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Our instinctive need for self preservation is the greatest hindrance to achieve happiness. Clearly, it is essential that we be ready at all times to protect ourselves from harm. But this instinct often causes us to overreact, preventing us from fully using our inner power.

Look at your hand. Your five fingers curve naturally inward. Grab something and your fingers are reluctant to give it up. When we are desperate, our grip can become powerful. But at the same time, the hand loses its ability to move freely and we become vulnerable to attack.

Often we refer to someone we fear as a "wolf." But what an offense that is to the wolf! Wolves may fight among themselves, but they never kill each other. Human beings, on the other hand, are not satisfied until they have absolutely destroyed their opponents. Our excessive desire for self-protection makes us capable of the most terrible things.

At the same time, there is another, quite opposite facet of the human character: our ability to sacrifice ourselves for others.

We see this ability not only in our hearts and minds but also in our physical constitution. Our immune systems protect us from disease by attacking foreign substances that enter our bodies. Yet this remarkable system takes no action when a women becomes pregnant. Half the genes carried by a fetus come from the father and are therefore foreign to the mother's body. Yet the fetus is allowed to grow within the womb for nine months. What is even more remarkable is that at the end of this period, the mother's immune system once again becomes active, to force the baby out of her body. If her immune system remained dormant, babies would stay in the comfortable womb indefinately!

Nikkyo Niwano

From Buddhism for Everyday Life

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