Uchiyama, Kosho. Opening the Hand of Thought.
We mostly take our so-called civilization for granted; and though most of us could not fashion a single board from a tree, move a single boulder, or mold a steel girder, still we live and work in fine houses and beautiful buildings. Moreover, most of us know nothing of how to spin a single thread of yarn, let alone how to weave a bolt of cloth, yet we wear the finest clothes and follow the fashions of the times.
Most of us could not imagine harvesting a single grain of rice or wheat, yet we have never suffered from starvation. On top of all this, we surround ourselves with electrical appliances and other modern conveniences and live in great comfort.
If we compare our situation to that of ancient Egyptian civilization, our lives would be comparable in luxury to that of a person served by dozens of slaves. We are kings who, through television, are entertained by the best performers in the country and, by modern transportation, are carried to our destinations at speeds the Egyptian pharaohs, borne on palanquins by slaves, couldn’t even imagine. Now that we have such a life, would you say we are living with no wants or discontentments, with complete peace of mind? Unfortunately not. On the contrary, most people today feel dissatisfied with their situation and run around trying to make more money, or enjoy an even higher standard of living, or go on strike for better wages.
On a larger scale, countries are ever ready to wage war against one another for their national interests. In the future, if even greater technological advances mean people will have no material wants, do you think the discontent that causes national strife and international wars will also cease? If you do, you are being far too optimistic. The higher the standard of living a people achieve, the higher the level they want to reach. The more power a nation is able to gain, the more it tries to acquire. This spiral perpetuates itself because the knowledge to develop our standard of living, which is the wisdom of our modern scientific and technological civilization, was born in a matrix of dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfaction is the mother of invention and progress. That is why no matter how much scientific or technological progress is made, people will never be satisfied. As long as they walk along this path shouldering the bag of desires and dissatisfaction, every time they open that bag, even hundreds or thousands of years from now, they will always be pulling out their dissatisfaction along with their new ideas. That we make continuous scientific progress resulting in greater human comfort is fine, and that we possess the dissatisfaction that serves as the force for developing and progressing is also certainly a wonderful thing.
The problem is that dissatisfaction with the present easily leads to impatience for our desires to be fulfilled, and that engenders a behavior of daggers drawn toward any and all competitors, resulting in the total loss of any peace in our lives. In other words, no matter how far science progresses, it is not going to be the answer to our lack of peace of mind. No matter how much technological advancement is made, progress can never bring about spiritual peace, because it lacks the basis for that peace. And the advances of a higher standard of living can never bring fulfillment to a life devoid of peace. The scientific concept of the world has replaced the old mythical ones and the old teachings are no longer accepted as naively as before.
Science has helped us overcome certain anxieties about understanding and living in the world, which used to be a main focus of religion. Consequently, the ground for belief in a god’s existence has become weaker, and religious truths have often come to be treated as pagan superstitions. There is no longer a place for the “soothing” religions that hope to solve problems by mysterious, magical powers, when these same matters are gradually being resolved by natural science. Therefore, if the continued existence of a religion is to be justified, then that religion will have to concern itself with overcoming those anxieties that cannot be assuaged by scientific advances, and with helping us find a new basis for a sense of direction in our lives. What it will have to do is deal with the pursuit of peace in the purest sense.
This civilization is a crazy one, galloping onward like a wild horse. It is becoming increasingly urgent to establish true religion alongside this civilization based on science and technology, to enable us to regain spiritual peace. We must pursue in a practical and serious way a religion incorporating peace in the truest sense—a peace that cannot be achieved by the development of scientific technology but is not incompatible with it. Goethe writes in Faust to the effect that as long as man marches on, he is torn between choices. Is that to be the fate of humanity? Or is it possible for us to discover a path whereby we may progress while being at peace, or, being at total peace, a path whereby we may make progress?
Dissatisfied with the inability of technology to fulfill their lives, Westerners have come to show a deep concern for the East, straining to look into its essence and exploring Buddhism, which reveals a remarkable and unique characteristic among religions: Buddhism does not raise the question of god.