Prejudice Free Consciousness

We are not born with prejudice but prejudice is learned, there's a need to teach tolerance, joyous reverence for diversity. Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Swami Chinmayananda each spoke of the Hindu principles of ahimsa-non violence, tolerance, high- minded values.

Unedited Transcript:

Good Morning Everyone.

Continuing this morning on our series from Mauritius. You know we had an opportunity to put a page into the religious magazine "Vannakkam" thanks to Dr. Pillai. And we also had a chance to give the same talk given at the Dharmasala on the first Sunday of the Month, when they have a Homa ceremony, about three to four hundred people coming and attending that.

So this is a talk you've heard before with a few updates, it's a talk on Hindu tolerance and I changed it a little bit more to focus on being practical. The title is "Prejudice Free Consciousness."

Conditions in the world today are certainly troubling with wars between countries, wars within countries plus a serious threat of international terrorist acts. The terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th naturally heightened everyone's concern about these problems. One of the immediate consequences of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was the presence of television coverage depicting people in a number of countries who strongly hate the United States, some to the point of wishing violence upon it. Watching these shocking reports on television, we were quite impressed by the extent and seriousness of the problem of prejudice in the world today. Attitudes of prejudice toward those who are of a different race, nation, or religion can start simply as distrust which can then deepen into dislike and deepen further into hatred which can turn into a desire to inflict injury. Are we born with these attitudes? Certainly not. We are taught them at home, at school and even in some religious institutions.

Soon after the United States went to war with Iraq, a number of governments passed resolutions objecting to the war. Also some individuals expressed their objection to the war by demonstrating in the streets. These actions are sincere and make a point, but they certainly do not address the core of the problem, which is hatred. People have been raised to hate those of different ethnic groups, religions or nations. The solution, though a long-term one, is that we need, in the century ahead, to teach all children tolerance, openness to different ways of life, different beliefs, different customs of dress and language. We need to stop teaching them to fear those who are different from themselves, stop teaching them hatred for peoples of other colors and other religions, stop teaching them to see the world as a field of conflict and instead instill in them an informed appreciation and a joyous reverence for the grand diversity we find around us. Instead of teaching children to be intolerant and to dislike and distrust, hate and inflict injury on those who are different, we can teach them to be tolerant and like and trust, befriend and help. And, of course, the central place for that to occur is in the home. Secondarily it can be further strengthened by also being taught at the temple and at school and through special community activities.

My Guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, stressed in many of his talks and writings that it is in the home that we have the greatest opportunities to change the world for the better. This is because it is the qualities parents instill in their children that create the world of the future. Therefore, the most effective form of protest to the violence in our modern world is to give more thought to what our children are learning as they grow up. And in this regard every father and mother is indeed a guru--in fact, an individual's first guru, teaching by example, explanation, giving advice and direction.

The quality we wish parents to develop in the child is a prejudice-free consciousness: possessing an open-mindedness that readily embraces differences in ethnic background, religion and nationality. How can parents nurture a prejudice free consciousness? What specific actions are effective in raising children to be tolerant rather than to be hateful? As we previously mentioned, we are not born with prejudices. They are all learned, at home, at school and elsewhere. This gives us a good overview then on how to nurture a prejudice free consciousness, which is by carefully monitoring what children hear at home, school and elsewhere that expresses prejudice.

Most importantly, tolerance is nurtured through the complete avoidance of remarks in the home that are racially, religiously or nationality prejudiced. Also important is discussing with our children any prejudice they hear from others at school and elsewhere and correcting it. We should teach children to avoid generalizations about people and, instead, to think about specific individuals and the qualities they have. Even positive generalizations should be avoided as they encourage us not to look at the qualities of individuals. Television and movies can provide useful situations to discuss. Tolerance can be developed through having our children meet, interact and learn to feel comfortable with children of other ethnicities and religions. Hindu organizations can be proactive in this regard and arrange such activities for the children of their members to participate in.

Let's look next at the Hindu beliefs that are the basis for Hindu tolerance. The first belief is on the nature of God, which is the basis for Hindu tolerance of other religions. Hinduism has four major divisions, or denominations: Saivism, Saktism, Smartism and Vaishnavism. Each calls the Supreme Being by a different name. To Saivites the Supreme is called Siva. Saktas refer to the Supreme as Sakti. Smartas call the Supreme Being Brahman. And to Vaishnavas He is Vishnu. However, the important point is that each Hindu is worshipping the same Supreme Being. The name is different, the tradition is different, but it is the same Supreme Being that is being worshipped by all Hindus. There is an ancient verse from the Rig Veda that is often quoted in this regard, "Ekam sat viprah bahuda vadanti. Truth is one, sages express it variously." This same statement from the Rig Veda can be expanded beyond Hinduism to include all the world religions - there is only one Supreme Being and all the world's religions are in truth worshipping the same Supreme Being. In fact there is a verse often chanted in Siva temples which is Tennadudaiya Sivane Potti, Enattavarkum Iraiva Potti. This verse translates as: He who is worshipped as Siva in the Southland, is worshipped elsewhere as God. What this means, of course, is that people around the world worship the Supreme Being and Shiva is one of the many names of the Supreme Being.

