(Photo above by Lisa Fiotos / Pexels)
On every level, Buddhism rejects racism. One foundational Buddhist concept is dependent origination, meaning, at the most profound level, all life is interconnected—that nothing exists in isolation.
In his 1993 Harvard University lecture, the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda explains the Buddhist notion of the interrelationship of all things:
Each living thing manifests the enlightenment of which it is capable; each contributes to the harmony of the grand concert of symbiosis. In Buddhist terminology, dependent origination describes these relationships. No person or thing exists in isolation. Every being functions to create the environment that sustains all other existences. All things are mutually supporting and interrelated, forming a living cosmos, what modern philosophy might term a semantic whole. That is the conceptual framework through which Mahayana Buddhism views the natural universe.
My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 345.
Simply put, it means that to harm another is to harm yourself. Inversely, to support and care for another person is to also care for and support yourself.
When people do not grasp or appreciate their connections with others, it gives rise to a sense of isolation, mistrust, hostility or apathy. It leads to a society based upon fragile human relationships that are easily fractured.
From the perspective of Buddhism, that which creates trust, respect and harmony among people can be described as good. That which divides people, causing disrespect and mistrust, is not only bad, but evil.
The pathology of divisiveness drives people to an unreasoning attachment to difference and blinds them to human commonalities. This is not limited to individuals but constitutes the deep psychology of collective egoism, which takes its most destructive form in virulent strains of ethnocentrism and nationalism.
My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 446.
Hierarchies Desecrate the Sanctity of Life
Any form of racism or discrimination is outright rejected in Buddhism—it is considered an evil. Creating what Ikeda terms as the “hierarchy of value” breaks this most fundamental teaching of Buddhism, namely that each life form is inseparable and therefore must be equally respected and valued. Such hierarchy actually desecrates the sanctity of life.
Any form of racism or discrimination is outright rejected in Buddhism—it is considered an evil.
For Buddhists, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is how we win over any form of egoism or tendency in our life that allows us to think we are either better or worse than other people. In fact, chanting is a direct call to action to transform ourselves and care for others, because our existence is connected to each person.
Though we see countless examples of dehumanization in our world, Buddhism is a means for empowering ourselves to create change within and without. Every person has the right and ability to change the world. Buddhability is a reminder of that fact.
For Buddhists, Rejecting Racism Is Part of Our Daily Practice
To support such inner transformation, Nichiren Daishonin shares in a treatise written in 1260 (Side note: ahead of the times, even for 2021), “Therefore, you must quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 25). Ikeda elaborates on this point:
Politics, business, industry, education—all of these are the creations of human beings. That being the case, if anything requires reform, at heart, it is human beings themselves, the creators of all these institutions. Nichiren Buddhism teaches the path of human revolution, and the Soka Gakkai (SGI) is promoting this as a grass-roots movement. (June 2013 Living Buddhism, pp. 41–42)
The Lotus Sutra was taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, or Siddhartha as he is sometimes referred to, for the purpose of ensuring that all people—without exception—believe in their inherent dignity and worth.
The 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin developed the daily practice of chanting the Lotus Sutra’s title, Myoho-renge-kyo, together with the word “Nam,” meaning “to dedicate one’s life.” Chanting, in essence, is a tool we use each day to awaken to truth that our life has limitless dignity, courage, wisdom and compassion. Chanting also opens our eyes to these same qualities in the lives of other people.
For Buddhists, every day is a chance to fight for the dignity of each person’s life, and this fact will never change no matter how the times change. Because from the Buddhist perspective, every person has value, and that’s it. No ifs, ands or buts.
For Buddhists, every day is a chance to fight for the dignity of each person’s life, and this fact will never change no matter how the times change.