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Contemplating Cultivating Tolerance

by Michael Ketterhagen

“Every way of life

has its own reason for being

and its own integrity.”

--Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

Our second contemplation suggested by the Yoga Tradition that will bring us closer and closer to non-violent, peaceful, joyful and free living is contemplating how we can cultivate tolerance.

This is especially challenging in our deeply dualistic and antagonistic world where family members are on different sides of the political world; where there is argument about wearing masks during the pandemic; where people of different races and ethnic backgrounds yell at and fight each other; and where division and hatred occur between religious traditions. One of my yoga students told me recently that when she opened up her business and said that masks were not required, people thanked her for making a strongly “anti-government” political statement, even though that was not her intention at all.

True tolerance can be viewed from many different perspectives.

Tolerance from the perspective of just putting up with annoying or

painful people or experiences.

We can tolerate an unpleasant or irritating person or situation by just putting up with them or it. It’s like saying to ourself, “I’ll put up with this individual until s/he leaves.” Or “Well, they’re just visiting and won’t be living in our neighborhood.” Or “I’ll hang in there with my headache until the pain-killing drug takes effect.” This is like planting seeds on concrete and waiting for the birds to eat them. They will eventually be gone, but the toleration experience itself bears no nourishment for us. We will still hate the person or the situation in our heart.

Tolerance from the personal growth perspective.

Another perspective of tolerance, especially towards people of different races, sexual preferences, religions, philosophies, or cultural-behavioral patterns, is looking at these “others” curiously. It triggers the excitement of learning about another person or worldview. The other person becomes an object of tolerance because we are getting something from them. We are beginning to find out how this different human being thinks, believes, acts, understands reality. This often fills us with some level of joy because of the new knowledge that we have. We may not be really concerned about them as individuals, but more concerned about what they think and how they act. The focus of this toleration is on our own Self.

Tolerance from the rights perspective.

As my yoga teacher Pandit Rajmani Tigunait says, “Every way of life has its own reason for being and its own integrity.” When we impose our values and ideology on another person whom we consider not as valuable or advanced as ourselves, we are violating that person’s dignity. Every person has a right to have that dignity upheld and nurtured. When we do that we are living non-violently, even when we might think that that culture is wrong. This is a stance of freedom—cherishing our value and the other’s value.

This violation of another’s dignity happens often between certain religious believers, like between Muslims and Hindus or between Christians and atheists. It happens often today between Democrats and Republicans.

So, how can we cultivate tolerance?

We need to remember that all human beings, no matter how different their race, beliefs, customs, rituals, political perspectives and ways of life are made in the image and likeness of God. That’s what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe. As Yoga believes all humans are divine, infinite and perfect beings at their core. We are all one human race, one human species, and there is nothing that can separate us from that reality. We are not only interconnected, as the modern, novel coronavirus has taught us, but all humans have the same aspiration—we long to live life fully, peacefully and freely.

Today, especially, we need to practice remembering this fact. A few minutes of contemplating this fact will cultivate our tolerance towards all, even the one we don’t like. Sitting in silence and repeating over and over again, as we hold someone in our mind whom we have trouble tolerating, “That enemy of mine is a divine, infinite, and perfect being like me.” will begin to plant the seed of true tolerance.

I pray to the divinity in you!

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