Thus an even fuller expression of this second idea of Hindu unity is that Hindus are united by the understanding that not only all Hindus, but also the followers of all religions of the world in truth worship the same Supreme Being. Gurudeva's statement in this regard is, "Saivites profoundly know that God Siva is the same Supreme Being in whom peoples of all faiths find solace, peace and liberation."

This belief, by the way, is an excellent response if you are ever approached by someone of another religion who states that their God is superior to your God. You can simply refer to this ancient Rig Veda verse and state with confidence that there is only one Supreme Being and you are in truth both worshipping the same Supreme Being but only referring to Him by different names.

Hindus also believe that there is no exclusive path, no one way for all. Religious beliefs are manifold and different. Hindus, understanding the strength of this diversity, wholeheartedly respect and encourage all who believe in God and do not seek to interfere with anyone's faith or practice. Since the inner intent of all religions is to bind man back to God, Hindus honor the fact that "Truth is one, paths are many." Nonetheless, Hindus realize that all religions are not the same. Each has its unique beliefs, practices, goals and paths of attainment, and the doctrines of one often conflict with those of another. Even this should never be cause for religious tension or intolerance.

The Hindu belief that gives rise to tolerance of differences in race and nationality is that all of mankind is good, we are all divine beings, souls created by God. Hindus do not accept the concept that some individuals are evil and others are good. Hindus believe that each individual is a soul, a divine being, who is inherently good. The Upanishads tell us that each soul is emanated from God, as a spark from a fire, and begins its spiritual journey, which eventually leads back to God. All human beings are on this journey, whether they realize it or not. The Upanishad mahavakyam that expresses this is, "Ayam atma brahma. The soul is God." The Hindu practice of greeting one another with namaskara, worshipping God within the other person, is a way this philosophical truth is practiced on a daily basis.

This is taken one step further in the Vedic verse "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam--the whole world is one family. Everyone is family oriented. What we do is to benefit all the members of our family. We want them all to be happy, successful, and religiously fulfilled. And when family is defined to be the whole world, then it is clear that we wish everyone in the world to attain these goals. The Vedic verse that captures this sentiment is, "Sarve janah sukhino bhavantu. May all people be happy."

Gurudeva often emphasized the relationship of ones beliefs, attitudes and actions. In one quote he states: "Every belief creates certain attitudes. Our attitudes govern all of our actions. Belief in karma, reincarnation and the existence of an all-pervasive Divinity throughout the universe creates an attitude of reverence, benevolence and compassion for all beings. The natural consequence of this belief is ahimsa, nonhurtfulness."

In the second half of the twentieth century Hindu concepts became more and more popular and influential in the West. For example, every year more westerners take up the belief in karma and reincarnation as a logical explanation of what they observe in life. Certainly one of the most visible uses of Hindu values in the West in the 20th century was Dr. Martin Luther King. After many years of giving careful thought to the problem of discriminatory laws, Dr. King selected the Hindu principle of ahimsa, as exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi's tactic of nonviolent resistance, as the most effective method for overcoming the unjust laws of racial discrimination in the United States. It is interesting to note that in 1959 Dr. King spent five weeks in India discussing with Gandhi's followers the philosophy and techniques of nonviolence to deepen his understanding before putting them in to actual use.

By the way, a line from Dr.King's Famous I have a Dream speech beautifully states the ideal stated earlier in this article of avoiding ethnic generalizations and instead seeing each individual for the person he or she is: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Swami Chinmayananda in his first public talk in 1951 made a powerful statement: "The true Hinduism is a science of perfection. There is, in this true Hinduism, a solution to every individual, social, national and international problem. True Hinduism is the Sanatana Dharma of the Upanishads." Perhaps in the 21st century, the world can again turn to the high-minded values of Hinduism, choosing this time the concept of tolerance, as a way of creating a future for this planet that is free from war and terrorism. And such tolerance should not be mere passive acceptance of those who are different, but rather a heartfelt proactive effort to befriend and help.

In conclusion, each time you find yourself stating or even thinking a generalization, either positive or negative, about people based on their ethnicity, religion, or nationality, correct yourself and restate your thought taking into account the actual qualities and character of specific individuals. Also help your children do the same. This simple practice deeply impresses the mind that in looking at or talking about individuals rather than simply seeing a shallow stereotype we must look more deeply and see the specific individual for who he or she really is. In impressing the mind regularly in this way, over time our attitudes toward others will move closer and closer to the ideal of a prejudice free consciousness. Tolerant individuals help communities function with less friction and misunderstanding and thus help the world become a more peaceful place.

Aum Namah Sivaya.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Giving a gift begrudgingly in return for another gift is, of course, mere barter. Many families barter their way through life in this way, thinking they are giving. But such gifts are cold, the fulfillment is empty, and the law of karma pays discounted returns.