Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Extinguishing the fires of hate

As you've probably already read, Terry Jones, a Florida pastor, is threatening to host a "Burn a Koran Day" on September 11th. As a Buddhist, I immediately thought about how the Buddha would respond to this kind of belligerent ignorance. The Buddha committed himself to a life of non-violence, and on at least one occasion, actually prevented war from erupting. So what would would the Buddha do? Which roughly translates to: how should socially conscious/engaged Buddhists respond?

Well, before we can answer this question, we have to understand the root of the problem. Aside from the obvious questions--like what kind of a pastor burns another religion's sacred book, or worse, willingly jeopardizes human life?--lies a much more fundamental problem that the Buddha warned us against: the inherent futility of meeting hate with hate.

Using any religion to attack, vilify, or harm another human being is a perversion of that very same religion's central tenets. All of the major religions agree on one thing--that we should love, care for, and respect one another. Period. There aren't any exclusionary clauses, like "Only love those people who look like you, or those who pray to the same God as you." Be wary of anyone who claims otherwise.

Hate is hate is hate. A turd by any other name...

Buddhism is a religion of radical non-violence. Prominent figures like Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalia Lama--both exiled from their homelands by aggressive military regimes--serve as models of the Buddhist spirit of loving kindness. They are shining examples of the Bodhisattva's vow, living reminders that we too have the power to reject ignorance, if only we choose to.

It's easy to succumb to anger and hatred; the path of peace and kindness is the hard one to walk. The truly challenging task, though, is condemning acts of bigotry like Jones's, without falling prey to those same qualities we so disdain.

As the Buddha taught, the only way to conquer hatred is with love. We need not look far in the textbooks for proof: Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just a few. Admittedly, this is all easier said than done.
So what should we, as socially minded Buddhists, do? One suggestion I have--admittedly small and a little silly--is, on September 11th, to hug as many people as you can find. People of every faith and creed and color--black, white, brown, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. Show the Joneses of the world the true spirit of democracy: that we're all of the same flesh and no amount of hatred will divide our humanity. Combat this Neo-Nuremberg book blaze with a warm, gentle touch of loving-kindness. An act, I think, the Buddha himself would certainly embrace.

Burning books photo borrowed with permission from flickr user pcorreia.
"Free Hugs" photo borrowed with permission from flickr user Jesslee Cuizon.

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