Not much time had passed after we started classes again in college when the crisis started. Large masses of students, workers and other segments of the population had decided they had enough of what they perceived to be a tyrannical government. People took over the streets chanting, yelling, and demanding their voices to be heard. The government reacted with violence. Some protesters did also. Soon afterwards, the cities became war zones. Nobody, no matter what neighborhood you lived in, could walk to the park safely. In my city, events proceeded relatively normally in comparison to the rest of the country. We heard news of burnt town halls, of mysterious civilians shooting unarmed protesters in the street, missing relatives all over the place, dead protesters and dead cops, and overall chaos for everyone.
Soon afterwards I saw myself in a student assembly debating with all my classmates if we should, as a college, follow the other universities' examples and cancel academic events. Years before, as I was studying in another university, I had similar encounters in similar situations. As such I wasn't too eager to participate in the riot or to give it much consideration. It wasn't until I heard one classmate's testimony that I started to reconsider.
He was a young PhD student and teacher's assistant. This is what he said in response to other classmates who wanted to continue as normal:
“You want us to go back to normal. To act like everything is normal and continue to study and teach as usual. The problem is that everything is not normal! Yesterday, as I was teaching in my house (due to the pandemic) tear gas entered through my window. How could I teach? My best friend is out in the streets expressing herself and I don´t know if she will come back. I don´t know if I will see her alive again. This is what is happening! So no, we can't continue as usual.”
As he said this, a thunderous thought came to my mind. A thought that I didn't had the time to really digest as I did at that moment.
“What is happening?!”
As I thought about it, I realized something. I realized that this situation which I thought was unprecedented was not actually unprecedented. I realized that we had been living in the preamble of this for a long time. See, my country is not a first world country. My country is a country ridden by the scars of civil war. A civil war which lasted decades (which to a certain extent still continues) and that brought upon losses for every strata of society. What was happening was only the ripening of what we had been cultivating all over the last century.
But then I thought: “But what exactly have we been living for?” This question reminded me of the story of when Sakka, the lord of gods, asked the Buddha a series of questions about the origin of hatred and the Buddha replied with subtler and subtler internal sources, so I needed to probe deeper and deeper with this question.
We often ignore this crucial question, or we relegate it to the intellectual level. But at that moment I was not playing intellectual games. I really wanted to know: “What is the cause, what is the true reason, for us to be killing each other? What is the meaning of this nonsense?”
The answer, I understood, could only be found within myself.
So, I searched within and there, in my heart, I found it…I found hatred. But what was this hatred? It is easy to believe that hatred is this huge, disgusting creature which repels one to the deepest level. It is easy to believe that hatred is something one can easily recognize or something which one would not let oneself fall prey to. It is easy to believe it because it is easy to recognize it in others (or at least to believe one recognizes it in them).
But what I found was something much scarier and difficult to communicate. Hatred is not the monster. Hatred is not the action. Hatred is the seed. Hatred was this little seed I carried around. It was the seed of ego. It was the seed of beliefs. As soon as I believed: "I know the truth. I know what is right and what is wrong", then this whole wheel of violence started. As soon as I believed myself as someone who knew something, I was compelled to believe another one to be a person who doesn't. I had to believe that another person was someone apart from me; as someone who is not my equal; as someone I can exert violence too; as someone to whom I could harbor hatred.. As I allowed this hatred to grow in me, I suffered. I made others suffer. I made society burn. This, I understood, was what was happening in the streets. My fellow countrymen had the same seed inside them. This was why they killed people. When the seed of hatred grows on the soil of views, then it is just a matter of opportunity to act terribly wrong. Even though I hadn't killed anyone, I felt like I had.
Why then did I impose upon myself such stupidity? Such wrongness of action? And then, to my surprise, another truth about myself appeared. A truth capable of bringing anyone down from the mountain of ego (even if it is just for a second). You do it to yourself…because you want to…because you love it. You love hatred. Look at the sensations. Look at the mental concomitants which arise. You are enchanted by hatred and violence.
I must say it wasn't easy to admit this about myself, but, in the unspeakable turmoil which succeeded, I found great refuge. I found nibbidā (disenchantment). All this pleasure I achieved through hate, which I relished on a subtle level, is, indeed, not pleasure. It is hell. All this hatred and violence is not necessary. I don't have to do this. I can let go. This was the path which the Enlightened One wanted me to follow. This is the path I have to follow.
As I reflected upon this path, the path of mindfulness, the path of Dhamma, I felt great joy upon the opportunity to come in contact with this meditation tradition. Such a simple path, the path of understanding, had been made available to me thanks to the charity of others. I felt like I had to share this liberation with others. I felt I had to help others to come in contact with Dhamma.
In my city, whenever you go out to the street, or as you take a cab somewhere, or as you wait in line for this thing or the other, it is very common to hear people trash-talking. It's easy to hear what right-wing minded people think of left-wing minded people, and vice versa. It's easy to fall upon words of hatred to everyone: someone hating the president, someone hating congressmen and congresswomen, someone hating poor people, someone hating rich people and even (it is common in my country) to hear someone say that everyone in this country is an immoral, stupid, and worthless fool. Now, as I hear them, I can only think: “It is not necessary! It is not necessary! We think it is, but it is not!”
Now I can only think of U Ba Khin´s words as he exhorted: “I'm in favor of revolution. But not the revolution of a group of people against another group of people, but a revolution of the mind against itself.” I hear the winds of [real] revolution in my country. I hear them in the world…and I am very happy.