Hate Crimes: No Way Out? A Spiritual Perspective
Though we all aspire and long for a society where all are accepted, related to, and treated equal what we witness is the contrary: acts of hate crimes, discriminations, prejudices, and injustices… these acts abound and seem to be ruling our relationships at all levels. Social living seems to be guided by hate, intolerance, and social exclusivity. Our society appears to be a conglomeration of individuals and groups perceived in the paradigm of ‘one versus the other.’
The Hindus ↔ the Muslims
The Catholics ↔ the Protestants
The Indian ↔ the Pakistani
The Israeli ↔ the Palestinian
The Whites ↔ the Blacks
The High Caste ↔ the Low Caste
The Rich ↔ the Poor
The Sunni ↔ the Shiite
The Righteous ↔the Unrighteous
The Pharisee ↔ the Publican
The Theist ↔the Atheist
The Conservative ↔ the Progressive
The Left ↔ the Right
The Revealed Religions ↔ the Wisdom Religions
And the list goes on.
A child grows up with a belief/thinking system, imposed from outside, that the ‘other’ is different. The child develops and exhibits a pattern of social behavior that is firmly rooted on the principle that the other is not one of us: they worship a different God, practice different moral codes, their mannerisms are different, food habits are unlike ours, culture and cultural habits are at variance with ours, we have the fullness of truth and the other is a pagan and thus needs to be saved, they look different, speak with accents, behave differently, their skin color is different, we belong to a superior class and they to an inferior, …
Scholars and researchers underline various causes and factors that flame intolerance and hate crimes in our societies (the scope of this reflection is not go into a detailed study of these causes) and governments do regulate social relationships with legal laws and impose punishment on those who infringe these laws and fuel hate and discrimination in the society. Have legal laws and sanctions lessened or totally eliminated hate crimes? The civilized and educated societies do not support the thesis that education and legal laws are sufficient to usher in an egalitarian society.
From a believer’s perspective: she/he is constantly told in loud and clear voice that God is our Father and that we are all God’s children; that everyone is the image and likeness of God. Are we not familiar with the words of St. Paul, “and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:10-11).
How many sermons, discourses, and homilies we have heard and continue to hear on the passage just quoted and the call to treat the other as our own? The commandment of Jesus is crystal clear, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mt 22:39). But isn’t the witness among the Christian communities contrary to what we profess in Jesus and we even tend to justify our negative human behavior as result of concupiscence of original sin. There is certain truth in it but often it is just a lame excuse to act for a change. The ontological truth that we are the image and likeness of God remains intellectual information and we do not let it transform us: to be the truth that we are indeed the image of God.
Mere moral, pious, religious, legal, and political rhetoric will not suffice to bring about tolerance and equality of all. Jesus, with his ushering of the Reign of God has come and gone; the various Buddhas, the religious founders, and teachers have left their teachings on peace and tolerance; both Prophetic and Wisdom religions with their volumes of Scripture invite us to a life of love, peace, and tolerance. But in spite of all these efforts hate crime is still a reality.
To become and to be the image of God, information about God must become transformation in us and for this non-duality as a spiritual discipline is of a great help which directly leads to an intimate experience of God. All other spiritual disciplines that are also excellent spiritual paths can bring us to the threshold of God, but in the non-dual approach, God is not an object to be known but God becomes the experience itself; an experience where the mind and the heart merge with God. In its journey to the cave of the heart, the self, does not identify itself with the body, the mind, and all the externals but directly plunges itself into God and becomes one with God. In my spiritual practice when I constantly let go of identifying the self with all the externals (mind, body, caste, creed, color, community, inherited and acquired titles, status, possessions, and images of myself…) and enter into the heart, the self, having been stripped of everything that is not its true nature realizes itself to be the image of God alone and begins to be that in all its social relationships.
The self, through the process of self-emptying and eventually losing itself in God, finds its true nature: the very image of God. This simple process of not identifying my ‘self’ with the externals enables me not to identify the self of the other with her/his externals. Through the constant practice of Meditation I become aware that in the changing reality of my mind and body and everything around me there is an unchanging reality in me; not just in me but in all and this unchanging reality alone is true and real. Isn’t this what Jesus meant when he said “love your neighbor as you love yourself?” No wonder for Jesus and for Buddha who hails from a different tradition, all were equals.
The fruit of Contemplative Prayer is to see God in everyone and everyone in God. If this becomes an experiential truth in me than the ‘other’ in spite of all the changing externals is in no way different from me. With this spiritual approach I cannot bring about a global change but I can be like a mustard seed that falls to the ground and gives rise to a bush where the birds of the air come to rest. Hopefully one day these birds too will fall to the ground and give rise to bushes where many other birds can come and rest.