Saturday, November 1, 2014

Beginningless killing, beginningless non-killing - a biological karma from primate ancestors

Below is a fascinating exploration of reviews of biological data about "killing of their own kind" by our primate cousins - chimps and bonobos.

Our life practice is being human, with all that entails - all the inheritances of karma that we call biology, psychology, environment and so forth - and yet not being trapped by that. In the midst of the arising circumstances, the karmic tendencies - whether we call them the traditional poisons of greed, anger and delusion or something else - we manifest this True Nature, Buddha Nature, that we are. Inheritances are this moment life opportunity, this moment practice opportunity - it is up to us to manifest this as Three Poisons or as Three Treasures.

Here are some highlights:

"A recent paper in Nature addressed this debate. The authors, an all-star team of primatologists, had a collective 492 years of experience observing chimps. Pooling their data, they examined whether rates of “lethal aggression” across populations were best predicted by intrinsic features of the social lives of the chimps or by extrinsic factors reflecting human impact (for example, proximity to humans, or whether the chimps lived in a protected game park)..

Remarkably, the 152 killings worked out to about 3.5 murders for every decade of observation. Males made up 92% of the killers and 73% of the victims. Killing occurred in 83% of these populations across the African continent. In most killings, groups of males ambushed someone from a neighboring troop, with an average of eight males ganging up on the victim. And about 90% of males participated in a killing at some point in their lives...

Critiques and rebuttals are flying online and in the media, because this is a big deal. If this sort of violence is fundamental to chimps, if it’s “in their genes,” then it’s overwhelmingly likely to be in ours as well.

But that wouldn’t be the right conclusion to reach. Because the chimp research was only half the paper. The authors also examined bonobos, the “other” species of chimp, famed for their social affiliation and female dominance. What is the bonobo rap sheet after 92 years of behavioral observation? One suspected killing, a mere 3% of the rate in chimps.

Critically, we share as much as 99% of our DNA with bonobos as well (and chimps and bonobos share about the same percentage of genes with each other).

We’re not chimps. Sadly, we’re not bonobos either. We’re their cousins, the species that invented both Quaker pacifism and the atrocities of Islamic State. What a cross-species analysis like this teaches us, in short, is the evolutionary roots of our potential, not the inevitabilities of our behavior."

For the full article and comments see: