The truth is that we all have prejudices. We all judge people. Some of us can't stop looking down on other people to pump ourselves up. Some of us are a little more aware of our judgements, so we judge and then maybe feel bad about ourselves. Some of us judge and then laugh it off because we see the tricks our minds are playing on us (again). Actually, maybe not all people have prejudices. I like to believe that there are some awesome people that don't judge, enlightened people whose egos have dissolved to the point that they can just be here with us, totally present in the moment. Those Sangha members that have taken Boddhisatva vows aspire to this ideal.
|Cats and dogs have basic goodness too!|
Aggression is about pushing things away, and we often want to push away the things we fear. It is a way to escape the grip of fear. Another way we reinforce prejudice is to justify it. We establish elaborate stories about our prejudices so that we can buy into them and carry them around proudly. Some of what we come up with may be based in logic or experience. But of course figuring out clever ways to justify our prejudices usually just causes more confusion and pain.
Learning to dissolve prejudice is part of a long process, which might include training yourself to dissolve fear and ego. It might also include contemplations on compassion and interdependence. However, on the most basic level, a meditator needs to stop avoiding things and hold the discomfort. In situations where I'm afraid, irritated, or feeling something else that might lead to aggression, I find myself often turning to Pema Chodron's sage advice: "Feel the feeling, drop the story-line." The idea is that rather than giving in to your reactions - in this case, a false judgement about someone else - you can follow a process:
- hold the feeling, taste it,
- see how it manifests in your body (maybe a feeling of tightness, faster heartbeat, sometimes nothing...)
- once you have touched the feeling, let it go.
Pema Chodron talks about getting "hooked" on storylines that are like movies where you are the star, and they get played over and over again. These storylines often try to justify or give ground to a situation where there is no ground. They form our prejudices and create the patterns and false realities that we come to believe in. Often they cause us a lot of pain and suffering. In the form of prejudices, they have been the source of much suffering throughout history. They always start in someone's mind.
The practice of holding onto a feeling and dropping the storyline is a way to connect to your own good heart and build comfort with groundless realities. In the YouTube clip below, Pema Chodron says, "to the degree that we are open to ourselves, we can be open to other people and the world."
In meditation training in the Shambhala tradition, one of the first things you will learn is the importance of being gentle to yourself. At first this might sound touchy-feely (that's a story-line I used to tell myself in my prejudice against touchy-feeliness), but gentleness is absolutely essential to this path. Gentleness is not valued much in our super-aggressive Western world, but only through gentleness and opening up, can we reveal any true insight into reality. Also, if we ever want to be truly brave, we need to be gentle with ourselves first. I'm not talking about the pump yourself up and power-through-it kind of bravery, but the kind that shows dignity and power, the kind that is based on true confidence about your place in the world. This courage that comes out of gentleness is what Chogyam Trungpa referred to as "warriorship."