In previous posts we have profiled each of the three pre-Human mentalities1: the reptilian mind (as seen in Donald Trump’s behavior), the old mammalian mind (as seen in Temple Grandin’s understanding of animals), and the new mammalian mind (as seen in Tara Westover’s intellectual journey).
These profiles are not meant to demonize anyone, but to help us better understand each mentality by seeing how that mind influences the way people think, feel and behave in real life. Each pre-Human mentality may be lived in relatively more or less healthy ways. These specific people were selected because their personalities and behaviors are well-documented in the public record. Based on this record, they seem to be good representations of each of the pre-Human mindsets, one of which is usually dominant at one time or another in the lives of almost all of us. However, these three case studies do not show us an example of the Human mind, and developing that mind is the ultimate goal of the quadrune mind model. Someone dominated primarily by their Human mind is a spiritually conscious person living life in a very particular way.
It’s risky to pick someone to represent a fully spiritual Human, because even (especially?) the “greatest” people can have great flaws revealed at a later time. Nevertheless, there is a person who sets the standard for the quadrune mind model’s idea of the spiritually awakened Human being.
Before he became the Buddha, he was Siddhartha Gautama.2
Because the quadrune mind model is a secular model of spiritual consciousness, we will use Siddhartha as an example of a human being who has achieved Human spiritual consciousness—legends aside—without “supernatural” metaphysical interventions.
QM and Some Spiritual Characteristics of Siddhartha’s Life
Following are a few of the reported characteristics of Siddhartha’s life that seem particularly relevant to the quadrune mind model of spiritual consciousness.
Siddhartha pursued a spiritual goal for his life rather than a political goal for the survival of an ethnic group. In contrast to Jesus’s sermons to the Jews, Paul’s letters to the Christians, and Muhammed’s message to the Arabs, Siddhartha’s goal was not to save or teach a certain group. Rather, Siddhartha sought resolution of the existential suffering of life. He was not seeking the survival of a ritual, tradition, culture, or ideology. He began with established religious traditions of asceticism before finding his own way. Similarly, if we are committed to a spiritual life, but unfulfilled by our family’s religion, we may begin to seek our own paths to spiritual understanding.3 Furthermore, in the quadrune mind model, the survival of an individual, group, or ideology is always a sub-spiritual goal originating from a pre-Human mind, even if defined in metaphysical terms.
Siddhartha’s spiritual enlightenment was nondenominational. The spiritual teachings of Siddhartha appear valid independent of religious, denominational, or cultural identities, although institutional Buddhism, itself, has developed denominations, or schools. Also, Buddhist monks have behaved in very unspiritual ways compared to the example lived by Siddhartha.4 It is because of differences between the teachings of Siddhartha and the doctrines and actions of some Buddhists that although the quadrune mind is influenced by Buddhist teachings, it should not be considered a “Buddhist” religion or philosophy. Just as in Siddhartha’s teachings, quadrune mind stands or falls on its own as a helpful guide to a spiritual life.
Siddhartha was not dogmatic. In the parable of the raft, Siddhartha taught that his followers should not hold on to his teachings for their own sake, but rather only use them to the extent that they are beneficial. Religions and ideologies appeal to our new mammalian mind by teaching followers to believe their teachings “no matter what” and hold firm to the “sacred texts.” But Siddhartha the man said quite the opposite, that no ideology or belief is more important than human life. Holding ideas lightly—rather than grasping them tightly—is the relationship that the Human mind, and only the Human mind, has to beliefs, thoughts, and ideas.
Life is Change. Siddhartha told his followers that everything that exists is impermanent. Clinging to what is impermanent leads to suffering or disappointment. He included his own teachings, which he said would also one day cease to exist. This lesson is in stark contrast with many religious traditions that expect to outlast the physical universe. Quadrune mind also embraces the impermanence of its own place in the world, such as it may be. The pre-Human minds, especially the reptilian mind, act in ways to try to conserve the status quo and make things permanent. Only the Human mind can accept impermanence (change) not with fear or anger, but with equanimity.
Siddhartha did not teach his followers about the Gods, which might have excused them from personal responsibility. Some of his followers complained that Siddhartha had not taught them about the Gods. Siddhartha reminded them that he had never said he would teach them about Gods. He said knowing about the Gods would not help them experience less suffering on earth.5 Siddhartha offered a philosophy of how to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life, not a free ticket to being saved. Human-minded individuals know that spiritual wisdom takes work, but that work is well worth it because of the positive impact it has not only in our own lives, but for every being with whom we have contact.
The spiritual life, or Buddha nature, is available to all. No one is barred from spiritual awakening because of gender, social class (caste), or any other socially-constructed group identity. In other words, Siddhartha did not have an old mammalian mindset that saw certain people as worthy and others as unworthy simply because of the group in which they belong. The Human mind knows that all people are capable of enlightenment, they just may need guidance to progress along the path.
Siddhartha was a Pragmatist. Siddhartha taught his followers skills of the spiritual life for them to practice. But they, themselves, were to judge if the practice led to less suffering in their lives. Practitioners were not to accept any spiritual teachings simply on the basis of traditional authority. In the quadrune mind, following traditional teachings without reflective thought is characteristic of the reptilian mind, which cannot support spiritual consciousness. Only the Human mind sees reality as it actually is and can make decisions based on that understanding.
