In a recent class someone asked how a Buddhist monk could invite hatred and murder, as is in Myanmar. One might ask the same question regarding Christians who have murdered in the name of Christ; Muslims in the name of Allah. We expect such behavior from racists and ultra-nationalists, but not of Buddhists.
The short answer is: many people get caught up in greed, fear and anger stoked by misguided, self-serving leaders. The raw emotions fired by racism and nationalism trump religion and ethics.
An ism is a belief system or a doctrine, typically about politics, religion or philosophy, for example Conservatism, Liberalism, Fascism, Racism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism Communism, etc.
While some 'isms' have at their core positive ethical values, like a desire for happiness, elimination of poverty, security, wisdom, universal love and compassion, etc., every ism has in it the seed of hatred.
The ism implicitly invites its adherents (the ists) to identify with it and see others as outsiders or non-believers. Once there are outsiders, the scene is set for discrimination, defensiveness and fear expressed in aggression that sets the in-group against others.
Buddhism and Relying on Experience, NOT Belief
Buddhism is founded on the idea that beliefs are left behind as personal experience puts one in touch with equanimity and unconditional love and compassion. However, it is easy (as we can see in Myanmar and Sri Lanka) for Buddhists to fixate on convenient beliefs, group identity and traditions rather than the system's essence.
Without the practices and knowledge that go beyond belief to experience, any member of any system can lose track of the system's essence.
Attachment and Identification
Individuals and groups become identified with their ism. The ism becomes the central theme that defines the individual and group. The group becomes a predominant positive experience in its members lives. Any threat to the ism becomes a threat to the individual. Diversity, particularly of ideas, is threatening because it opens beliefs to question and that creates anxiety as uncertainty, complexity and confusion replace the certainty of blind belief.
Threats bring out the divisiveness that leads to aggression in the form of discrimination and abuse.
Minimize the Negative Effects of isms -Unitics
Belief systems - religions, political theories, philosophies and the like - have their value. They provide direction and structure and bring ideas into focus. They provide vehicles for personal growth. The problem is that people take their system too seriously. They mistake the belief for truth. They think that their belief is the only true reflection of truth and all other beliefs are heresy.
The cure begins with you. Question every belief. How does it and the action it implies support core values like non-harming, happiness, prosperity, health, security, wisdom, love, compassion and equanimity? How does the belief map to practical reality? Check facts. Seek to understand opposing views.
Back in 2010 I coined a term, unitics. It is the opposite of politics. Where politics promotes adherence to a system of beliefs and sets up conflict, unitics seeks to move people from their poles or positions to the recognition that there is a common thread among us and that we do best by finding and aligning around our mutual goals and values.
When the focus is on core values, when we commit to non-harming and when we find that we all seek happiness, the world becomes a better place. We are more likely to see through the rhetoric and lies of people who seek power and wealth by manipulating others.
We replace fundamentalist ideologues with flexible pragmatists with positive values. When values clash, we seek to find the place above the disagreement where we can find common ground. When that becomes impossible, we realize that ignorance is not likely to universally eradicated any time soon and we make the best of the situation, with kindness and compassion informing our action.
For example, if racists and ultra-nationalists attack, we may have to stand and fight against them. Can we do that without acting out of the same hatred and ignorance they bring to the struggle? Can we confront divisive and destructive ideas and actions with patience, clarity and effective action?
A December 2013 Breakthrough Newsletter article expressed the following wishes:
May we see the dissolving of ideas and institutions that divide people;
May we promote the ideals of loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy for all, no matter who or what they are;
May we see a time when religious leaders teach their followers that there are many ways, not one way, to follow a path to Heaven, Nirvana or Paradise and live a righteous life on the way.
Add to those
May we have leaders in politics and industry who value the environment more than they value their individual bottom lines.
May all people realize that their similarities are far more predominant than their differences.
May we realize that over identification with a simplistic, limited sense of self is the root cause of suffering.
May the light of wisdom overcome the darkness of ignorance.