In this experience about using the power of dialogue to discover our shared humanity, my friend and fellow SGI Buddhist David Hill reveals how his experience of being HIV positive helped him develop compassion for racist and homophobic people who persecuted him in his community. David is an ex-coal miner from Derbyshire UK and his courage, warm wit and determination make his story one of the most moving I have ever read. With profound thanks to David for letting me include it in my book, I feel he is an example to us all of how to chant for the happiness of people who have hurt you.
“Some nineteen years ago I was discharged from hospital with a life-threatening illness and the advice to get my affairs in order. My chances of survival were slim, I was weak and frail and did not really want to carry on with my life. While in hospital and without realising it, I had been introduced to Buddhism by a visiting volunteer worker who chanted to me while I fell asleep. I was not in much of a state to take it in at the time and didn’t start to practise myself until many years later.
Ostracised for being gay
“I returned home to my small homophobic racist town and found my house had been sprayed with graffiti, saying ‘Gay with Aids lives here’.
This further lowered my already low life state and I was very scared. I removed the graffiti several times and put up a board saying this was their problem not mine, they were cowards, get over it. So they started putting faeces through my letter box, but at least a litter tray to catch it was cheaper than having paint removed! Eventually my tormentors got bored and the harassment stopped. But my hatred and anger toward these people stayed with me and caused me to stay indoors and be really bitter and twisted for many years to come.
Some fifteen years after my first encounter with Buddhism and with my immune system deteriorating, I went on a weekend respite break. I heard this chanting from the room next door and recognised it was the same as the one I had heard from the health worker in the hospital. This intrigued me, so after much discussion with the man from the next room on Buddhist philosophy, I realised this was the piece of the jigsaw I had been looking for in my life.
It was really hard to chant for my persecutors’ happiness or see their Buddha nature, but when I did, I realised this hatred was mine… I had created the cause and had reaped the effect. Once I realised this, my anger and hatred for these people dissolved and changed to a feeling of sorrow and even compassion.
I had always isolated myself from my community out of fear. Eventually I decided to integrate with these people, so where better than at the pub! I experienced homophobic remarks when I went, with the local racist men singing ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’, but I ignored them. Then I found out the landlord was a racist and was always referring to ‘poofs and darkies and sooties’, which really infuriated me.
Poison into medicine
One day I went to the pub and he looked really worried. I asked if he was OK and he explained that his daughter was in hospital with suspected meningitis. I told him I used to work at the hospital and there were some very good African, Asian and Polish doctors, so she was in good hands! I think he knew that I was empathising with him whilst also challenging his racism.
As time went by, I eventually got talking to him about my hobby, fishing, as I knew he was a fisherman and I challenged him to a match, which he accepted.
While fishing we discussed our different philosophies and I revealed I was a Buddhist. This made him think I really was a freak – a gay and a Buddhist! He asked me why my head was not shaved and I didn’t wear robes but he also showed interest in where I was coming from. We discussed life experiences, my work in the coal mines and Buddhist philosophy such as energy never being created or destroyed, karma and so on. And I listened to his outlook on ‘immigrants taking our jobs’. I said that although I respected his views, I did not agree with them, and did not expect him to totally agree with mine. Since then we have had lots of dialogue and developed respect for each other, and recently I was invited with my partner to go on a fishing / caravan holiday with him and his wife and parents. We accepted and had a great time, talking late into the nights.
And things have changed at the pub, the man that sung the homophobic songs has been banned by the landlady (she is the boss really!) They now have an African lady behind the bar and a Hungarian chef working in the kitchen. I still get comments when I go there such as ‘Have you been chanting, Dave?’ I reply: ‘Yes, I am chanting for you lot to accept all people as human beings.’ They reply that they do and then I say: ‘And I’m chanting for you all to come back as black lesbians in your next lifetimes!’
I remember reading that in the 1970s Daisaku Ikeda was criticised by some people in Japan for visiting Communist regimes when he went to talk to leaders in China and Russia. When asked why he was going, he replied: ‘Because there are human beings there.’ That’s why I kept going to the pub and I now see these people as human beings with Buddha nature, not with anger or hatred any more but with compassion. If it was not for my illness and my persecutions I would not have become a Buddhist or developed compassion. Thanks to the practice I have turned poison into medicine.”