We all have problems in life. Life wouldn't be what it is, if it didn't involve problems. Every day we need to find food, water, shelter, and other necessities of life.
Even when these are available, other problems arise.
What is most important to do from moment to moment? How do we maintain good relationships with other people? What pleasures should be pursued and pains avoided?
Since we are mammals, other types of animals share these concerns. Our two dogs, for example.
(Of course, these pampered pets pretty much have the necessities of life handed to them by their supposed "masters" or "animal guardians," a more politically correct term.)
It takes a member of the Homo sapiens species, though, to go beyond dealing with life's problems. We are the only creature on Earth who makes life itself into a problem.
Mostly through religiosity.
Also through philosophy and other forms of self-reflection. We humans have a peculiar -- apt word in this context -- concern with trying to solve The Problem of Life.
Again, not a particular problem.
The overall problem: Why are we here? What is the meaning of our existence? Where do we go after we die? What is the purpose of living? How do we become genuinely human, self-realized, enlightened, saved?
When you think about it (and I do, believe me), these are weird questions.
It's difficult for me to imagine a flower, rock, tiger, whale, or butterfly spending so much of its life worrying about whether it is living correctly. Other living beings simply live. Until they die.
They deal with specific problems during their lifetime, not an overarching existential angst.
It takes a human mind for that, one often, if not usually, filled with abstract concepts concerning God, existence, life after death, perfection, ultimate reality, and such.
Evolution has brought us many wonderful attributes, such as a powerful brain.
However, with the good comes the bad. Our unexcelled self-awareness not only enables us to accomplish things other animals can't; it also enables us to drive ourselves crazy in ways unknown to other creatures.
Today I enjoyed reading another of David Chapman's always-intriguing posts. This one is called "Beyond Emptiness: Zen, Tantra, and Dzogchen."
It got me musing about our human predilection to make life itself into a problem.
Western religions like Christianity tend to worry about sin, salvation, and such. Eastern faiths like Zen, Tantra, and Dzogchen tend to worry about enlightenment, self-realization, and such.
What they have in common is an attitude: life is a problem that needs fixing.
Chapman mentions the oft-heard Zen adage, first there is a mountain, then there isn't, then there is. I used to think this was a profound bit of spiritual philosophizing. Now it strikes me as stupid.
Um.... here's an idea: just accept the mountain as it is. Period.
There's no need to spend years meditating, being hit by a Zen Master's stick, solving koans, and all that, in order to be told by a spiritual elder, "Ah, now you have realized there is no enlightenment and no one to be enlightened; all is as it is, suchness."
I remember listening to a recorded talk that included this line by a poet:
We should be able to look upon a mountain without considering it a commentary on our life.
Love it. Other animals can do that. Why not us? It shouldn't require a lifetime of religious or spiritual practice to be able to do what a dog does so naturally.