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Teaching or stories related to racism


#1

Dear Learned Friends,

In view of the latest terrorist attack in New Zealand, I would like to check if there are any Buddhist teachings, suttas, or Buddhist stories related to racism?

Thank you.

Ben


#2

Hi @benlim,
People often point to the Vāseṭṭha Sutta Snp 3.9 in which the Buddha rejects status. skin colour, caste, sex and more as a mark of someone’s worth, instead saying that people’s actions are what distinguish us. This is all in response to a question about the significance of birth, and what makes a brahmin.

Laurence Mills’ translation here is quite florid.


Below I’ve used Bhante Suddhaso’s translation.
The Buddha talks about the different kinds of grassses, trees, animals, fish and birds saying that they have differences by birth,

Birth has produced their distinctive characteristics,
And by birth they are different from each other.
“In this way we see that their differences are produced by birth.

But the situation is not the same when it comes to humans:

there is no difference produced by birth.
“Not by the hair or the head, not by the ears or the eyes,
Not by the mouth or the nose, not by the lips or the eyebrows,
“Not by the throat or the shoulders, not by the stomach or the back,
Not by the buttocks or the chest, not by the anus or the genitals,
“Not by the hands or the feet, not by the fingers or the nails,
Not by the knees or the thighs, not by the color or the voice –
There is no difference produced by birth, as it is with other beings.
“In human bodies no discrimination can be found.
Different human types are spoken of by designation alone…"

Personally, I think this sutta might be confusing for people from other religions or even those buddhists who are unfamiliar with the religious and cultural context at the time of the Buddha, and who might not know what exactly the Buddha was pointing to with the repeated phrase “that one I call a Brahmin”.

The Buddha’s other talks about castelessness are also framed in term of the potential for enlightenment, which being a particularly Buddhist concept might not feel suitable for use as a bridge towards other religions.
Such as:

In the same way, when they go forth from the lay life to homelessness, all four castes—aristocrats, brahmins, merchants, and workers—lose their former names and clans and are simply considered ‘Sakyan ascetics’.
Pahārāda Sutta AN 8.19](SuttaCentral)

So, when I think about how the Buddha’s texts can help us at times of social disunity and violence, I look for inspiration in the many texts where the Buddha taught things like generosity, or the many suttas on goodwill, compassion and so on to all beings. Such as the descriptions found in the Simile of the Cloth sutta MN7:

They meditate spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

These are well known Buddhist concepts and also have the unifying benefits of being values that are shared among all religions.

There are also less well know discussions on the importance of social cohesion and harmony.

Here’s a few:

makes for fondness and respect, conducing to inclusion, harmony, and unity, without quarreling.

  • Sārandada Sutta AN7.21 where the Buddha lays out seven principles of non-decline to the Licchavis.

  • One of my favourites, is the Cūḷagosiṅgasutta MN31 which famously instructs us to blend like “milk and water” and to view our community members with “eyes of love” (piyacakkhūhi).
    Here’s a little excerpt that always brings joy to my heart:

Indeed, sir, we live in harmony like this.” “But how do you live this way?” “In this case, sir, I think: ‘I’m fortunate, so very fortunate, to live together with spiritual companions such as these.’ I consistently treat these venerables with kindness by way of body, speech, and mind, both in public and in private. I think: ‘Why don’t I set aside my own ideas and just go along with these venerables’ ideas?’ And that’s what I do. Though we’re different in body, sir, we’re one in mind, it seems to me.”

Also, I think, as Buddhists, we should make efforts to cultivate positive friendships with people from other religions so that we can understand each other better and be supportive of each other. At the very least, we should always speak out against hatred and division and praise goodwill, harmony and so on.

It’s also incredibly important that we practice this in our interpersonal relationships at home, at work, or on the bus, not just at an easy, comfortable spiritually abstract global level in our meditation or with platitudes like"thoughts and prayers"… because if these spiritual qualities don’t show up in our actual lives or change the quality of our interactions, how, as Buddhists, can we expect them to change the world?


#3

Analysing the psychological process of the NZ accused mass killer, he subscribed to a white supremacist idea that Muslims were taking over the world to the detriment of the white dominance he had formerly known. Minority influence is increasing globally, so the accused killer was the victim of a resistance obsession against the insuppressible movement of impermanence.

If he had have come in contact with Buddhism and developed sorrow with regard to ambition in his practice, then unskillful resistance obsession would have been abandoned:

“There is the case where a monk considers, ‘O when will I enter & remain in the dimension that those who are noble now enter & remain in?’ And as he thus nurses this yearning for the unexcelled liberations, there arises within him sorrow based on that yearning. With that he abandons resistance. No resistance-obsession gets obsessed there.”—-MN 44

Another profitable painful contemplation would be the meditations on impermanence of the body as described under the first foundation of mindfulness and the Kayagatasati sutta, MN 119.


#4

Having just come back from laying some flowers from our garden near one of the mosques, I just wanted to point out that, though the victims were largely NZ citizens or residents (some, sadly, recently arrived refugees), the accused terrorist happens to be Australian.

