Beyond Positive and Negative
By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
The fittest, as we understand it here, is neither positive nor negative. Nowadays, the entire world has gone crazy over the positive. Everyone is so entranced and intoxicated with the positive that there is no fitness suitable for survival. Don’t indulge in the positive, don’t indulge in the negative, or you will never discover the middle way. Today we depend on industry to cater to this positive insanity of ours, and this industry is destroying our world. If we insist on indulging in the positive, in this material progress, it will only lead to destruction. Our attachment to the positive just makes things worse. It is neither fit nor correct nor balanced. This needs to be considered quite carefully so that people recover their spiritual fitness and are no more deluded by the positive or the industry that creates so much bait for defilement.
The Dhamma has arranged everything quite well already, in its natural ecology, but we don’t appreciate this wonderful fact at all. Instead, we disparage nature, we look down on it, we have no respect for it. We have tried to re-do everything in our own way, according to our own ignorance, craving, and selfishness, thus ruining the natural ecology. In this we find neither the correctness nor the fitness needed to conserve the natural order of nature.
Allow me to take a little time to tell you a story which illustrates this point. In Chumporn, the neighboring province to the north, one of my cousins used to raise a kind of monkey which is ideal for collecting coconuts from the palm trees. They are black with red faces and rumps, short tails, and a white patch on the throat. My cousin trained them to sleep on little platforms attached to the palm trees. These platforms, however, had no roofs, exposing the monkeys to the elements. So I asked him, "why are you so cruel to the monkeys, just giving them these platforms to sleep on without roofs to protect them from the rain and wind?" My cousin laughing at me for not knowing any better and replied, "I once made roofs for them, but they just climbed up and slept on those roofs whether it was raining or not." This story expresses the fitness of nature. We needn’t interfere by dragging in our positive feelings and attachments, messing up the natural correctness. Learn to observe the natural ways of things.
We find more stories of this kind in our Buddhist Jataka tales. In one story, the Bodhisatva, who represents everyone on the path of Buddhahood, was a tree spirit. A monkey and a bird lived in this particular tree. One day the bird laughed at the monkey for not having a house, saying "why don’t you build a nest like I do? We birds have such nice, comfortable nests to live in." The monkey replied, "you’re crazy, we monkeys don’t need such ridiculous things." The bird laughed at the monkey who got angry and ripped the bird’s nest to bits. So the bird lost its nest because of its foolish tongue. It tried to teach technology to the monkey, but the monkey would have none of it. The Bodhisatva as tree spirit had a good laugh at this episode of the sassy bird teaching technology to a monkey. A wiser being would consider what is correct for the monkey and what is appropriate in this situation. Finally, we may be able to discover what is correct for human beings. For example, is it right that we have filled the world with concrete and steel buildings?
I have heard that Mahatma Gandhi said we ought to live in villages rather than in cities, let alone modern megacities. If we lived in villages, there wouldn’t be many ecological problems. But we have gone far beyond the village stage. Who is willing to go back to the village way of life? The system of towns, cities, and metropolises has taken over. Can we actually go back to village life these days? Now we face the immense ecological dilemmas created by city life. We abandoned village life long ago and so must be willing to confront the urban ecological disasters of our own making. I believe that no matter what happens we can never abandon nature's own system. It's time to turn around and rediscover the system of nature that in itself is correct, sufficient, and in line with the law of conditionality. We can take the example of the monkey and the bird as a metaphor to help us find the natural ecology within urban systems. There ought to be a way to harmonize our cities with natural law.The point is not that we are monkeys and should live like them. Human beings have more developed nervous systems and minds that distinguish us from all other animals. Tragically, we have used these minds to lose track of our origins and what truly sustains us. Does the ideology of material progress sustain us? Do our massive constructions really protect us? Might it be that they alienate us from the spiritual nature that truly sustains and nourishes us?
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