Friday, March 27, 2015

Buddhism on Tolerism

Buddhism is usually perceived as proposing a kind of pacifism. Although I am sure some might rush to point out that Buddhism also endorses violence and militantism with an intent to show that Buddhism is as bad as any other religion. It is often disturbing to see when students of Buddhist Studies get carried away by trendy and catchy buzz-words such as “Buddhism and Sex,” “Buddhism and Business,” “Buddhism and Violence,” “Buddhism and Slavery,” and so on. To be sure, any theme, if studied competently and cautiously, should be welcome but those studies that resemble cheap and shallow form of journalism seem to be more damaging to the field and to the society. 

Buddhist sources speak of “dregs of views/ideologies (German Ansichten)” (lta ba’i snyigs ma). When I began to study Buddhism it was just one of many categories that I came across in Buddhist sources. The idea, however, began to take a new dimension, a new significance, and a more solemn note during my stay in Europe. Previously I have seen different views spelled out only in texts. In Europe I came across people whose views occasionally surfaced inadvertently. Sometimes glimpse of those views sent a chill through my spine. I became more fearful of views, especially if these are radical and yet subtle, packed with an “intellectual” wrapping. Even very harmless-looking self-declared Buddhists, pacifists, and those who are pro-human-right occasionally revealed views that made me shudder innerly. One such view is on what we would call here “tolerism.” There seems to be a pandemic ideology of not only tolerating what my common sense would tell me is intolerable but intellectually accepting and endorsing as if it were the most natural thing to do. One of the most interesting examples of such a view is one related with “terrorism” (following 9/11). It is amazing that many seem to find a subtle apology and explanation for “terrorism.” Many intellectuals de facto seem to endorse “terrorism.” What I would think is the ideology of hatred, death, and destruction behind the perpetrators of the horrendous acts of terrorism have been banalised, trivialised, relativised, and apologised. What is more shocking is that the motive behind does not seem to their love for people like Bin Ladin but their inexplicable hatred for those who are opposed to people of Bin Ladin’s kind. Even more so shocking is when they happen to be pacifists, Buddhists, and pro-human-right.

This brings me to “Tolerism in Buddhism.” To begin with, I do not think “tolerance” renders well the word kṣānti (bzod pa). I would like to believe that kṣānti in Buddhism means “one’s intellectual and psychological capacity to accept and face the reality as it is.” Reality could be conventional reality such as pain or suffering or their causes and conditions or ultimate reality such as emptiness. Tolerism in this sense does not mean accepting and endorsing what is morally, ethically, socially, and legally unacceptable. Supposing someone practices kṣānti towards the assassin of his or her beloved mother, it by no means means that he or she is endorsing the intention and action of that assassin. By intellectually and emotionally endorsing the assassin’s malicious intention and action, one becomes like a co-perpetrator and sympathiser of the assassin. In such a case, one would not be a true ally of one’s mother but her enemy! 

Is this my view alone? I have at least one Tibetan scholar who would support my view. The tenth mūlāpatti in Vajrayāna is “to be affectionate/benevolent to the hateful” (sdang la byams pa). By being affectionate (i.e. emotionally close) to the hateful opposed to the Dharma, one would by default become an enemy of the Dharma (chos dgra) and one becomes a māra (bdag nyid bdud du gyur pa). See Rong-zom-pa’s mDo rgyas (p. 345). This seems to mean that one should not intellectually and emotionally endorse (or associate and identify with) what is ethically and morally unacceptable. But this by no means imply that one should generate hatred towards them. One could generate compassion towards them. My personal way of dealing with people whom I consider evil is to think that the innate nature of human being is pure (e.g. water in its molecular stage). The evilness of a person is adventitious and mere pollution. It is a disease. I try not to get angry with (or hate) the person because the person is sick with kleśas. The person’s kleśas are to be blamed. Nāgārjuna has said something to this effect. If one takes the bodhisattva ideals seriously, I cannot afford to hate a single sentient being. Is this possible? I think very difficult but not impossible!

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