The Right to be WrongA recent dinner table conversation got me agitated. We were talking about how one’s looks and dressing led to being discriminated against at establishments and institutions. As is the nature of mealtime talk at home, it went from Manipur to Modi and from Siachen almost to Sri Lanka. At a particularly heated point of the discussion, I was asked whether my writing was not a way of being judgmental of people’s lifestyles and beliefs. In what way was my attitude in endorsing minimalistic/frugalistic need-based lifestyles different from that behind the rants of religious fundamentalists or even the government’s insistence that we grin and bear it? I denied it with the vehemence that only married men can conjure, but it got me thinking. I respect people’s freedom to live their lives as they wish, and I expect the same from others. Yet most of my writing is centered on promoting what I believe in. The Rushdie’s and the Coelho’s of the world might need entire novels to say it, but for me it takes a short sentence. You have the right to call me wrong, but it is not wrong that I am right.
Difference Kya Hai?This feeling of I am right and you are wrong is at the heart of all conflict we see around us. Yet, trying to address this conflict necessarily entails adopting a similar stance or using a similar logic. Like primary school teachers trying to teach kids how they should feel about racism, like bloggers participating in corporate marketing campaigns to promote sustainable strategies and ethical choices, like turning the poison of consumerism into the medicine of simplicity, this is one of the dichotomous realities of our times. There is a difference though.
Let me give you a concrete example. I love the aroma and the taste of coffee, but I no longer drink it since I do not like what it does to my body and mind. I like tea. Fanatically so. But I am not burning things down, assaulting people or putting hate-dripping videos out on youtube. Neither am I refusing to “consort” with or issue visas to those who drink coffee. And I am definitely not leaving threatening and provocative comments on blog posts that promote the love for coffee. Each one of us is an expression of universal intent, and this truth is unchanged by what we believe, who we dislike and why we moan in our sleep.
I am as deeply entrenched in an unfair exchange economy as anyone else, feed on the same pesticide-laden vegetables and corporate salt as my neighbor, and suffer the punishment meted out by the system to the common man with the same stoicism as those whom I write for. I am merely putting forward what I believe to be a more practical approach to living happier and more responsible lives. (I see my long time well-wishers shake their heads and hear them sigh, there he goes again, and now he has started calling it a practical approach) It is up to the reader to choose what he wants to do with what he reads. I know that at the end of the day, my struggle to live by my beliefs is in no way greater than that of any other thinking person.
Does Hate Have a Religion?I am averse to religiosity though I try and live my life according precepts that are common to all religions. I have not reached this point without reflection. I have come to see, after study and application, that all religions are vehicles that take you to the same destination – your own mystic divinity. At the same time, I have found that, over time, A-L-L religions surrender their most important message – that of truth, beauty, worship, and humility - to the inevitable static of rituals, dogma and organization that are more a manifestation of man’s insecurity and greed than of any metaphysical principle.
I am against religion as a parameter for discrimination or inclusiveness, against claiming access to divinity and then turning that claim into a profession, and against using the quest for meaning as a weapon to control others. No religious construct that compels its believers to harm or abuse another human being for believing differently can be called a religion. When I posted a photo-essay on a recent trip to Tirupati, it was not from the perspective of religion or about a religious place. It was about what the journey revealed to me as a person and to my ancient point-and-shoot, also as a person, if I may. Of course, the discussion that ensued in the comments thread did bring in religious-spiritual ideas and I see nothing wrong with that. I have anonymous commenting enabled so that differences can be shared safely. I rarely moderate comments, even ones that are critical of what I am trying to do on the whole, but I was forced to come down heavily on some of the things that began showing up. The comments were not only directed at a particular religion and me, but also against those who had commented on the post. It brought the lessons of hate home to me once again.
Hate is all around, but then so is LoveNot only is it impossible to avoid dealing with hate in our world, it is sometimes difficult to recognize it for what it truly is. Discrimination of any sort against another human being is an expression of hate. The billboards that tempt you to “upgrade” to a “better” life are really playing on your inherent capacity to hate – hate your circumstances, hate your social standing, and at a more subliminal and surely unintended level, hate those who are in a better situation than you – and research shows that we fall for it more often than we don’t. Nations go to war against each other, firm in their conviction that the hate they can arouse in the minds of the people against a perceived enemy will more than justify the loss of human capital. Political parties promote hate in order to further their own, often very private and personal agendas. Religions, without exception, proclaim that theirs is the true way, and though we should tolerate all faiths, those who do not believe are assured of eternal damnation.
