Antidotes to prejudice
How does prejudice arise? How to live a life so that prejudice does not arise? Here DAAJI explores these questions and offers some practical antidotes to prejudice.
In 2003 my son gave me a copy of the American classic,To Kill A Mockingbird by Nelle Harper Lee. I stopped reading after Tom Robinson was arrested, as the whole episode was so sad. Then ten years later I had the opportunity to watch the movie in which Gregory Peck acted so brilliantly. Coincidentally, 2003 was the same year Gregory Peck died, and one of the eulogy-makers was the actor who played the role of Tom Robinson. He said that Gregory Peck may have died, but Atticus Finch still lives on in our lives, for he represents something not many could: he was the sole fighter in the entire village.
The story shifted my awareness so much. It’s all about racial prejudice, injustice, children losing their innocence, and the courage to overcome all these weaknesses and social evils. What we require is courage. The book title is also brilliant. What is the author trying to say in the title? We all have that innocent mockingbird in our heart, always singing, “Do this, don’t do that,” and if we kill the mockingbird that guides us from within, we kill our inner voice, and that is as bad as committing suicide. We may be living on in physical form, but we have destroyed the inner conscience.
We all know the words “discrimination”, “prejudice” and “injustice.” Sometimes we are defenders, at other times silent bystanders or witnesses, and sometimes offenders. We often use the word “discrimination” in a negative sense, but in yogic philosophy “discrimination” has a very profound meaning. It has a purpose.
Yoga has four fundamental Sadhanas, and the first is Viveka, meaning discrimination or discernment, our innate wisdom to differentiate right from wrong. When are we able to differentiate right from wrong? When we are impartial and open. Prejudice carries the idea that we have made up our minds. We have a preconception without seeing reality, facts and figures.
How to conduct our lives in such a way that we rise above prejudice? Recognizing the problem is not enough. I may write in my diary, I may talk to my friend, I may ask for help, and I may want to change, but much more needs to be done. Wishes are not enough. It is only through hard work that we achieve goals. If we don’t act we can’t blame anyone else. And once we think that we have made it, we often stop growing. That’s the tragic part of a little success. When we feel that we have made it, we lose our center, we lose our focus, so again it becomes spiritual suicide. The spiritual journey is all about how well we lose ourselves; the higher we grow, the smaller we become. Humility and purity are the keys. Purity brings about openness of heart. Openness creates free interaction with all. Without purity there is no unity, and without unity there will always be prejudice.
Prejudice always arises out of setting
aside proven or observed facts, despite oft-repeated experiences.
This fatal attitude is displayed in order to preserve self-respect or honor,
and its origin is in the mind. It is purely ego-based.
There is no race against others on this inner journey. The journey is infinite. We are racing only against ourselves. We would like to do better than yesterday, and we can humbly submit, “I need to change. Guide me in some way. In which direction must I go? Where must I correct myself?” Every one of us knows only too well our weaknesses, but out of habit we look at the weaknesses of others. Instead of looking at our own baggage, we keep looking at the baggage of others, and in the process we miss out.
Prejudice always arises out of setting aside proven or observed facts, despite oft-repeated experiences. This fatal attitude is displayed in order to preserve self-respect or honor, and its origin is in the mind. It is purely ego-based.
And what about the desires that drive us to make certain decisions, despite the clear and overwhelming facts? Desires unfulfilled lead to restlessness and inner turbulence. At times they provoke anger if things are not done as per our whims. Anger promotes fear and fear won’t let us exercise discrimination. In a state of fear, it is very difficult to discriminate right from wrong. This is the result of desires from the heart.
Ego-based superiority takes its toll on our ability to discriminate, because we have already made up our minds that “I am superior,” and ipso facto that all others are inferior, whereas the most beautiful weapon is to always think that the other person is greater, no matter how great we may be. Ego-based prejudice is removed by this one simple prescription.
By and large there are only two types of prejudice – positive and negative. What happens when we put Mr. X on a pedestal? “He is such a good person, he can do no wrong.” That is a positive form of prejudice. You have ennobled a person without any basis. Then there is the scenario where a negative form of prejudice prevails: a person may be so good, but you have already decided that she is useless.