However, it is certainly unfortunate that the insecurity of people like him manifests in blame, hate, and destruction.


#5

I think one thing to bear in mind that this attack (and a lot of anti-Muslim prejudice generally) wasn’t merely motivated by racism, but also dislike of a particular religion . This is a much trickier thing to navigate, because while the Buddha was quite dismissive of the relevance of caste differences, he had no problem criticizing religious views he thought were wrong.

One sutta that I think is helpful for dealing with this is AN 3.72, where an Ajivika asks Ananda who is practicing well, and Ananda responds by saying anyone who practices for giving up greed, hatred, and delusion. The Ajivika in turn is impressed by the fact that Ananda responded, not by extolling his own teaching or denigrating others’, but just speaking on the matter in question without a sense of self being involved.

Another helpful Sutta is DN 25, where the Buddha tells a wanderer of another sect that his goal isn’t to get him to stop practicing his religion, but to give up things that are unskillful.


#6

Is nationality a useful lenses to see people through? As always is the case, the people harmed and the perpetrator were all human beings.

May all beings work to purify their sila, increase in compassion, and ultimately find enlightenment. :pray:


#7

Regarding nationality, etc, I think there is a balance.

An “us and them” mentality that views other nationalities/races/ethnicities as undesirable is, of course, what terrorists such as this one focus on. I certainly don’t condone that.

On the other hand, knowledge and acknowledgement of the backgrounds, customs, and so on of the various members of a society is important to its well being. To make everyone safe and welcome requires more than simply reassuring them that we are all human. The reality is more complicated (and interesting!) than that.

:heart:


#8

Reports indicate that NZ was living in a sense of false security that it was a country with an ethos of peace insulated from the problems of the world. This is a mundane equivalent of the illusion that equanimity is sufficient to maintain practice. The Buddha uses the example of a gatekeeper of a front-line fortress similar to guards searching for suicide bombers in the Middle East, to characterize mindfulness. Equanimity is not mentioned, and depending on the strength of the defilements, often the four right efforts need to be employed:

"Just as the royal frontier fortress has a gate-keeper — wise, experienced, intelligent — to keep out those he doesn’t know and to let in those he does, for the protection of those within and to ward off those without; in the same way a disciple of the noble ones is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. With mindfulness as his gate-keeper, the disciple of the noble ones abandons what is unskillful, develops what is skillful, abandons what is blameworthy, develops what is blameless, and looks after himself with purity. With this sixth true quality is he endowed.—AN 7.63


#9

@paul1

I don’t think your comment is true or helpful. I can’t fathom why you posted it here.

The equivalence you draw about equanimity and NZ’s ethos is overly simplistic at best and actually quite spurious. Equanimity is a mental quality, not a type of government policy.

Your assertion that equanimity is not mentioned in the Fortress Sutta is incorrect, as it is clearly there in the descriptions of the third and fourth jhana.

The use of the Fortress sutta in this context feels a bit problematic, it is an analogy for mental development, not a blueprint for 21st century domestic policy. It also seems that you’re blaming NZ for this act of terrorism by selectively quoting this particular paragraph about the ‘gatekeeper’, which seems to imply it was NZ’s fault for letting the terrorist in. But he was not on any watchlists and further, terrorists are often homegrown.

I’m not sure why you make reference to suicide bombers in the Middle East here, but it feels as if you are deliberately trying to make a connection between terrorism and the Middle East and, by inference, Muslims too, but I’m not sure why you do this? Terrorism occurs everywhere.

This thread (and the Buddhist path) is about overcoming division, not perpetuating it!


#10

Perhaps a more charitable interpretation is that we in New Zealand (and probably other countries, but I can’t speak for them) have not been vigilant enough in identifying, calling out, and working to defuse the attitudes of hate and separation that motivated the terrorist and his sympathisers, here and around the world.

We aspire to having a welcoming society. One that recognises in it’s laws a partnership between the peoples who arrived here at different times.

Unfortunately, we are not perfect. We have a long way to go to make this aspiration a reality. We need to work harder. We must be vigilant.

:heart:
:anjal:


#11

True, and if people are sidelined for years then it turns into dissent. Alternatively there was a wholesome trend to put asid racial identities and think of themselves as ‘Sri Lankans’ following the end of the civil war.


#12

It’s illustrative of the universal law of dhamma that the mass shooter is linked to the Identitarian movement, and the Buddha always says indirectly that holding the idea of permanence results in suffering and identity.


#13

Good point. I’ve been listening to Ajahn Munido’s recent talk (March 3!) on Extremisim and Identity:
https://ratanagiri.org.uk/teachings/talks/extremism-and-identity

Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s talk:

  • Wisdom over Justice
    • September 18th, 2017 | Duration: 46 min | Insight Meditation Center (Redwood City, CA)

which is similar to this essay:
https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/uncollected/Justice.html

Also has some excellent points.

:heart: