Many and wonderful are the means and methods of self-protection in this world of combat! Natural history has revealed the fact that even plants employ means of self-protection; and when we come to the animal world, the methods adopted to avoid annihilation in the struggle for life are so numerous and remarkable as to call forth our admiration and wonder. Nor in this fight for life is "the battle to the fierce and the race to the strong" in all cases. Indeed, the weak things of nature exhibit such ingenuity in the means which they adopt to escape their enemies, that they are equally successful in holding their own with the fiercest creatures that have few enemies to fear. The insects, weakest of all creatures, have developed this self-protective ingenuity to a remarkable degree, even to imitating in color and form the twinges upon which they rest, adopting the hue of the soil or the dead or living leaves among which they live; and in some cases, through long experience, they have so closely imitated in color and form certain flowers which they habitually haunt that their enemies the birds, keen as is their sight, pass them by; and even man, with all his intelligence, cannot distinguish them from the flowers unless he had had some experience as an observant naturalist. The smallest fishes adopt similar means of concealing themselves, although they are in the lowest class of animal life.
When we come to the quadrupeds (although the weaker and smaller among them, those most hunted by the larger, adopt ruses similar to those which prevail among the insects and fishes), brute strength largely takes the place of stratagem. The beast has developed powerful weapons of defense, such as horns, fangs, claws &c., combined with an iron or lithe muscularity, with which he maintains his place on the earth, and defies extinction. Endurance, speed, strength, and ferocity are the means of self-protection among the brutes.
Animal self-protection reaches its highest excellence in the superb strength and cunning of the lion and the tiger, yet it appears weak and clumsy when compared with the means of self-protection adopted by man; for self-preservation, although it is not all-powerful in the human as in the animal world is still a dominant impulse among human beings. Man is possessed of the entire animal nature and the animal impulses and instincts are strong within him; but there is along with this animal life an added intelligence and moral sense, a self-consciousness, by virtue of which his self-protective scope and power are greatly enlarged and intensified. He is still an animal, with endurance, speed, strength, and ferocity; but he is also something more and greater—he is an intelligent, self-conscious being.
Among men of low order of intelligence the animal methods still largely obtain. In the struggle of life the savage relies on brute strength. Even among civilized communities there are still thousands of admirers of "the noble art of self-defense," which can only be noble in the sense that we speak of the ferocity of the lion as being noble; and is devoid of art, being compounded entirely of brute force and cunning. Indeed, this practice is so closely allied to the beast that it has long ceased to be a means of self-defense among civilized men, and has become merely a vulgar pastime for the few.
Working along physical lines, and still following the well-worn track of animal instinct, man has invented numerous implements of destruction by which to annihilate his enemy and preserve him; and upon these, with increasing ingenuity and subtlety, he continues to improve. Working along the new path of pure intelligence—which is preeminently the human as distinguished from the animal sphere of activity—he discovers means of adding to his physical comforts and for the peaceful protection of his body, and asserts his right and power to live, not by brute force, but by toil of hand and keenness of brain. The basic struggle here, indeed, is not directly a fight for food and life, but for the artificial means by which food is procured and life maintained, namely, money. The fierce animal struggle has evolved into the more kindly human one; in place of the bloody strife with tooth and claw there is the more amicable combat of wit and skill. Man has discovered—though he has as yet only partially learned this—that there are better methods of self-protection than that of attacking, killing, and despoiling others; that by such a method he endangers his own comfort, happiness, and even life; and that it is better to engage in a bloodless competition for supremacy, and leave every person to take his place in life according to the measure of his mental capacity.
Right has begun to take the place of might; and although the struggle is largely one for money, it is not altogether so, but is surely evolving into one for the securing of those mental qualities which increase man's nobility, and better fit him as an instrument of life and progress. Such are the intellectual qualities of reason, judgment, tact, foresight, ingenuity, resource, inventiveness; and the moral qualities of kindness, forbearance, sympathy, forgiveness, reverence, honesty, justice. Human education at present is almost entirely along these intellectual and moral lines. The instruments by which man struggles with man for the capacity to live and to endure are faculties, not fangs; talents, not talons.
Intellectual and moral excellence constitutes the passport to existence in the human world.
