategy. On the contrary, the strategy is more successfully implemented if you’re not aware that it’s a strategy— if you think that your rival is just a genuinely bad person. If you don’t know that the story you’re imposing on reality is a story, then the underlying strategy will be more effective. Yet these strategies, while effective for the narrow goal of sur- vival, do not serve our deeper needs as human beings. The point is that these mental tendencies of ours, these evolu- tionary strategies, are not conducive to our enduring happiness and well-being. After all, natural selection doesn’t “care” how happy we are. The values implicit in natural selection don’t include our happiness. Our happiness is not high on natural selection’s agenda. The overriding priority from the natural selection point of view is to get genes into the next generation. If the most effect- ive way to do that is to make happiness something that evapor- ates as soon as we get it, then that’s the way life will be. In fact, it seems to be the case that gratification is designed to evaporate so that we will keep pursuing it. We can’t be en- duringly satisfied with just one meal or one episode of sex. If you imagine an animal that eats only one meal or has sex once, you’ll imagine an animal that’s not going to get genes into the next generation. Natural selection doesn’t care about our being enduringly contented. I think that is the beginning of explain- ing why the Buddhist diagnosis of the human condition is fun- damentally on target. Evolutionary psychology and Buddhism may describe our be- haviour in much the same way, but don’t they differ on the basic motive? In evolution, it is the maintenance of the species. In Buddhism, it is the maintenance of ego. You mean that nourishing the illusion of an intact, solid self is what fundamentally drives our behaviour, according to Bud- dhist thought? Yes. That maintaining the illusion of ego—the sense of ourselves as a permanent, unchanging reality—is the basic cause of sam- sara and our suffering. It’s the second noble truth. I would say that the view you just articulated fits very well with- in an evolutionary framework. Self-preservation is a term that you often hear in a Darwinian context, and in a certain sense that’s what you just described from a Buddhist point of view. That’s the point. We now know why we have this obsession. Ever since Darwin, it’s been clear why we have this obsession with self-preservation that Buddhism identified long ago and correctly cast suspicion on. I see Buddhist practice as a rebellion against natural selection— that we do not have to accept its agenda. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2017 42