Beyond Attachment to Differences

Perhaps the only thing that various factions across the US might agree on now is that we can't agree on anything; that we are culturally and politically polarized to an extent not experienced in many decades, perhaps since the 60s. It doesn't help matters that the president himself is a polarizing figure of the first order. Center founder Daisaku Ikeda often remarks that when we arrive at an impasse — and certainly we are at an impasse — the best choice is to return to our roots and look at our original motivations. From a Buddhist perspective this means looking closely at one's self — as opposed to the perceived shortcomings of others — to see how one's own actions and attitudes might promote greater well being both personally and socially. In this passage, taken from his lecture "Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization," Mr. Ikeda discusses how the example of the Buddha reveals how best to begin with ourselves if we want to overcome polarization.

Shakyamuni actively sought out dialogue, and the drama of his final voyage from beginning to end is illuminated by the light of language, skillfully wielded by one who was truly a “master of words.”

Why was Shakyamuni able to employ language with such freedom and to such effect? What made him such a peerless master of dialogue? At essence, it was the embracing expansiveness of his enlightened state, utterly free of all dogma, prejudice and attachment. The following words, attributed to him, are illustrative: “I perceived a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people.” This “arrow” could be termed the arrow of a discriminatory consciousness, an unreasoning emphasis on difference. The India of his time was in a period of transition and upheaval, in which the horrors of conflict and war were an ever-present reality. To Shakyamuni's penetrating gaze, it was clear that the underlying cause of this conflict was attachment to differences such as those of ethnicity and nationality.

Speaking in the early years of this century, Josiah Royce, one of many important philosophers Harvard has given the world, declared as follows: “Reform, in such matters, must come, if at all, from within. ... The public as a whole is whatever the processes that occur, for good or evil, in individual minds, may determine.”

Indeed, the “invisible arrow” of evil to be overcome is not to be found in races and classes external to ourselves, but embedded in our own heart. The conquest of our own prejudicial thinking, our own attachment to difference, is the guiding principle for open dialogue, the essential condition for the establishment of peace and universal respect for human rights. It was his own complete release from prejudice that enabled Shakyamuni to expound the Law with such freedom, adapting his style of teaching to the character and capacity of his interlocutor.

Read the complete lecture here.

[Posted by M. Bogen: 4-12-17]

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