The intellectually vigorous and the morally upright take the lead in the race of life. Nevertheless, the weaker ones take their place, and have scope and opportunity for development. Slowly man is learning that in the protection of others—the weak, the suffering, and the afflicted—he is affording a surer protection for himself.
Such methods of self-protection we perceive an enormous advance upon the savage instinct of the brute. Commerce, crafts, and games take the place of plunder and destruction; and limited animal affection is enlarged to benevolence and philanthropy. In human competition the brute still lurks, but its ferocity is subdued; its nature is largely transmuted into something better, more beneficent; its dark horror is lightened up with the warm rays of kindness; its harshness is softened by the gentleness of a larger and ever-increasing love.
But high as is human over animal self-protection, there is another, form of self-protection that is as high above the human as that is above the animal, and that is divine or spiritual protection. By this method the man does not fight with others physically, after the manner of the brute; he does not struggle with others mentally, as does the human being; he fights with the brute within himself, in order to annihilate it; he struggles with the greed in his own nature, that he may fit himself to live the higher, nobler, more enduring life of peace, goodwill, and wisdom.
In divine protection the fierce struggle with others is at an end, the competition of self-interest is no more, and the weapons employed are self-sacrifice and non-resistance. And these weapons can only be understood and employed by him whose moral elevation is such as to gain him admittance to the World of Divine Things. Just as the fanged and tallied brute cannot grasp and use those mental weapons of resource and inventiveness which the more highly endowed and talented human being employs with such ease and power, so the self-seeking man cannot comprehend and wield those instruments of self-sacrifice and non-resistance with which the divine man not merely shields himself but protects the whole world.
Self-interest, resistance to, and competition with others, are the most powerful factors in the purely human life; but in the divine life, self-obliteration, and deep-felt sympathy with, and compassion for others, are the dominant motives.
The divine man conquers by non-retaliation and by yielding where others enter into selfish strife; and his gentle powers are so invincible that the lesser selfish powers, great and potent as those are when compared with the merely animal equipment's, dissolve away in ineffectual weakness. As bestial instincts cannot vie with human powers, so human powers cannot stand against divine principles; and the divine man stands upon, and acts from, such principles. In him the human qualities mentioned are merged into the divine principles of Patience, Humility, Purity, Compassion, and Love.
Both the animal and the human are concerned only with the protection and preservation of the body, which is temporal; but the divine man's preservation is concerned with the spirit, which is eternal, like the principles upon which he stands. In a word, divine preservation consists in preserving the mind from passion and selfishness, and imbuing it with pureness and wisdom.
We get a glimpse into the vast power inherent in self-sacrifice and non-resistance when we contemplate the lives and characters of the few divine men who practiced these principles—in Jesus, Buddha, and others. All men, broadly speaking, yield and bow down to these great Masters in Divine Things. Men who have reached the greatest heights in worldly achievement—monarchs, conquerors, successful generals, statesmen, orators, financiers—bow in humble reverence and awe before the names of those Great Ones, recognizing intuitively that their own conquests and achievements, with all their worldly glory, are as nothing compared with that supreme self-conquest, that mighty spiritual achievement, which those gentle teachers of mankind exhibited. Today some five hundred millions of people bow down to Buddha as their Guide and Master, and some three hundred millions likewise bend before Jesus as their Savior and the Keeper of their lives.
In these three methods of self-protection—animal, human, and spiritual—we perceive the fundamental forces which are at work in the evolution of sentient beings; an evolution beginning with the lowest creature and extending to the deviants being of whom we have any direct knowledge. We also see that there is no inherent evil in any of these methods, that all are equally legitimate, and belong to the cosmic order of things. Each in its own sphere is right and necessary, leading to higher and higher intelligence, and deeper and deeper knowledge. The animal defends itself in accordance with its nature and the limits of its knowledge; the human being protects itself likewise in harmony with the dictates of his human nature; and the divine being eternally preserves himself in peace and blessedness by virtue of his clearer insight and deeper wisdom.
Nor is any measure of force lost during the process of evolution. The brute passion is, in man, transmuted into intellectual and moral energy, and in the divine man both are merged into control and equanimity.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.