''We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if
necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of
deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism - something that has
no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the
world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the
power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of
the selfish replicators."
- Richard Dawkins 'The Selfish Gene' 
In these four sentences Professor Dawkins  has
described both the scientific view of the 'human condition', and the main motivations for
following the Buddhist path.
Defying the tyranny of the genes
All animals, including ourselves, have genetically programmed drives to eat,
reproduce, fight for territory and mates, kill prey, help our kin and so on. These drives
appear to our mind as attachment and aversion.
Manifestations of attachment include sexual desire, hunger and the need
for security. Manifestations of aversion include fighting, fleeing and avoiding painful
and dangerous situations. All these mental reactions have evolved because they gave our
ancestors a selective advantage. They are, or were, essential for preservation of the
individual and procreation of its genes.
We humans can to some extent distance ourselves from these drives. We can
examine them and if necessary rebel against them. From the Buddhist point of view
this is especially significant when these instinctive drives become pathological and turn
into harmful 'innate delusions', giving rise to mental states such as anger, hatred,
sadism, jealousy, greed, miserliness, sexual abuse and so on.
In Buddhist ethics, anger and greed (and their associated thought
patterns) are two of the three
poisons. The third poison is ignorance, which consists, among other factors,
of being unable to separate the true nature of one's mind from the delusions which afflict
it (especially the delusion of the inherent existence of the self  ).
Defying the tyranny of the memes
A meme  is a delusional mind-virus which spreads by
thought-contagion in the same manner as a chain letter. Many religions have a memetic
If a religion shows the following features then it is a meme:
The harm that can be done by attachment to memes far exceeds that from
attachment to wealth, possessions or people. Memes have been the cause of many of the
wars, terrorist campaigns, persecutions, pogroms and witchhunts in history.
On the other hand, if a religion is based on wisdom, tolerance, free
enquiry, rationality and universal compassion, then it is a beneficial spiritual
Memes are 'intellectually formed delusions', as distinct from the
genetically programmed innate delusions. However, memes often interact with and derive
their power from innate delusions. For example, the meme that infects socially-inadequate,
sex-starved young men and causes virulent hatred against the infidel, together with a
desire to become a martyr in order to have an eternity of sex with 72 virgins, derives its
power from testosterone-fueled innate delusions of aggression and lust
Delusion of inherent existence
There's one innate delusion that's more subtle than the obvious ones, such as
greed and anger - it's the delusion of grasping at inherently-existent things. We
see the world in terms of 'things' because our genes are telling us to grab resources. But
if we take a step back and view the universe in terms of geological and cosmic timescales,
it is apparent that there are no inherently existent things, only processes of continual
change. All phenomena are dependently-related and empty of any defining essence .
Individuals, buildings, artifacts, species, continents, planets and stars
are transient phenomena caused by the coming together of parts. All compounded
things are impermanent and eventually disintegrate. It is grasping at things as if they
were permanent, or desirable in themselves, that is one of the principal causes of
dukkha  - the sensation of unsatisfactoriness due the
the transience of all biological pleasures.
Rebellion and liberation
The outcome of a successful rebellion is liberation from tyranny. We've
identified the tyrants as the delusions that poison our minds.
Analysis of deluded religious motivation allows us to recognise and remove
memes, even when they are deep-seated results of childhood indoctrination.
With practice in meditation  we can also
overcome hatred and attachment and the subtle delusion of inherent existence of things  .
We can declare our independence from the selfish replicators.
Who or what is rebelling?
But, if we aren't just the products of our genes and our memes, what are
we? Who or what is rebelling against the replicators? What is the end result of
liberation? How is it possible for us to think of ourselves as non-deluded,
non-mechanistic, non-biological free agents?
According to Buddhist philosophy, the reason we can work towards
liberation is that our minds, although influenced by biology, are not themselves
biological nor indeed physical in nature , nor are they emergent
phenomena of physical or biological processes . In
fact there is a specific meditation where we imagine we are throwing away or peeling off
all our biological and social attributes in order to find out what we really are . We discover that we are pure awareness, a formless  non-physical mental continuum that continues from life to
life and body to body.
Where do we go from here?
If we indeed come to the conclusion that our mind is a non-physical continuum  that attaches itself to biological systems in life after life , then we might decide we don't want to carry on this
way. Our delusions are bad enough when we are humans, but what chance have we if at
our next rebirth  our mind attaches itself to a chimpanzee,
dog or pig? Before humans evolved, our minds spent countless millenia attached to
the bodies of animals, and there's nothing to prevent them becoming attached to animals
again. We have no absolute guarantee of taking a human rebirth.
