Acharya das: Namaste! Welcome!
So today we’re going to be doing the second part in this series, that is, Becoming a Force for Good in this World, and we will attempt to address the subject of how to end racism and bigotry. And of course, as usual before speaking we would like to engage in meditation upon the transcendental sound, this kirtan meditation. You’ll see the mantra on the bottom of the screen. I will lead and please join with the other people here and following along. Thank you.
Aum Hari Aum kirtan
Acharya das: So on the topic of racism and bigotry. Bigotry, of course, is not limited to racial bigotry. There’s so much different types of bigotry that can be expressed. But the actual cause or foundation of—let’s just speak of racism first.
In racism, the foundation of all these discrimination or violence that springs from these expressions of racism is the false, the false identification of the body as being the self. You know, this is the—THE most important and foundational principle taught in the system of yoga is this understanding or appreciation of how we are not the gross or physical body nor the mind, that we are, in fact, eternal spiritual beings residing within the body.
The problem is that in this world we are very conditioned by these ideas that the body is—my body is me. And therefore, the characteristics of my body is how I will describe myself. I mean, you ask most people, “How would you describe yourself?” And they start talking about their height, their weight, their complexion, maybe the color of their eyes, the type of hair they have. The characteristics associated with the body become the description of who they are.
And then you’ve got another layer of false identity. And this has all of the different labels or designations that connected with the body. For instance, it could be somebody’s economic status: I’m a blue collar worker, I’m a housewife, I’m a—whatever, you know. I’m a worker in Silicon Valley, I’m an executive. Then we talk about marital or partnership status. And then on top of that we’ve got political affiliation, we’ve got religious affiliation and nationality - whatever nation we claim to belong to as being all part of our identity.
And when somebody adopts this type of thinking, which is not somebody; it is, like everyone. This is the norm in this world and I just like to make a point that while it may be the norm, it doesn’t mean it is acceptable or should be acceptable. I’m not advertising the idea of just throwing away all of these labels; no, they serve a purpose. But one should not completely lose the plot and embrace them as being who I actually am. If you do that, you are setting yourself up for a life of pain; a life of pain and suffering because it’s like we always want to be someone “better”. We’re so concerned about being accepted, by being loved. And we think by making all these alterations to this body that we have on that we’ll be able to achieve and do these kind of things.
But the reality is racism, racism is not, is not just a discriminatory thing. Racism is to feel and identify with being a race; meaning—usually we‘ve become very familiar with the ideas of racism. I mean the thing that really springs to mind is what happened in America with the introduction of slavery and the idea that people from Africa were chattel. They weren’t actually legitimate people almost; they were possessions that could be owned. This idea, by the way, is not unique to America. It had been practiced and adopted for hundreds and thousands of years in the continent of Africa, through much of Europe, Central Asia, all the way through Russia. Everybody has this like long history of slavery and it is very much founded on the—along racial divisions.
If somebody is from a different racial group, it was like so easy for me to consider it was alright to enslave that person and use them but this abuse is not in and of itself racism. It is one of the contributing factors, for instance, to slavery. The actual racism is when I myself adopt the idea, if I say, “I am a white male,” that is already racism. If I was to say, “I am a black woman,” or, “I’m a Chinese elderly gentleman,” or that, “I am an Inuit,” or, “I am an Aborigine,” if I make any of these claims, I am racist. And this is the foundation for all of the prejudice, for all of the bigotry that will spring from this false idea.
True—the true approach to dealing with this problem - and it is a very profound problem - actually lies in the spiritual process of coming to realize my own spiritual identity and the spiritual identity of others. There is a very wonderful verse in one of the Upanishads, the Sri Isopanishad, the 15th mantra, where it states that,
One who sees all living entities as spiritual sparks in quality one with the Lord (meaning not material but spiritual in essence) becomes a true knower of things. What then can be illusion or anxiety for him?Sri Isopanisad 15
I am very drawn to consider and think about the last few words in that particular mantra. You know, when we adopt these false notions or false ideas of who we are and who others are, then we really do set ourselves up for not just a lot of conflict and potential conflict but also a great deal of personal anxiety that will manifest in so many different ways. And the fundamental reason is because when I adopt these ideas I am not acting in truth. I am actually acting in ignorance.
So we see, you know, there has been like in recent times, you know, the past year and a half particularly in the United States, we see so many manifestations of racial tension where amongst black communities that have for so many, many decades, you know, coming out of the period of slavery and then for many decades afterward, their being confronted with tremendous economic hardship and difficulty, less opportunity and trying to come to grips and to deal with this, has been a major problem and we see in recent times race riots, and you know, quite an eruption of real pain that has come out of this problem.
