The Undeveloped Condition of Man

3 December 2529

The Undeveloped Condition of Man

How can we stop wars and conflicts? How can we be sure that peace will prevail and become long-lasting? Some might say that love and cooperation must be established in place of competition and conflict. This seems to be too easy an answer. It looks impractical. We have to further ask: How can we turn hostility and conflict into love and cooperation? So long as man is overcome by any of the three self-centred tendencies, true love and cooperation are impossible. If he acts out of any of them, he cannot be on good terms with others. He will only hurt them and cause in them hatred and anger. With his own desire countered, challenged or defied, he himself develops anger and hatred. From anger and hatred ensue only hostility and conflict, not love, cooperation or peace.

For people who are in conflict, one or the other must first act for peace. But for them, such action would mean a loss. They would say that they are forced to struggle to win, that there is no other choice. The real solution must be made before the conflict starts. To put it more correctly, there must be a fundamental change in the behaviour of man, in such a way that he will no more engage in conflict. To get to a real, practical solution, we must turn to the answer to a more fundamental question.

Enabled by science and technology to increase both the capability to solve most problems and the capacity to destroy everything, why does man tend to choose the latter? Why has the abundance of human talent and material resources been devoted to such negative and destructive purposes as arms buildups and militarization, instead of being positively utilized in developing the means for securing a stable and lasting peace? As given earlier, the answer is simple: Because man has been so engrossed in the development of things outside that he has neglected the task of developing himself, leaving himself almost an unchanged being, who follows the driving forces of instinct, rather than the guidance of wisdom. Professor Albert Einstein accepted this when he said that the atomic bomb had changed everything except the mind and the thinking of people.1

Science and technology serve to advance the frontiers of human knowledge and potential, either for better or for worse. They provide man with free and full scope to exercise his free will on the material world. If he acts in the direction of peace and happiness, everything on earth is on his side to achieve it. If his action turns towards war and misery, he can exterminate the whole race of mankind in a matter of seconds. Which direction he will take is the question of human development. If man has developed himself properly, he will be able to steer technology and all other vehicles of civilization towards the goal of peace and mutual well-being.

Unfortunately, the development of the inner core of man, the mind, the formation of character and spiritual values, has not kept pace with the rapid progress of technology. Though he has developed technical capabilities to the highest possible degree, man still has not developed in himself the qualities needed to live and to deal with his own self, with others and with his natural and technological environment.

The undeveloped or underdeveloped condition of man, of his mind and character, and of his liberating wisdom, is discernible in many ways:

First, man behaves wrongly and unwisely in relation to happiness. Man looks at happiness as something he is in search of, that is, something unattained, not already in hand. In other words, man himself is here and now not happy and he is looking for something to make himself happy. With this attitude, he mistreats happiness both in time and in space. In time, happiness is for him a state he hopes to realize some time in the future, something in prospect. In space, happiness is for him a state to be attained to by satisfying himself with something found or obtained from outside, an external object. Either way, he cannot find true happiness. The unhappy man has to run forever after happiness, and also has to depend for happiness on things outside of his control. Many people would even sacrifice their already existing happiness, essentially the inner peace and happiness of the mind, to chase the hoped-for happiness, like the dog that drops the piece of meat in its mouth in the hope of catching the other piece seen reflected in a pond. If he succeeds, he gets a superficial happiness, at the cost of the profound one. If he does not, his loss is twofold and anguish is his lot.

In the contest of running to grab pleasure-giving objects, the unhappy people unavoidably come into conflict. Moreover, their restless search for happiness goes on at the expense of inner happiness and peace of mind. Thus, in this process of ever running after pleasure, peace and happiness are not to be found either within or without. This also shows how unscientific people are. Modern people may have scientific attitudes towards the whole universe, but that covers only the material world of phenomena. Regarding themselves, their life and mind, their approaches are not scientific at all. The way they treat their lives and deal with peace and happiness is scientifically irrational.