Siddhartha taught and practiced love for all. In the Metta-sutta, Siddhartha wished that all living beings, no matter their characteristics, be happy and free. Notably for the quadrune mind model, he said, “Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.”6 He is calling on us to move from an old mammalian love (only for family and group members) to a Human love (for all beings). His life also reflects this willingness to go beyond love of family only to love for all in his decision to leave the comfort of family life to help all people find enlightenment. (This part is a little tricky, we don’t advocate leaving your family in order to become more Human, as abandoning your wife and child is not a very Human thing to do under most circumstances. But it was the path the Buddha had to take in order to better care for all beings, including his wife and child who could also find cessation of suffering through his experiences. According to legend his son became the first Buddhist novice monk and his father taught him the truth that led to his enlightenment. The awareness and ability to spread love in a non-traditional family-oriented way is an attribute of the Human mind.)
Siddhartha Gautama is the exemplar of the spiritually awakened Human being. That said, we also know “everyday” people who show loving kindness toward all. Some of them are male, some female; some are formally educated; some have little formal education. There is no single ethnic or national identity that contains them all. Most significantly, none of them is easily identified by their religion of origin, if any.
In the quadrune mind model, only the pre-Human mentalities separate people into disparate categories of ethnicity, “race,” nationality, gender, religion, ideology, etc. The Human mind, like Siddhartha, sees not only humanity as one state of being, but all of existence (and nonexistence) as a single, dynamic “whole.”
Contrary to what most people believe, “human” nature is not represented by selfishness, greed, resentment, bigotry, violence, and mercilessness. These are not traits resulting from the corrupting influence of some evil supernatural force that destroyed our previous state of innocence. We are not in a fallen state that requires specially qualified authorities to tell us how to be saved from ourselves. Adults are not spiritually failed babies. However, most adults’ level of consciousness is that of young children who have not yet grown up spiritually. We have not fallen; most of us have not yet done the work to rise.
Siddhartha Gautama is one example of what “adult” Human nature looks like, but not every Human will be a great teacher to the masses. Most Human beings are modestly living lives of subtle service, never to be historicized. Most of them have humble lifestyles, never to become billionaires, or even multi-millionaires. Many of them are ignored, or even scorned, by their society, never to be listed in the social register.
Nevertheless, these kinds of Human lives show us what our true nature is, as understood by the quadrune mind model of spirituality. As Siddhartha showed, it takes intention and attention to achieve Humanhood, whether we rise to fame or live our lives without much recognition. But regardless of external praise, dedicating our lives, as Siddhartha did, to spiritual awakening, learning to operate primarily out of our Human mind, is well-worth the effort because it allows us to heal the world. Our Human-mindedness encourages and enables others to act in more Human ways by setting an example and creating the safety and love that they need in order to take the risk of changing their mentality. This is why the quadrune mind model is a relational model, calling on us to act more Humanly in our relationships with all people and the world around us. On the path to spiritual meaning, we need as much help as we can get—and give.
Grubin, D. (Filmmaker), & Gere, R. (Narrator). (2010, April 7). The Buddha. Arlington, VA: PBS. [A beautifully produced documentary of the Buddha’s life and teachings].
Rahula, W. (1959). What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada. New York: Grove Press.
- For details on the pre-Human minds, please see pages 5-10 of the quadrune mind Study Guide.
- Mark, J. J. (2020, September 23). Siddhartha Gautama. Ancient History Encyclopedia [now World History Encyclopedia]. “Siddhartha was born in Lumbini (in modern-day Nepal) during a time of social and religious transformation. The dominant religion in India at the time was Hinduism (Sanatan Dharma, “Eternal Order”) but a number of thinkers of the period had begun to question its validity and the authority of the Vedas (the Hindu scriptures) as well as the practices of the priests.
“On a practical level, critics of orthodox Hinduism claimed that the religion was not meeting the needs of the people. The Vedas were said to have been received directly from the universe and could not be questioned, but these scriptures were all in Sanskrit, a language the people could not understand, and were interpreted by the priests to encourage acceptance of one’s place in life – no matter how difficult or impoverished – while they themselves continued to live well from temple donations.
“Siddhartha lived among the luxuries of the palace, was married, had a son, and lacked for nothing as the heir-apparent of his father until his experience with the Four Signs. Whether he saw the aged man, sick man, dead man, and ascetic in rapid succession on a single ride in his carriage (or chariot, depending on the version), or over four days, the story relates how, with each one of the first three, he asked his driver, ‘Am I, too, subject to this?’ His coachman responded, telling him how everyone aged, everyone was subject to illness, and everyone died….
“Scholars Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr…. [explain] that the story of the Four Signs was written over 100 years after Buddha’s death and that early Buddhists were ‘motivated in part by the need to demonstrate that what the Buddha taught was not the innovation of an individual, but rather the rediscovery of a timeless truth’ in order to give the belief system the same claim to ancient, divine origins held by Hinduism and Jainism.” [Emphasis added]. Institutional religious authority is built upon the apotheosis of a mortal human being who has unusually inspirational teachings for people who are suffering in life. The average person cannot believe that anyone who is “just another human being” could acquire such apparently esoteric insights. In this way, the average person feels excused from exerting such demanding effort to pursue their own spiritual enlightenment. They need only to subject themselves to the rules and judgements of their religious officials to know if they are saved or damned. Beyond that, it’s one’s mundane life as usual. The secular quadrune mind model is a philosophy of spirituality that does not rely on mythology or metaphysics to excuse us from personal responsibility—or work. The religion of Buddhism aside, Siddhartha Gautama was a normal person who showed us that we all have the ability and responsibility to use our human lives to seek meaning, develop wisdom, and give love.
- See the Thinking About God blog for a brief history of my religious background.
- See the “Buddhists” link of the “Conclusion” section of our QM and Moral (But Not Spiritual) Arguments for Killing Other People blog.
- Relatedly, I’m reminded of a television evangelist I used to watch in my youth, who said, “Some Christians are so heavenly bound that they are of no Earthly good.”
- Rahula, W. (1959). What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada. New York: Grove Press.