If we look back at the social conflicts, whether it has to do with women wanting to be viewed equally or in this case with racial identity, these are the things where people identify with their body and then feel that they are and they might truly be been subject to prejudicial treatment from others who have a different type of body. The only way that we’re really going to be able to deal with this issue is to attack it at its root.
You know, we have a lot of people that are wanting to do good, wanting to do good by encouraging other people in minority groups or from other bodies that are from different ethnic or racial extractions, trying to encourage them, ”No, no, you need to stand up and be proud of who you are. You should be proud to be Latino,” or, “You’ve got to be proud to be black,” or, “You’ve got to be proud to be an Asian.” That’s just as, excuse me, it’s just as dumb as being proud to be white. It’s all equally based on a complete misunderstanding. And it is an attempt to apply a solution that will not only not work it will end up aggravating the problem.
The problem of racial tension exists because people misidentify the body as being themselves. I identify myself, for instance, because I have this body on, I am a white male and therefore when I look at another person and see they have a different type of body and a different—they are from a different racial group, their body is from a different race then I define the person by that and depending upon whether I find that particular race attractive or unattractive then I am going to treat that person accordingly.
It was very wonderful and inspirational during the Civil Rights Movement when Martin Luther King, you know, in his famous speech about having a dream—“I Have a Dream”— where he talked about where people would not be judged on their physical characteristics but on the content of their character. I mean that statement requires people to completely throw away all ideas of racial identity and to look at an individual as being a person, and then making a judgment about whether I want to associate with that person or not based on the content of their character. What type of person are they? Are they a kind and loving person? Are they a generous person? Are they someone I would like to spend time with? Are they someone that I would like my children to meet? I would like to bring home to my house? This is where things have to go and the fake attempts to try and right injustices by further promoting racial identity is just doomed to failure. It is absolutely doomed to failure. There is no way it can actually and completely succeed. You may have, you know, some time where things may appear to be improving but you will see that since the problem lies with having a “racial identity” rather than a spiritual identity then that is going to be like a pendulum. A pendulum is always swinging one side to the other and so things may go through a period where everybody is holding hands and skipping through the fields and doing a kumbaya thingy and, you know, we’re all embracing each other but if we are going to be locked into that idea, as surely as the sun rises, this pendulum will now swing to the other side and people that were one time oppressed and are now embraced lovingly may themselves become the persecutors of others on the basis of racial identity.
You know we hear about—the people speak about, we hear within churches and things the need for love and compassion. What’s actually quite interesting is if you take two very small babies; you know, we’re talking about the age where they are able to roll over and kind of like get a little bit mobile and you bring two babies together - a black baby, a brown baby, a Latino baby, a Chinese baby - you put them all together and there is just like no display of racial identity. People may notice even as kids grow up a little bit, they may notice each other’s hair is kind of different, you know, and the color of the skin may be a little different but what they do is they have a connection as a person to person and what’s interesting, you know, especially with very small children, if one of them is in anxiety or suffering and begins crying, particularly in pain, quite often other children will also cry. They will also cry. They become disturbed by the fact that somebody is suffering. They are able to quite astutely pick up when someone is faking a cry to get attention from their parents or whether they are, you know, actually in some pain. But if there is something that has happened and a kid is just like screaming and really crying because of some pain, you will see other children begin to cry.
And it clearly demonstrates that, you know, it’s not so much that we are by nature tend to be racist and not have empathy towards each other; these are things that we often acquire as a product of social conditioning from our parents or from other kids at school as we grow up, from neighbors, from others. We begin to acquire these types of ideas.
So when a person becomes very immersed in racial identity there is this very strong tendency to begin to make decisions in terms of being attracted or repulsed to someone on how I think of that particular “race”, if I can use that term. And people think, “Oh—“ if somebody is in a superior position and they are hating another race that the people that are being hated deserve to be pitied and it is a very unfortunate situation and that is absolutely true but what many people also don’t see and recognize is that the person that has no space in their heart to feel compassionately or caringly about another person simply because of their “sexual identity” or “racial identity” or whatever, we don’t see how much that person is actually suffering also.
It is not just that there are those who are victims and those who are the victimisers. When people enter into this world of great animosity and even hatred based on racial identity then they live in a world that is very tormented. It is filled with a lot of anxiety, it is filled with a lot of difficulty. When such hatred occupies and pollutes the very core of a person’s heart it is a very terrible kind of suffering.
The other thing that does occur is that when a person adopts this type of thinking, it is impossible, it is impossible for them to feel within their heart an actual closeness to God, to that Supreme Being. People may say that they feel close to God; they may speak in a derogatory way about others based on racial identity and do it in the guise of some religious expression--I mean it’s always been the way since time immemorial. However I can assure and promise you that such expressions and such feelings are not only not pleasing to God, they are incredibly displeasing. And while a person may be able to put up a front as being a religious person and to even feel that their bigotry or hatred is founded in some ,what they perceive as a—I can only describe as a twisted idea of a religious or spiritual principle, I can guarantee you and assure you that such a person actually feels very tormented within their hearts and is, in fact, very, very far from God.
