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This Spiritual Practice Shatters Prejudice and Hate

Mindfulness is a powerful salve strong enough to reduce suffering and delusion.

Key points

  • Mindfulness offers a key method for overcoming bias and hate.
  • Research shows how positive contact with other groups can reduce prejudice.
  • Recognizing the many forms suffering can take and acknowledging your own biases can help you better connect with others who are different.

I don't have to tell you that we live in a divisive, fractured world. There is more than enough ignorance and hatred to go around. So, you probably figured this blog was going to show you how to change others, to make them less prejudiced, hateful, and extreme in their views. Wouldn't that be nice!?

Yes, we would all like to believe that it's the other annoying person who has the problem, right? But that's not what I'm suggesting here. (Sorry to disappoint you!)

 Mick Haupt/Unsplash
Why not take the higher view?
Source: Mick Haupt/Unsplash

Instead, this blog asks you not to look at others but to turn the piercing gaze of your view inward—and to imagine looking into a mirror for a moment so you can see yourself. Not just superficially, but to really see yourself—with all your conscious and unconscious attachments.

That means to strip your ego naked so that all the beliefs, schemas, ideas, and groups that you are clinging become visible. Why do this? Because holding on too tightly to your beliefs blocks you from knowing the other.

After reading that previous paragraph, I wouldn't blame you if your finger is hovering precariously over the trackpad or mouse, ready to click away from this article! But please stay with me a moment longer.

In his book Think on These Things, world teacher Krishnamurti wrote:

"It is discovery to suddenly see yourself as you actually are: greedy, quarrelsome, angry, envious, stupid. To see the fact without trying to alter it, just to see exactly what you are is an astonishing revelation. From there you can go deeper and deeper, infinitely, because there is no end to self-knowledge."

Like it or not, if you want to change the conditions of the world, you must first change yourself. To truly know oneself is to change oneself. Do this, and you discover that we all age; we are all subject to greed, frailty, delusion, and suffering.

The benefits of mindfulness

Fortunately, mindfulness gives us freedom from suffering in the form of deep and profound awareness. By truly knowing oneself, as well as recognizing the good and frailties in others, you are given a choice: Yes, you can point a righteous and judging finger at others, claiming it is they who are stupid, biased, prejudiced, extremist, and the root of all the problems. Or, you can act upon the truth of our connectedness, thus cultivating love and kindness.

The Buddha advised, "Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love. This is the eternal law."

Interestingly, a recent article by Rhiannon N. Turner at Queen's University Belfast seems to support the Buddha's statement. This article explored research about reducing prejudice and discrimination and described how contact with others that is "warm and positive (for example through friendships) reduces negative emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety) and promotes positive emotions (e.g., empathy), results in more positive attitudes toward members of that group."

I'm not saying this is an easy process. What I am suggesting is that truly meeting and dialoguing with others in a spirit of kindness and positivity is a path to mutuality and shared connection. Besides, isn't such a direction highly preferable to stifling discussion or bullying others like an ideologue?

Of course, no one can make this decision for you. You must feel this in your heart. Just deepening your understanding of the suffering of others is a positive means of developing loving-kindness and compassion.

Now, here's one final quote before we get to a simple but powerful reflection practice that addresses how to diminish hatred and prejudice (starting with ourselves).

"The difference between war and peace is that war is using the sword against another and peace is using sword toward oneself."The Gayan by Sufi Inayat Khan

In other words, the path to peace is found in cutting away at one's own ego, biases, and identity that we defend and grasp onto tightly. Are you ready to use the sword of peace?

3 steps to reducing hatred and prejudice

Take your time as you apply these practices, which are really reflections. Spend 5 minutes a day reflecting on each of these for a week. Journal your thoughts, feelings, and findings. You may want to look into developing a daily loving-kindness or compassion practice.

1. Increase your recognition that suffering takes many forms.

From suffering comes a softening towards others, as well as greater understanding and a compassionate viewpoint. Notice each time you get upset or angry at a different viewpoint than your own. Reflect on the struggles of others as put yourself in their shoes, and allow your heart to grow tender. See what it's like to accept the idea that everyone has biases and feels strongly about something.

2. Look within to see your own naked biases and attachments.

Everyone has these, and it takes work to let them go. Remember, this is a spiritual approach that is trying to loosen the grip of unconscious beliefs and behaviors that harm ourselves and others. Keep in mind that not all attachments are bad (like loving your family).

Reflect on the conditions that made you feel, think and act in certain ways. If those conditions were different, how would that have changed you? Just notice and accept what you discover about yourself, good or bad.

3. Cultivate a connection to individuals and groups that is warm and positive.

Allow yourself to realize that all persons are aging and subject to ill health and death. In this sense, recognize the precious and temporary nature of life. How could you bring tenderness and love to others, regardless of your differences?

To explore this process further, the book Clearing Emotional Clutter examines many of the concepts here with practices for developing peace and connection.