Another insidious form of hate is indifference - the type that lets us look through beggars at a traffic light, lets us see housekeeping staff at our workplaces as hands without bodies, names or faces, and lets us waste natural resources because we have "paid" for it. Psychologists claim that hate arises out of self loathing. I do not know that much about psychology but I do know that a person who hates others will surely find it difficult to love himself. Hate is reinforced by social messages that surround us. It is built into our beings from infancy. Science says it starts even earlier. That is what makes identifying and confronting it so difficult.
Along with this confusing nature of hate is the fact that in its healthier avatars - righteousness, constructive anger, and the desire to set wrongs right - it does have a lot of positive attributes. Hating injustice and exploitation is a good thing, isn't it? I guess the line that has to be drawn is in how this perception of "unfairness" disconnects us from our humanness. It is not something that is easy to sort out on a theoretical level, and a good idea at this point would be to try and relate what you are reading with an intense dislike that you can identify with, either as something you dislike or something about you that others dislike.
Witnessing hate from a safe distance is entirely different from being at the receiving end, and this is something that I have experienced a few times in the recent years. It shakes the firmest believer in the law of cause and effect, and begins to eat away at your will. Hate is not the same as disagreement or lack of love; it is a negation of your value as a human being based on externalities. Witnessing hate from up close is a hugely life transforming experience, since nothing can teach you true compassion better than experiencing hate or being hated. The mysticity of this lies in the fact that you cannot equip yourself with hate in order to deal with hate. It has to be responded to with acceptance and forgiveness. The nonsense that you hear about forgiving and forgetting is just that in the case of hatred. It is humanly impossible to forget being hated, and to overcome it, you have to remember fully and forgive. Trying to counter hate with hate is contrary to the need to survive, to be right, and to be acknowledged as right.
Say The Word - LoveYes, it is like going round in circles and coming back to the same place. Let me share a personal example that will make this paradox a little more understandable. When I was confronted a few years back by persecution of the most heinous sort, I was encouraged by my environment to seek justice, redress, in other words revenge. My decision not to do so still does not make sense to many, especially those who know the truth. Yet, seeking redress and punishment would have wiped out all difference between me and those who were persecuting me. If I chose NOT to respond to hate with hate, it was out of my desire to be right, my desire for justice of a more enduring nature. Only if I were able to do it with unconditional compassion and totally free of malice, would my decision have measured up to my ideals. And even after that, there would be the question of the victor and the vanquished, which brings us back to where we began. The answer to hate is love, is forgiveness, is intent that the hater finds peace with himself. The nonduality of this duality is hard to understand and even harder to explain. As I said earlier, perhaps it is something that can only be experienced.
It took me a while to get down to writing about this, since I wanted to shine the light of reason on this episode, which kept getting clouded in a fog of self-righteousness and a feeling of having been victimized. As I read back on what I wrote, I see that there still are grey areas that remain open to interpretation and perhaps even disagreement. There are places where ideas have been stuffed like laundry, and others where doors have opened to brick walls. I hope you will not curse me as you try to make those doors and sort the laundry. I am neither an expert on religion nor am I in consonance with traditional psychology. I consider myself a human being first and last, knowing no greater religion, and whatever I have written is only from this point of view. However, going through this experience and then being able to write about it has made me a little more human, a little kinder towards psychologists, and perhaps a little more religious in my own way, warts and all.
This experience helped refine my understanding of this complex phenomenon and for this I am thankful to the person/s who initiated this process. I hope going through this post will have made you think about what role hate plays in your life and equipped you to deal with it in a more rational and compassionate manner. I am looking forward to the wisdom of my readers to give this discussion greater depth and perspective in the comments.
A small list of useful resources for dealing with hate, whether within you or directed at you.
1. Daisaku Ikeda, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Bertrand Russell
2. Albert Ellis, Richard Bach, and Carlos Castaneda
3. Charlie Chaplin, Monty Python and Mad Magazine
4. The Beatles, John Coltrane and Beethoven or Mallikarjun Mansur, Kishori Amonkar and Parween Sultana
5. Watch prime time news on mute, roam the city on a holiday without spending any money, and have an adult conversation with a toddler who is yet to learn to speak.