The Buddha addresses the monks in Sarnath, modern Uttar Pradesh, India and tells them how he had first preached the Four Noble Truths there. He exhorts them to follow Sāriputta who takes up the teaching and gives a detailed explanation of the Truths
And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex [or sexual misconduct]. This is called right action.— Saccavibhanga Sutta
Buddha condemned killing or harming living beings and encouraged reflection or mindfulness (satipatthana) as right action (or conduct), therefore
“the rightness or wrongness of action centres around whether the action itself would bring about harm to self and/or others“
Killing is harmful then, to both self and others.
You do not need to be a Buddist to recognise this truth.
On 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a black American, died in police custody. He should not have lost his life.
This gross injustice resulted in a tragedy that has galvanised a lot of people to protest, to gather in spite of the health risk to themselves and others to speak out against an institutional prejudice that goes back to the dawn of humanity.
How far back does racism go?
As a species, we are ingenious, tenacious, hard-working and smart. As individuals, we offer most of these things too in varying degrees. And we love competition, especially winning. This is the critical ingredient in our recipe for global success. We are motivated to compete and win.
This means that we need a competitor. It can be a rival in the scramble for a resource such as a job, a partner, and back in the day for food and shelter.
In our hunter-gatherer-scavenger past, there is interesting evidence from our acid guts that we were pretty efficient scavengers on the not so fresh produce, as we competed with other species, lions, hyenas and other primates all on the lookout for nutrient-dense food sources.
We also competed with each other. Other tribes, other family groups, even our brothers and sisters even when needs must.
This instinct is hard-wired into our biological more making. Our genes look forward to the next generations and our bodies and minds help them get there.
This means that racism when defined as
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized
is an extension of inevitable competition goes way back into our evolutionary past.
Of course, I am assuming here that Darwin was right. That the evolutionary record, the genetic mapping and even the archaeology backs up the theory that we are a species that is several hundred thousand years old and that our genus, Homo, is several million years old.
If you think it was all made in a week then this explanation is meaningless.
We are designed to compete and with this, there has to be a competitor. A person or a group of people that we must fight and beat to gain access to the resource. Winning becomes critical and the psychology of winning is as important as the physical strength, cunning and fighting skills needed for the actions themselves. Loathing and hate of the competitor make for helpful logic in the will to win and in teaching the young how to fight.
That this becomes prejudice and a ‘better than’ attitude is inevitable.
We might think of racism as a recent albeit historical phenomenon, a relic perhaps of the horror days of slaves and slaves trades and humans exploited and denigrated on plantations and farms in the new world.
Likely it is very old and has been in the human psyche through evolutionary time.
This argument suggests we might all be innate racists.
A troubling thought.
Along with most amateurs, my golfing buddies are not that great at golf.
We are always looking for ways to get better, to swing it like the professionals. I try to persuade them to watch the LPGA professionals, the ladies. They are outstandingly good athletes but they hit the ball closer to our distances, not the interstellar drives of their male counterparts. Interestingly when I showed them videos of the some of the best in the world, all seven world number ones since 2014 are of Asian ancestry, they were not that interested. Show them Jessica Korda, a caucasian and a very fine golfer but with the highest world ranking of 13 and they were very interested indeed.
Innate bias I guess.
Not all bad
The human enigma is that we are not all bad or biggoted.
Along with our competitive urges we have instincts to cooperate, be kind, look after each other, put in place safety nets for those less fortunate.
We give to charity, volunteer for all sorts of noble causes and even go out on the streets to protest that black lives matter.
We fight our own innate prejudices. They are not a given. They can be changed, moulded and even banished altogether.
It was not so very long ago that the definition above could read
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their gender
Indeed we still have work to do on gender equality as we do with racism and many other expressions of our fear of losing out directed at minorities.
So we have come a long way and we continue to get better at challenging our fears and prejudice.
All lives matter
It is not politically correct to say this right now. The right have appropriated it to their own ends, shift the blame, lay down some excuses for their excesses.
Only it is as the Buddha says
“the rightness or wrongness of action centres around whether the action itself would bring about harm to self and/or others“Buddha
A person’s colour, gender, creed or orientation should make no difference to how they are treated; no matter where they or their ancestors come from.
Do no harm.
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