When people look to address the problem of racism they often, as I mentioned earlier, want to try and promote the idea of self-esteem as and tying it to the acceptance of a person’s racial identity. When people are subject to prejudice or bigotry, yes they do feel pain, they do feel very—they feel much discomfort and it can be quite heartbreaking for an individual. But as I mentioned earlier the proposal or idea of trying to gain actual self-esteem and to feel worthy and to do that by trying to indoctrinate someone with the idea that they should learn to love their racial identity— I can remember, you know, from my hippie days in the late 60’s, early 70’s. You know there was this term that came out. “Black is beautiful” and it’s kind of like just because some racist, perhaps white people, had tried to denigrate someone of another racial identity and say that they weren’t beautiful and now a person must try and affirm their own beauty tied to a particular skin color. This whole realm is a realm of much anxiety and much suffering.
It is so important for people to actually find the truth, to be able to embrace that truth, to try and realize that truth, to incorporate that truth into my life and in doing that they will really see the reality that the idea of self-esteem based on race, it is completely meaningless. It is completely meaningless. We need to steer away from this idea that the body is me; not become more immersed in it and try to feel good about that because that is never actually going to do you any good.
In one of the earliest series, you know, we talked about a famous model, Kate Upton, and how she had said that after she was put on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimwear Edition—she’s really voluptuous and beautiful woman in this bikini—that she talked about it in an interview how she had prayed for that body since she was a small child; daily. She not just meditated on it, the size of the breasts and curvaceousness, but she prayed that she would have this. And of course, she got what she wanted whether it’s by genetics or whether it’s by the intercession of the Lord (laughs) you can decide. But as a result of this body and being on this cover, it’s like she just blew up and became a internet sensation and a social media sensation. Then some time after that, she talked about how when that happened she went into this state of depression for about a month. She was like, just so upset and she was saying something to the effect that, you know, “I don’t want to just be looked at as being an object for others to use and try and enjoy.” She wanted people to see her not just as being that body which is something I could perhaps or somebody could exploit but to see her for the person that she actually was.
So this is the problem when it comes to racial identity and even trying to reinforce so-called positive images about beauty and acceptability being tied to a particular racial identity and feeling that, “That is me.” When you go down that road, it comes always to this dead end and that dead end is where a person does not want to be simply so-called loved or so-called accepted on the basis of that body, because when that happens then they feel “Oh, what about me? You just love me because of my body.” It’s a common term. “You don’t love me for who I really am.” Well the problem is, you don’t know who you are either; you’ve got some inkling or idea that you’re someone inside.
So the idea of promoting positive body images; this is done with so-called weight issues. Oh my god, weight issues. What am I waiting for? (Audience laughs) Really, it’s just like ridiculous. You know, somebody’s body is large, somebody’s body is smaller and I should just love my body and feel so good about my “self” even if am terribly overweight or if I’m very slim and fit.
You know, this is really, if you are going to tie your self-image, the idea of your self-esteem, your lovableness, your acceptableness, to the type of body that you have on, I’m sorry you are going to crash and burn. This is not going to end well.
So in summary, you know, if we want to cultivate a real understanding of one another as being truly spiritual brothers and sisters, then the only way that is going to be able to happen is if we have an actual appreciation for the fact that we are spiritual beings; that these bodies are simply temporary vehicles that we are using and I will find my actual purpose, I will find fulfillment, I will find actual happiness with this spiritual awakening. And this knowledge, this understanding is what can actually bring about real harmony. It is actual wisdom that will defeat racism; not more ignorance or ideas that are founded on a misunderstanding or an ignorant understanding.
So giving you a little food for thought. You know this is something that we can learn to practice, if I can use that term, in our daily life. This is something that as part of a yogic meditation as we go about our daily life and we encounter different people then we should try to be a little aware that this person that I am meeting, whether it is a person I have met many times before or a new person, that this person is actually not that body I am seeing with my eyes. I must learn to see with spiritual eyes. These spiritual eyes are the eyes of wisdom and it should be this that guides my understanding. When I have adopted this then this type of understanding - and live by this principle - automatically all barriers, all ideas of—that give rise to different forms of bigotry will automatically evaporate. They will automatically fall away.
So with that, I would like to thank you very much for joining us again today and I’ll invite you once again—we will engage in kirtan for about ten minutes and invite you to join with us. Thank you!
Thank you very much. We hope to see you next week. Namaste.