What is the opposite of prejudice? Let us focus on the ability to judge correctly without any bias or any preconceptions. This is where the importance of discrimination comes in, Viveka, which is the first step in Yoga. If we cannot discriminate, we will remain prejudiced all our lives. So we have to cultivate that gem, that value, in our psyche, and it demands a sufficient level of openness of heart and conviction.
When do we stop judging? Ask a mother. Will she judge her child? The trick is hidden in the affectionate arms of a mother’s hug. It is only to love. And then having the courage to follow our own convictions. It is simple to talk like this, but when we are actually facing real-life situations often our courage fails. Openness arises out of conviction; in turn, conviction has its origin in positive discrimination, and that too has its origin in a pure heart. If we reverse this process, it is the same heart that can become a fertile ground for prejudice.
Fear plays its role, especially when it comes to discrimination. Who can discriminate when they are fearful? Open-mindedness promotes freethinking, whereas dogmatism or prejudice cannot. What is open-mindedness? In the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird, the three children were so happy, conveying the message that prejudice is dissolved when you become childlike. Those children lost their innocence when they were exposed to racism. Until then they were blissfully enjoying life. So the exact opposite of prejudice is a childlike attitude of freshness towards all the approaches in life, a positive attitude – open-mindedness.
Children have no prejudice. They are simple and pure in mind and heart. They receive any and every impression, whether good or bad, from the world outside. It is only when they grow older that they sort these impressions, and try to retain only the pleasurable or good ones. At such a time, prejudice sets in and open-mindedness bids farewell. If somehow we are able to retain the former attitude of wonder throughout life, we may be called open-minded.
Humility and purity are the keys.
Purity brings about openness of heart.
Openness creates free interaction with all.
Without purity there is no unity, and
without unity there will always be prejudice.
There are three main categories of discrimination:
Discrimination of the correct type is inspired by the heart, as the heart cannot give wrong signals. When something is not right, the heart becomes slightly heavier. You must have felt it. The heart is able to determine what is right and wrong, what is to be done or not done, and what is one’s duty or dharma and what is non-duty or adharma.
Self-willed, desire-based discrimination is always erroneous, because it discriminates with a prejudiced mind, in order to serve its own egoistic purposes.
Perverted and obstinate discrimination is not only erroneous but looks foolish and stands in the way of real progress. Everything is seen with the wrong perspective, ignoring the real value of things. We often refer to such discrimination as perverted intelligence, timidity and fear. Shirking one’s responsibility is also an indication of this type of discrimination.
Prejudice is nothing but an offspring of superiority. A prejudiced mind reflects non-acceptance. What is the end result? It is called injustice. In a way, prejudice and injustice are directly related. One is the seed and the other the tree: Without the seed called prejudice there is no tree called injustice. One who ignores the heart’s voice is actually putting a massive stone over the heart and becomes deaf to the signals of the heart; so the whispering mockingbird keeps mocking when we go wrong.
We lose familiarity with the terms and conditions written in the manual of our hearts. We become self-centered, and full of the fear of losing apparent short-term benefits. We lose the courage or will to discriminate and act, and ultimately we develop guilt, which does the rest of the damage. That is why Ram Chandra of Fatehgarh once said, “Prejudice is a synonym for weakness of the heart.”
Antidotes to prejudice:
These are powerful remedies. Even if we assimilate just one of these, we shall achieve a lot.
Cultivate love and prayer in the heart.
Imagine peace pervading everywhere.
Develop mutual trust and respect.
Immerse yourself in the deepest core of your being.
Abandon all tendencies based on rationalism.
Be open, receptive and determined.
Think others to be greater.
Resist the impulses of a critical mind.
Know that prejudice is a heavy handicap.
Practice well – it is a good beginning.
Work on yourself all the time for more and more refinement.
Imagine a future time when an outdated lifestyle based on prejudice is absent.
Develop a universal vision.
How to escape the trap? By acceptance and love. Once we accept things as they are there is no judgment. With love and acceptance, even antagonistic things become favorable in the long run. Nothing fogs the mind like prejudice. Instead remain serene with an open heart. These two qualities are of paramount importance in keeping prejudice at bay.
Excerpts from a talk given in August 2013 in a seminar for North American Heartfulness practitioners. Edited for publication.
Article by DAAJI (Kamlesh Patel)
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