'We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish
replicators.' This is known in Buddhism as 'Our precious human
Our minds can only get access to the sensory and intellectual equipment needed to liberate
themselves when they are in the human realm. So we should avoid actions and
thought-patterns which might lead to lower (eg animal) rebirth. We also need to get our
minds permanently out of the cycle of death and rebirth as soon as possible.
Animals are unable to separate their minds from their innate delusions and
their biological nature. But we humans know from philosophical analysis that we are
non-physical entities . There's no reason why this muddy vesture
of biological decay should always grossly close us in. What we need is someone to help us
shuffle off this mortal coil once and for all . The questions
are - who and how?
Deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested
As Professor Dawkins points out, pure disinterested altruism is, in evolutionary
terms, a new phenomenon. It does not exist in nature and does not arise
spontaneously in humans. It needs to be deliberately cultivated by conscious effort. To
quote Shantideva 
"First I should strive to meditate
On equalising self and others.
Since we are equal from the point of view of suffering
I should protect everyone as I do myself."
In Buddhism, pure disinterested altruism, in its initial form, is known as
'Wishing Love'. It is the wish that those around us should be happy and free from
suffering. Buddhist teachers are very careful to emphasise the 'pure and disinterested'
aspects, because love is often mixed with attachment. The difference between love and
Normally, the fact that love is mixed with attachment doesn't matter too
much, but we can think of situations where it can be damaging, for example the
over-possessive parent, or the parent who wants their child to fulfil their own frustrated
career ambitions, or the husband who kills his wife in a fit of jealousy.
Pure disinterested altruism in its developed form arises out of compassion
for the suffering of all sentient beings, and is known as bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the
motivation for striving for Buddhahood.
The lunatics have taken charge of the asylum.
Samsara is the endless cycle of birth, death, ignorance and suffering. It
is like an old-fashioned Bedlam or lunatic asylum. And we are in it. We
are all constantly chasing after delusions and infecting one another with contagious
mind-viruses. We are all mentally ill.
No-one seems to be in charge of the asylum. No-one comes from the
management to try to cure us. Maybe there is no management. Samsara seems to
be a realm for containment of the insane.
Fortunately, by force of effort and self-examination, a few of the
patients have succeeded in curing themselves. The Buddhas were once just as deluded as we
are now, but they've worked to develop minds of bodhichitta, free from all delusions. Not
only have they healed their own minds, in the process they've gathered the experience and
motivation to teach us how to heal our minds.
Training the patients to become doctors
The Buddhas' healing process contains an extra bonus. It trains more
Buddhas. The path out of Samsaric insanity is one and the same as the path to
As we advance along the path, we initially become paramedic bodhisattvas
who are able to to help some of the patients. Eventually we'll become fully qualified
Buddhas able to help everyone. So, as the process continues, the Samsaric asylum
will become a well-staffed compassionate hospital, and eventually all beings will be cured
of their delusions and will realize the true nature of their minds  .
- Sean Robsville
References and notes
 Richard Dawkins 1989 ' The Selfish Gene' ; p200 - 201, Oxford
University Press ISBN 0-19-286092-5
 Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and the
Charles Simonyi Professor for the Understanding of Science at Oxford University;
England. He is a fellow of the Royal Society and a leading authority on the relation
of science to religion. He has sometimes been rather critical of the more obscurantist
aspects of religion, for example 'Young earth' dogmas and creationism.
 The materialist regards the mind as an epiphenomenon or emergent
property of matter. The mind is either the same thing as the brain, or a program running
on the hardware of the brain. Buddhists refute this view and assert that the mind is a
fundamental aspect of reality, intimately involved with the very deepest levels of
existence. See Site Summary for an overview of Buddhist
arguments against materialism. See also Buddhism, materialism
physicalism and dualism for a philosophical treatment of the differences between the
Buddhist view of the mind and the western view of the soul. The article Mind, soul, heaven and hell further contrasts the mind and soul
from a theological viewpoint.
 Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, 1993 'Universal Compassion'
(2nd edn), Page 13, publ Tharpa, ISBN 0 948006
24 2 - also:
'.....There are two essential stages to cultivating universal compassion. First we need to
love all living beings, and then we need to contemplate their suffering. If we do not love
someone we cannot develop real compassion for him even if he is in pain, but if we
contemplate the suffering of someone we love, compassion will arise spontaneously. This is
why we feel compassion for our friends or relatives but not for people we do not like.
Cherishing others is the foundation for developing compassion. The way to develop and
enhance our mind of cherishing love has already been explained. Now we must consider how
each and every samsaric being is experiencing suffering..'
- Sean Robsville
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how
much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking
versus Buddhist worldviews