Elihu Genmyo Smith
Intimacy is our life, being intimacy is our functioning, is
ongoing practice. Being this life is ordinary, nothing special. We can naturally
respond skillfully to this arising passing moment circumstances. Intolerance is
dualistic delusion in the midst of this awakened life, is self-centeredness
manifesting. Intolerance is holding to self-centeredness, refusing to forget
self, rejecting this moment as is. Therefore, when intolerance arises and is
believed, facing intolerance, facing what hinders our life, is our practice;
working with intolerance when this arises is a core focus of Buddha Dharma. We
have a tendency, a habit of body-mind, of evaluating how “things” are
moment-to-moment, how things are alike or different - whether alike with a
remembered past or similar to how it “should be,” how I expect things to be,
physically, mentally, emotionally, how I should feel – and then reacting based
on this, sometimes with anger, greed, fear or confusion. Intolerance is the
unwillingness to be this intimacy right here as is, not appreciating this
moment, not responding to this moment as is – which results is stress,
dissatisfaction and suffering. Intolerance is negating who and what we are.
One aspect of efforts to foster inter-communal relations, of interfaith efforts and practice, is a focus on how we, in the midst our particular tradition, background and in the midst of many differences, are similar and alike with others in different traditions and backgrounds. And this focus is intended to lead to empathy, fraternity/sorority and sharing among individuals and communities, lead to connectedness and interrelations. We may hope that it will reduce and even eliminate frictions, hostilities and conflicts between people that might otherwise arise with differences. We focus on similarities with the intention and hope that this will foster connectedness and compassion. And it may; compassion and wisdom may manifest as a result of sensing similarity, unity. When we sense how things are similar, then we may more easily tolerate differences and failed expectations. Nevertheless, these do not take care of intolerance when that arises, whether it is intolerance of others or our self. Therefore, facing intolerance is also a core of interfaith work.
Ceasing harming is necessary before and while we do good and do good for others – otherwise good is built on a foundation that contains and perpetuates harming. If we treat intolerance as an aberration or outlier – whether in regards to our self, our faith community and tradition, our political group or any human grouping (whether “ours” or that of “others”) – then we miss a cause that feeds greed, anger, fear and harmful behavior (or worse). We relegate intolerance to only “extremists” and extreme situations, and fail to see where and how it arises in everyday activities - not intolerance by others, but our intolerance, in attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and traditions. And we miss how this intolerance, and the pernicious effects it has, needs to be noticed and clarified in the light of ongoing practice, in order to go beyond it, go beyond the self-centeredness - so as to not be trapped by self-centeredness and react from it.
There are many ways intolerance is included in faith traditions, in political and social ideologies, even in community beliefs and norms. Some of these are the simple in-group and out-group identifiers, me and not-me, mine and not-mine. Unfortunately, we humans often hold onto and then expand these identifiers to evaluate what is so; elevating self and putting down others. Faith traditions (or other social and political traditions) that “grew out of” earlier traditions often justify themselves by seeing their tradition as an “improved version” of the earlier, rather than as a particular variation arising due to changing circumstances and responses to those needs and changes. This “improved version” aspect can be seen in Christian supersessionist attitudes towards Judaism, and Islam’s supersessionist attitudes towards Christianity and Judaism, in Theravada’s claims to be the original Buddhism, in Mahayana criticism of Hinayana, in Protestant attitudes toward Catholicism and in countless other similar examples. (This also exists on a personal and familial level.) Most problematic is when an “improved version” idea becomes a justification for hatred and violence, for distortions of history and of the present, and when these distortions are used to buttress intolerance and its harmful manifestations. We see the consequences of intolerance in many forms, in inter-communal violence and genocides, in communal persecution of deviation and the murder of “apostates” or “traitors.” This sort of behavior is especially strong in traditions, both religious and political, where there are revealed and revered texts which are taken as the basis of the truth, revered sets of principles and interpretations that are seen as applicable to all people, applicable to those who are in the group and to those who are not – and which principles and political correctness therefore can justifiably be imposed on all.
Intolerance is evident in reactive body-mind habits; when we judge others (or our self), react to how they (or we) look, dress, their body shapes and habits, their beliefs and affiliations, styles and behavior, and the many other aspects that we humans use to judge and react. If we do not notice when this arises, practice with this, right here is a basis for harm and suffering. Judging and reacting based on race, ethnicity, gender and other forms of identity of those we meet or even just see in public or in the media, is intolerance. We make assumptions about and “speak” of the faults of others - and possibly act on the basis of those assumptions, on the basis of this intolerance. In the more extreme forms, this intolerance is racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and other belief habits, which may lead to persecution and even genocide.
