The earth nurtures us all

by Daisaku Ikeda, Joy Online, 7 April 2009

Tokyo, Japan -- Life is diverse. Human beings are diverse-that is the natural way of things.

During my first visit to the United States in the '60s, I witnessed an incident at a local park where an African-American boy had been excluded from playing with his white counterparts and had run away in anger and humiliation.

It may have been a small, insignificant episode, but I felt I had caught a glimpse of the dark abyss of prejudice that lay behind it. This caused me to think deeply about the problem of racial discrimination.

Tragically, difference-of culture, nationality or religion - has time and time again been used to divide and classify people into categories and to discriminate against certain groups. History has seen members of the same human family divided and led into one endless conflict after another.

I feel that the United States is the world's most culturally diverse country, and that for this reason it has the potential to become an ideal nation, transforming the energy of different cultures into a shared effort of construction.

The Japanese still have to learn and grow a great deal in this regard. Koreans and other Asian people living in Japan still suffer terrible discrimination and the Japanese in general have little appreciation of the value of diversity.

Encounters between different culyure are not always amicable. The reality of opposing interests and even hostility must be acknowledged. So, what can be done to promote harmonious relationships?

Buddhism teaches that we must seek harmony on a more profound level. We must achieve a state of compassion deep enough to enable us to find our common humanity and transcend distinctions between ourselves and others.

This is not a denial of the individual self. It is the fusion of self and other, an expansion of the limited self which is shackled by our ego, toward a greater self whose scale is as limitless and unbounded as the universe.

I once talked to an African American man who told me how he had always been obsessed with his roots. He couldn't shake off the thought that his people had been brought to America as slaves. He continued, ''I'm sure that white people harbour similar thoughts about us.

They loathe to treat people who were once slaves as their equals. For that reason, I despised white Americans. It was impossible for me to like them when I recalled how we, our parents, our grandparents, and our ancestors before them had been exploited, abused and discriminated against by the white man."

"From childhood, each time I was bullied or suffered discrimination, it was driven home to me that I was black. I even came to deplore the blood running through my own veins. When I learned about Buddhist view of the interconnectedness of all life, it put the whole issue of racial difference into perspective. I realised that I had been caught up in stressing the differences in the colour of our skin."

To try to locate the "roots" of one’s identity in a particular racial or ethnic group is an illusion. It is like a mirage in the desert. Such a sense of identity, far from serving as a common "homeland of life" that can be shared by all, only heightens distitictions between oneself and others, and becomes an underlying cause of conflict and strife.

And indeed, if members of each group retreat, seeking only their own roots and origins, society can fracture along a thousand fissure lines, dividing neighbour against neighbour, with tragic results.

What is needed today is a fundamental transformation in our understanding of what is to be human. We must not yoke ourselves to nationality or to ethnicity. We must not think of ourselves as powerless.

We must not regard ourselves as slaves to our genes. Fundamentally, we have limitless and immense potential. Fundamentally, each human being is one with the universe. Each individual has immense power and infinite worth!

There are many people who have suffered terrible wounds, bitter sorrows and hardship as a result of discrimination. While legal and other reforms can offer some protection against this, it will not be enough to bring people happiness, because the fundamental cause is prejudice and bias rooted deeply in people's hearts. Unless people change their hearts, discrimination will continue to manifest itself in ever more despicable forms.

It is vital to establish in each person's heart a new and more profound view of the human being, 'one which stresses the inherent dignity and equality of all human' beings.

I believe that the most certain answer to the problem of racial discrimination is a human revolution, an inner reformation in the depths of people's lives to transform the egoism that justifies the subjugation of others and to replace it with a compassionate outlook that makes no distinction between self and other and strives for co-existence among all peoples.

Discrimination is absolutely an evil. Those whose minds are so trapped in delusion injure the lives of others, as well as themselves.

A student with a physical disability once asked me for advice about how to face discrimination and bullying. My advice was that he had to become stronger. That too, is part of the struggle for recognition of the value of each unique and different person, the Having our rights recognised by others is not just a matter of having people behave sympathetically toward us. We must live with dignity and be proud of ourselves as individuals, regardless of our situation.

Those who deride or make fun of us are cruel and wrong for ignor¬ing our right to be treated as human beings. We must never let their taunts get to us. Developing our own strength of character is a vic¬tory for human rights.

I have always believed that we should recognise differences and, because of them, work harder to get to know and understand each other as human beings.

Those who can enjoy differ¬ences and discover the greatest beauty and value in them are masters in life.

The Earth nurtures us all. It revitalises all people withhout dis¬tinction. A vibrant wellspring of pure compassion surges from its soil, and if we can find our deepest .roots in this spring of all-embracing life, then superticial differences of gender and race will no longer divide, but will enrich us all.