“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
“The insight of inter-being will help remove discrimination, fear, and the dualistic way of thinking. We inter-are — even suffering and happiness inter-are — and that is why the insight of inter-being is the foundation of any kind of action that can bring peace and brotherhood, and help remove violence and despair. That insight is present in every great spiritual tradition. We need only to go home to our own tradition, and try to reveal that, to revive that.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Recent events displayed a segment of America few of us want to see, much less take responsibility for. It doesn’t take much looking to dispel that myth that we are living in a post-racial world. We can clearly see the veil of ignorance and blindness that produces acts of discrimination, prejudice, and the belief that some people are lesser than others because of color, belief, or sexual identity continues. Perhaps you’ve heard this idea, or feel yourself, that, “my family came over recently, we were running from prejudice, from discrimination. We weren’t here for slavery. We weren’t Nazis. We have nothing to do with this. We didn’t make the problem.” This sentiment reminded me of a story I read years ago where a woman is climbing the steps to a temple and sees a bucket of dirty mop water left by the entrance. She thinks, that is disrespectful to have a dirty wash bucket by the entrance to the temple. Who would do such a thing? It shows lack of care and mindfulness. The next day, on her way up the steps, the woman is irritated to see the bucket, still there, the water looking even worse than the previous day. Someone ought to clean that up, she thinks. This is a holy site. The third day, the woman sees the bucket again. She cleans it up.
This story shows how we can move from seeing the problem as totally separate from ourselves, to acting with wisdom and humanity in whatever situation we encounter. What responsibility do we have for the legacy of race-exploitation in America, fueled by greed? How are we associated with Neo-Nazi’s and hate speech? We didn’t start it. Aren’t we free from any accountability for this situation? The short answer is no. We aren’t exempt. As a human being living on this planet, no one is exempt from reality. We are that woman who walks up the temple steps, sees something very unattractive and thinks that those who came before me should have cleaned that mess up, but that didn’t happen.
The truth is that the fires of hatred, greed, and delusion are so easy to see in the other and so hard to see in ourselves. Looking at racism, Antisemitism, and hatred is uncomfortable. When we wish for those who disagree with us to be gone—at any price, we react with violence, and anger. We think we will be able to cure our suffering by eliminating this specific injustice, but the world doesn’t work like that. The issues we see are the manifestation of deep rooted causes and conditioning. Can we offer understanding to the greed, the hatred and the delusion we see in the world? Can we offer kindness and compassion to ourselves for our sadness, anger, and fear when we encounter hatred? Understanding involves getting past condemnation. Is it possible to see ourselves and those we disagree with and who act with violence and oppression, in the light of forgiveness?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have amnesia or believe that what is clearly not alright is alright. Forgiveness is not a pass. It means we don’t want to add the suffering of blame and hatred to our lives. Suspending our condemnation and looking with understanding into the causes and conditions that create extremists, terror, and oppression, is the path to peaceful action. If you would like to get more in-depth about the Buddhist path and living and acting with equanimity in the face of the world’s suffering, you can click this link to an article by Forest Monk and scholar, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, titled The Weight of Mountains.
Thây teaches us that we inter-are. We are more alike than un-alike and our thoughts, speech, and actions affect all our shared humanity. No human being is born all good or all bad. We are all made of a mix of these things and what is nourished is what we become. Take good care to water all the positive seeds in you and those around you. Wishing you compassion and gentleness in thoughts, words, and acts.
May we all trust our light,