In the right and proper way, man must be made happy here and now, not relying on hoped-for pleasures from outside. For the happy person, pleasures that are upcoming only enhance happiness. But, for the unhappy, or the happy-to-be person, these coming pleasures can only give extraneous and ephemeral satisfaction, bringing anxiety and tension with their coming and leaving regret and sorrow in their wake. Just as the beauty wrought by cosmetics and decoration is not the real beauty, even so the happiness of external pleasure is not the real happiness. And just as cosmetics and decoration can enhance real beauty, even so extraneous pleasures can enhance real happiness. Emphatically, it is not merely a matter of real or unreal happiness, but that of the lack of real happiness which leads to trouble and conflict in society. Therefore, first and before all else, the making of a happy person is the prerequisite for peace, and the development of the individual is the central question of development.

Secondly, the unhappy person, in his efforts to find something to make himself happy, causes even more trouble by resorting to wrong means for obtaining it. He seeks enjoyment at the expense of others. As a man who seeks pleasure by going fishing with rod and line enjoys himself by causing suffering to the fish, people tend to seek happiness by, either directly or indirectly, hurting others. At least, they do not care what will happen to other lives or the world of nature as a result of their selfish acts. From this spring conflicts and many other problems, such as violations of human rights, injustice, poverty and environmental pollution.

In such an unfriendly and depressed atmosphere, they themselves cannot enjoy real peace and happiness. As the Buddha said: Whoever seeks happiness by inflicting suffering on others is enmeshed in hostile relations and will not be free from enmity.2 In fact, it is the one who hurts who will first be hurt, rather than those he wants to cause loss and trouble to. In the words of the Buddha: A man spoils himself first before he hurts others.3 Some people even seek to enjoy themselves at the expense of their own lives. Drug addicts and alcoholics are among this kind of people. All the pleasure seeking activities of these unhappy people are inhibitions to peaceful living. They form the behavioural pattern of an undeveloped or underdeveloped person.

A developed person is, on the contrary, happy of his own nature as a result of self-development, and seeks to enjoy himself by means of what brings happiness both to himself and to others. In other words, a developed person is characterized by his inherent happiness and his way of enjoying himself, in which he diffuses happiness among people throughout society.

To put it another way, a person in his relationship with other people, both consciously and unconsciously, shares with the latter what he has. If he has happiness, he gives out happiness. If he has unhappiness, he gives out unhappiness. The unhappy person, in particular, is weighed down with his unhappiness and, in an effort to get rid of it, he desperately throws it off onto the people around him. Thus, the undeveloped, unhappy person will render a peaceful society an impossibility. Therefore, it is imperative that people be developed to be happy if any hope for peace is to be realized.

Again, so many people in this technological age, having succeeded in obtaining material gains and sensual pleasures to gratify their desires, in no long time find that they become bored and discontented, feeling that these gains and pleasures do not give them real happiness. Tired of the ceaseless, unsuccessful quest for happiness, surrounded by the ever-increasing, unsolved problems rampant in society and all over the world, and finding no better means of realizing happiness, these people become bored, frustrated, anxious and confused. They live unhappily, without peace of mind. This condition is growing to be characteristic of present-day society.

In sum, the failure of man to secure peace and happiness lies in that, being unhappy and not training himself to be happy, man struggles in vain to realize peace and happiness by setting out in these two wrong ways. He seeks to make himself happy with pleasures from outside, and in so doing covers up, or plasters over, his unhappiness with extraneous pleasures. As the person himself has not been changed, the process of covering or plastering has to run on endlessly. And as it is there deep inside, the unhappiness will never vanish, despite any amount of plaster or cover up. Simultaneously, as this process of unrestrained pursuit of ever-increasing pleasures has to go on at the expense of, or in competition with, other people, it results in hate, anger, trouble, conflict and the loss of peace and happiness, both in the mind of the individual and in society. Alternatively, the person, with his inherent unhappiness, seeks to make himself happy by giving out or throwing off his unhappiness onto others. Other people then react and retaliate in kind, and possibly in a higher degree of severity. In this way also, instead of finding real happiness, he only increases, intensifies and spreads unhappiness far and wide.

Thus, the process of the human search for happiness becomes the process of driving peace away. In other words, desiring one thing, man creates the cause for the arising of another. Desiring happiness, he creates the cause for suffering. Desiring peace, he creates the cause for hatred and conflict.

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  1. Quoted in Willy Brandt, “Peace and Development (Third World Lecture 1985),” Third World Affairs 1986, P.350
  2. Dh.291 (Dhammapada, verse no.291)
  3. A.III.373 (Anguttara-Nikāya, vol.III, p.373)

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