I attended the “Chicago Rally” for the Southern Poverty Law Center with my husband who’s been a long-time supporter of the group and I came away with a similar feeling that I had when we went to hear SPLC’s co-founder Morris Dees speak at a suburban college a couple years ago. It’s that discomfort with hearing that it’s okay to despise other human beings if we put them in the category of violent racial bigots. I get that same feeling when I see some historical movies and docudramas where the white people beating up on the black people are acting like zombie monsters that deserve to painfully dismembered. It’s the depiction of racism as something like rabies that makes an animal go on a rampage and killing them is the only way to stop them.
Of course SPLC doesn’t condone violence against the perpetrators of hate crimes. Besides wanting to see bullies get sentenced in criminal court to imprisonment, SPLC has the legal strategy of using the civil court proceedings to sue white supremacist groups into bankruptcy. In his PowerPoint presentation at the rally, SPLC’s Richard Cohen said in court he tries to be cordial towards the men who’ve preached terror against minorities and conspired to destroy SPLC’s offices and personnel. Yet in the images he chose to show us and in his description of the hate crime perpetrators, Cohen wanted to evoke our disgust towards what seemed to be hulking sub-human creatures.
The Buddhist teachings remind us that it’s an egoistic indulgence to point out how awful other people are so that we feel justified in dismissing the worthiness of their lives. In our study class we read some excerpts from Haya Akegarasu’s Lectures on the Larger Sutra (an unpublished translation by Rev. Marvin Harada) which included the following passage:
… the Buddha does not say that everyone is no good. The Buddha says everyone is wonderful, splendid. There isn't anyone who is no good. Everyone is noble. Those who break the precepts are noble. Murderers are noble. Shakyamuni Buddha saw all beings as noble. He looked up to all beings. This is the shout of "all beings have Buddha-nature!”
A newcomer in the group said he knows Buddhism teaches compassion, but how can you respect someone who’s done terrible things such as murder? But that’s the point the Buddha conveys to us in texts such as the Larger Sutra – it ain’t really compassion unless it means looking up with respect (not downwards with pity) at all beings, to not pick and choose only those we think are worthy. Yes, we take action to stop those who are hurting others, but all the while we see them as beings of worthy Life, knowing their present actions are the result of causes and conditions of myriad forces of their personal and society’s past. The reality is that each life can and will change from one moment to the next – any of us could end up committing a crime, just as a former criminal can turn out to be an effective activist in helping young people to overcome the negative influences in their communities. There is no justification for hating the haters -- they are exactly the same as us – driven by ego-selfishness yet at bottom calling out with the innermost aspiration for Life.