Intolerance is evident in attitudes and reactions to states of body-mind. We may be intolerant of the arising of thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, which we “do not like”, “do not want” or even “should not have.” Right here intolerance hinders us, hinders our fundamental functioning. We may not tolerate various body states, illnesses, difficulties, as well as other mental states, which we do not want. This may range from the uncomfortable to extremely painful, so-called physical or so-called mental, including conditions and circumstances that challenge our self-image. This is especially evident with aging, being in pain or “incapacitated” in one way or another. Nonattachment, nonabiding, is who we are; intolerance is manifesting attachment to forms, to beliefs, to phenomenon, to dharmas. Our ongoing practice is the intimacy of this moment, appreciating this now; when intolerance manifests, that reminds us that the effort of ongoing practice is called for.
In a paradoxical way we can see these themes of intolerance, attachment and judging others in the practice of the Bodhisattva “Never despise” in Chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra. Though being subject to slights, violence and intolerance in many forms, the Bodhisattva’s vow is not to despise others, not to slight others, not to hold others in contempt or condemn - in other words, not to react from intolerance even toward their threatening or violent behavior – but even in the face of their behavior, even appropriately running from their cursing and violence when that occurs, his vows and actions are to acknowledge “their” Buddha Nature, the True Nature of all he encounters. For this reason he is praised by the Buddha. The various and alternative translations of the Bodhisattva’s name in terms such as “never despise”, “never slighting” and not holding in contempt, gives us a flavor of some the many ways we humans can formulate and manifest intolerance, manifest and engage in judging. Intolerance is believing our evaluation of the particular forms we see, believing one-sided views and judgments about others, and failing to see True Nature in the particularities, failing to appreciate and manifest the emptiness of arising-passing forms, the non-self of forms, the interconnectedness of forms.
Intolerance is attachment to beliefs of what is so – and taking this as a justification for attitudes of resentment, for despising or hatred and the resulting actions, including the most violent actions of torture and murder. Holding to beliefs is delusion and ignorance - being sure we know all sorts of things, believing these judgments; the intimacy of not-knowing is missed, manifesting not-knowing is absent.
Ongoing practice in the midst of the arising of intolerance is the Bodhisattva “I will not despise”. He only meets Buddhas. The arising of intolerance is reactive human habits in the midst of cause and effect life that we are. In not acting from intolerance, in not believing intolerance, only Buddhas are evident. When various aspects of intolerance arise, noticing the specific arising is our practice. What is this practice? Seeing this intolerance while not clinging to it, experiencing this body-mind arising. Facing it and yet not reacting out of it, not reacting to it – or when finding our self reacting to it, releasing this -or, to use the language of this Bodhisattva, “going away from it” – being this moment Buddha Nature. Body mind releasing is body-mind experiencing. This is bowing with Buddha nature life that we are - that we encounter moment, moment - the bowing of “never despise” - even bowing with tolerance of intolerance, which does not exclude acting appropriately to abuse, violence or dangerous behavior. Bowing and yet not allowing harming. Thus we only meet Buddhas in the many forms they manifest – and our acknowledging meeting Buddhas allows and supports those we meet to be the Buddhas they are.
Experiencing this moment whole heartedly is our practice right here, revealing and manifesting this True Nature as our daily life. It is the open clarity of intimacy. Non-strife, serenity and equanimity is immeasurable, but it is not sustained and nurtured if it is primarily a copied behavior, though we might be able to begin to support it in this way. If we fail to notice the arising of the various forms of intolerance, if we fail to work with them, if we allow them to arise and fester in mind, body, thoughts, actions, then it poisons this very life that we share. Nonattachment, nonabiding, is who we are; intolerance is manifesting attachment to forms, to phenomenon, to dharmas. This can be personal, social, political and all sorts of other human activities. And this is especially pernicious when the forms of attachment and intolerance are incorporated in various aspects of a faith tradition’s teaching, a political ideology or a political correctness, where they are repeated among “true believers.”
Unfortunately, incorporating intolerance into human life is a human habit which appears over and over in many societies and times. Humans do this – and we can see it in many places. We may do it in our personal and social life, in our many forms of discourse. And unless we truly address it in our practice, not merely deny it or counter it with nice intentions, attitudes and beliefs, it will continue to seep into and underlie all sorts of otherwise benign behaviors and attitudes - with potentially dangerous consequences.
© 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith