Race Relations – American Experiments, Indic Perspectives
Indic Immigrant reflects on recent events regarding race, and one potential way forward offered by yoga.
The cold-blooded murder of George Floyd in broad daylight, by a person trusted and paid for with American tax payer money, to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while on the line of duty, under the watch of other similar persons, has stirred the soul of America. Correct-thinking people across the country have taken to the streets in peaceful protest, reminding us of the unfinished plan of righting the wrong of Slavery, and its attendant Racism. In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln refers to this righteous task:
…Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'
The sin of racism needs to be understood in the right perspective. The systematic efforts of one society to dominate, degrade and eventually exterminate another society alone qualifies for the term racism. All other forms of discrimination and inequality should not be mixed up with racism as it will only work to dilute and divert the attention from the real problem. The problem is still prevalent even though individually there are very few racists left, as the systems and legacies of the past are designed to achieve the racist objective of "Dominate, Degrade and eventually Exterminate" the Black People.
To begin with, I look at the idea of America as an experiment in collective living by the most diverse of races in human history. America is an admixture of three major racial/civilizational heritages viz the Caucasian, the African and the Hispanic interspersed with a sprinkling of people of Native American, Indic, Han, Jewish and other heritages. The success of the American experiment is vital to the future of humanity. Whether humanity can survive and thrive in an atmosphere of cooperation and goodwill or will it perish in conflict and strife is the matter at stake.
People of Indic origin are by nature introspective and I am no exception. Before laying the blame of racism squarely at the white man’s door, I ask myself an honest question “If Indic or Han people were in a similar position of power and privilege (which could be a reality over large parts of the world in a couple generations) would the world be a better place?” If the answer is “I can’t say,” then we are dealing with a deeper human malaise.
The Indic civilization, referred to as the Indian sub-continent by many, has maintained its remarkable diversity over several millennia. Not that things are all hunky dory over there, but that it is a much older experiment at diverse coexistence, not necessarily racial. One of the fundamental reasons for its longevity, I believe, is the deep and fundamental understanding of the phenomenon of motivation. Both in terms of how problems come into being as well as their resolution.
Indic wisdom divides motivations into two categories: Human and Divine. The human motivations were called Aeshanas viz. the drive for Fame and Achievement (Lokeshana), the drive for Power and Influence (Vitteshana) and the Instinctual drives of Cravings and Aversions (Putreshana). The drive for the Divine, known as Satchitananda, is the pursuit of truth/reality (Sat), the pursuit of consciousness/awareness (Chit) and the pursuit of happiness (Ananda) free from misery.
Market Capitalism has had great success in monetizing the three human drives by using the first Divine pursuit of truth/reality (through science), in welding the world into a single market and creating goods and services for their satisfaction. Over the past half millennium, all of humanity has been co-opted into this process leading to the creation of an unprecedented amount of wealth and its equally unprecedented inequalities, due to the vast differentials in capabilities and opportunities. It has created Winners and Losers, or Haves and Have-Nots, depending on the political ideology we subscribe to.
Racism is the natural result of centuries of uninterrupted winning and domination, while exploitation and victimization are the natural results of being the Have-Nots over that same period. History is witness to the perishing of such societies. Thankfully, we are a Democracy. In totalitarian regimes the have nots are perished, or vilified and declared unfit for existence. Democracy is equal trust and power in the hands of every human being, irrespective of their accomplishments or social status. Democracy guarantees the survival of the have nots and gives them a chance to both fight injustice as well as make efforts to improve upon their abilities and opportunities. Systemic racism, though, has been eating into the vitals of Democracy which could be strengthened and brought back to health by taking up the Divine pursuits.
Science is an amplifier. It multiplies one’s abilities for both good and evil, and hence the most powerful weapon in the hands of the victims in the war against racism. The pursuit of Awareness/Consciousness is Yoga. Yoga recognizes that there are five levels of Human Awareness. They are the dull (Mudha), the wandering (Kshipta), the distracted (Vikshipta), the one-pointed (Ekagra), and the arrested-in-concentration (Niruddha). The first three stages lead to ignorance and no accomplishment. The one-pointed state leads to accomplishments but is not free from passions and hence prone to evil. It is only the Niruddha Chitta (Consciousness Arrested/Devoid of Passions) which is capable of accomplishments free from malice. The first step towards the goal of eliminating evil is the willingness and ability to rise to the highest levels of Consciousness.
Divine Happiness is free from all Misery. Misery has three sources: conflict (Klesha), inappropriate resolution of situations (Karma Vipak) and Reservoir of Past Karma (Karmashaya – Baggage from the past). Misery is contagious. No human being can be genuinely happy if any human being is miserable. So, humanity can be genuinely happy only when all misery is eradicated. We can see that the scourge of racism is entrenched misery in all its aspects. We also realize that racism comes into existence when accomplishment breeds arrogance. The method of eradicating misery is called Divine Service (Seva). Service becomes Divine when it is free from the human motives of fame, power, and instincts.
Racism has been described as baggage from history (perhaps a sort of civilizational Karmashaya), something akin to muscle memory, coming from a belief that it is right to systematically Dominate, Degrade, and eventually Exterminate other people and cultures. The reason for the evil not resulting in total extermination of the victims is deduced to be Democracy, which is the principle of equal power to every individual in the form of the vote.
The solution involves the understanding of the cause for evil ideas to have come into existence which is the aeshanas being the primary objective of life, whose resolution is Yoga. The solution to the damage done in the process, which is the idea of Seva.
That brings us to three action items in resolving the scourge of racism. One, the pursuit of knowledge by the victims. Two, the pursuit of dispassionate awareness by all and sundry so we can purge the society of its evil systems and legacies. And three, involvement in the Divine Service of the victims, so their wounds heal, and their capacities build, to pursue a vibrant social life. The ordinary patriotic American can help end these evils by bettering ourselves, and through the institutions of Democracy bringing about the systemic resolution that is needed. A cultural shift toward Niruddha Chitta will surely bring about the harmonious coexistence that we desire. This is not an immediate solution, and most will probably dislike it for that reason, but good things take time.
America is bleeding. The wounds of centuries have opened afresh. Let us dedicate ourselves to healing those wounds based on the western experiment of Democracy and the Indic perspective of Yoga and Sewa. Let this great experiment at Collective Human Diversity, not be doomed to failure. May the world be one family, United in all its Diversity.