Prejudice seems to be all over the world. It pervades the air. In any culture, any tradition, any country, within a family, a school, a company, a village, prejudice is there. There is the prejudice toward one's skin, place of birth, appearance, ways of talking, tradition, and so on. And in what is more commonly known now, prejudice toward sexuality, gender, age, ability, race, ethnic origin, and so on. And if one is sensitive to the violence that prejudice has brought, the animosity, war, hurt that is the product of prejudice, and maybe one has also gone through it, experienced it, and these are actually happening everyday, then one must inevitably ask, how can prejudice come to an end?
But first of all, how does one approach such a question? The academics have investigated, surveyed, experimented with humans and animals, trying to explain why prejudice and discrimination exist. Many have blamed the society, the education, the tradition, which conditions the human being to be prejudiced. The revolutionaries have shed blood of themselves and of others to build a new society, with new laws and education, and that seemed to have not ended prejudice at all. On the contrary, we are still judgemental, unable to see another human being afresh. We are so blinded by our own education, established beliefs, opinions, that we usually refuse to see another human being without any judgement. No matter how society is structured, manipulated, reformed, the human beings are still fundamentally the same. This we have all seen in history, and it is still going on. Prejudice is like a tree, and we seemed to only trim the branches, cutting of its one or many expressions, but another soon grows. So if we do not understand the root of this issue, that is, how does prejudice, not any particular form of prejudice, but how does prejudice itself begin, if we do not understand this, then we shall forever be caught within its net.
These are all facts, if one observes what has been in history, in the Americas, Asia, Africa, or whatever place on Earth, and what is happening now. So how do we approach this issue of prejudice? Is there an end to it? How does it begin?
I think, if we want to understand the root of prejudice, to see it actually, we must not be caught in illusions. And one of the illusions is that we think we are separate from society. That is, the individual is separate from society. It is how we are conditioned to think. We think society is responsible for how a human being is educated, influenced and so on. We think, as so many reformers, politicians, social activists, revolutionaries think, that if we change society, change its laws, structures, change the environment, the schools, and so on, we will change human beings. We have done this for thousands of years. We have killed to build new societies, we have changed laws and policies, we have established organizations all over the world, but the violence, brutality, a sense of utter carelessness and neglect still pervade the world. So we must understand, that society cannot change human beings. The environment, the laws and organizations, cannot change us. We have changed environment. We are responsible for what society is. Society has not made us. We make society. We maintain society. We perpetuate society. We are all part of society. Our social relationships, our actions, our greed and happiness, selfishness and confusion, our desire and will, our conflicts are what make society. Therefore, we are not different from society. We are society.
When we see this fact, that society has not changed us, then we stop altogether trying to change the environment. We stop passing laws, elect politicians, throw revolutions, because those who passes laws, those who vote, who organize, who kill and build, are still prejudiced. The builder is prejudiced, then whatever the builder builds is the product of prejudice. This is a simple fact. So what is essential isn't what is outside, isn't the laws and reforms and organizations, but what each human being is inwardly. If the human mind is prejudiced, opinionated, judgemental, then whatever such a mind brings about is still the outcome of prejudice. So, if we are serious about finding out, whether there is an end to prejudice, then our whole concern is the human mind, is to bring about a change in the psychology of ourselves, of the human being.
Only then, can we ask the question, how does prejudice begin. It begins not in the outter, the external, but from within. We are prejudiced in our psyche, so we build prejudiced machines, cities, roads, restaurants, and we educate our children to be prejudiced as well.
What is prejudice? If one looks at it, in our daily activity, prejudice is quite simple to see. It is to look at another with the images that one has. We might look at the man with dark skin and immediately we have certain opinions of him. That is simple. We are aware of the social status of another so we treat the other differently. We see the makeup and beautiful dress and immediately we judge. We have accumulated many memories, ideas, images about other people, and when we interact with others, those images are in operation. Therefore, we don't really see the other, the human being, but we see the images we have about them. The image is the root of prejudice. If we continue to rely on images, past experiences, past knowledge in our relationships with another, then we shall continue to be prejudiced, and bring about more suffering.
So we must see this simply. If we complicate the matter of prejudice we shall be caught in it. Prejudice is when the image is. The image, the idea, the knowledge of another is not the actual human being.
But we are so terribly dependent on images, the past, experiences, knowledge. After all, that is how we hire in companies, that is how we decide who to love to and who to destroy, that is how we judge in law, that is the essence of what we call justice. Justice is revenge. The past is tremendously important to us. Our memories are important, and we wish to continue what was enjoyable, pleasant in our memories. Do we want to live without images? Because that means to live without the past interfering, to not let my experiences, my knowledge intervene. Can we do that? Are we serious about the ending of prejudice?
I think if one looks at what is happening in the world, we are only reinforcing prejudice. We want the pleasurable images to stay, but we detest the unpleasant images. We want to be seen as successful, at peace, happy, powerful, therefore we detest failure and chatter, the weak and the unhappy. We are the maker of prejudice, because in our daily actions we are still pursuing what we call good, justice, beauty, and the very pursuit means preference, choice, which means comparison, and comparison is prejudice. To say the black man is so and so, no matter what description one might invent, is prejudice. It is so. But we want to retain the pleasant descriptions, and throw away the unpleasant ones. One's pleasant description is based on the discrimination of another. Preference is the beginning of prejudice.
Preference has its place in life. We must choose what to eat, where to go and so on. But do we see that any preference in human relationship will inevitably bring prejudice, and therefore hurt, violence? To prefer a human being, because of the skin, the career, the knowledge, the body, is very superficial, is to give importance to the superficial difference, which has no relationship to the deep, the core, the heart of a human being. Because most of us suffer, cry, enjoy, pursue. Most of us are terribly lonely, and in that loneliness seek dependence on another, on ideas and work. Most of us are discontented, and out of that discontent seek some sort of occupation, job, war, entertainment. We must see that human beings are fundamentally the same. We might have different culture, religion, ethnicity, skin color, body shape, sexual organs and so on, but if we continue to fixate on these differences, and all of them are superficial, we might not like that but it is superficial, then we shall perpetuate prejudice. One cannot come to the ending of prejudice with prejudice. The ending of prejudice is the absence of the image. When the image is not, equality is. Equality in the sense, not exactly the same status, money, possession, but treating each other with dignity and humility, no matter the money, fame, or culture. And only then, might we be able to inquire into the nature of love, might care and affection, a sense of loving attention come into being. Like the rain in spring which is so thin that it is silent, that which nurtures is quiet, gentle, and judges nothing.