Charity begins at home. Some agree, some do not. But the simple fact is that our treatment of those close to us sets the foundations for our behaviours toward others. Before we can love another, we must first learn to love ourselves.
Within Buddhist doctrine is the practice of metta bhavana, or loving-kindness. It is a deeply spiritual and personal practice in which an individual progressively develops a sense of peace and loving-kindness that extends beyond the self, to even their most feared and loathed foe. It is not easy. It requires a persistent and dedicated devotion to removing all preconceptions of the who another person is and accepting them as they are, accepting that they too are a human with their own frailties, and yet as capable of Buddha nature as any other person.
The first step in developing loving-kindness is to learn to love and be kind to the self. Until we can be compassionate with ourselves we will not truly be able to show compassion to others. Metta bhavana is built upon the belief that in seeking happiness, we often do so at the expense of others. This results in personal unhappiness when those we seek to exploit retaliate or create burdens. At the heart of metta bhavana is an other-focus, the belief that we are all inextricably linked to each other and that happiness at the cost of another is little more than a perishable commodity worshipped at the altar of a golden bull.
Australians as a nation, to my mind, lack the conviction to look deeply inside themselves to see how in the space of just 222 years the face of this country has been altered at the expense of the Indigenous people. The treadmill of disadvantage built upon eugenics theories that wreaked havoc upon the ‘noble savage’ is glossed over with the argument that “I didn’t do it, so it’s not my problem”. And whilst I do not like the concept of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons, it is nonetheless a reality. We all begin our lives from the vantage point of our parents and if we are removed from our parents for some reason, our lives begin from the vantage point into which we are thrust. If you are an Indigenous Australian, your life begins with the concept that you are, at the very least different, at the worst destined to be a liar and criminal before you can even walk.
Before Australia can effectively develop any sense of loving-kindness toward those from other nations or outside our borders, we must realize that not only are the Aborigines of this country our friends and neighbours, but for many of us, they are also our brothers and sisters. So many non-Indigenous people have inter-bred with Aborigines and the mixed heritage that makes up the vast ‘blak’ population means that Australia’s white, blak and black are inextricably linked. Loving ourselves as a nation must include loving those who are tied to the dual heritage of a deeply spiritual Indigenous culture and the more materially progressive Anglo-European way of life.
But Australia, in its haste to be one of the great Western nations trying to keep up with the Jones’, has leap-frogged over the ‘Aboriginal problem’ and now has a fraught relationship with immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The very egotism that prevents the development of loving-kindness toward our Indigenous brethren, is the same egotism that relegates asylum seekers to detention centres and sees no harm in keeping refugee children behind razor wire. It is the same egotism that foists the values of a Western society on other Indigenous cultures, such as that of the people of the Solomon Islands, where the impartial role of the Australian Federal Police as participants in the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Missions to the Solomon Islands) has been placed in serious question more than once.
An example of the poverty of spirit inherent in the Australian psyche is to be found in the maltreatment of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue (aka ‘Pat’). Born the child of Indigenous parents, Pat was a victim of the Stolen Generations. He lost much of his heritage as a result and was forced to assimilate into a Western mindset. Despite this, he was branded worthless, nothing more than an Indigenous troublemaker simply because of the colour of his skin. He was harassed whilst a public servant in the ACT Department of Urban Services, from which he departed, before taking up a role with the Canberra office of Ernst & Young. From there, he returned to the ACT Department of Treasury as Manager Policy Legislation and Projects (PLP), before being elevated to the role of ACT Commissioner for Revenue, because of his hard work and diligence as Manager PLP.
As evidenced in earlier posts, the Inquisitor had made enquiries ultra vires as to Pat’s applications for both his role at Ernst & Young and that of Manager PLP. These enquiries breached privacy and confidentiality legislation and brought into question the security of personnel information held within the bounds of both Ernst & Young and the ACT Department of Treasury itself.
On May 9, 2002, the day after Pat had accepted the role as Commissioner for Revenue, the Inquisitor penned the following:
The blatantly racist and denigrating tone of this letter should have been enough for disciplinary action to be taken against the writer, but that was not to be so. Having encountered problems with the Inquisitor in the past, Pat had effected what he believed to be an agreement between himself and senior management to prevent being victimized again. He referenced this in an email to Tu Pham, then ACT Deputy Chief Executive Department of Treasury and Pat’s direct supervisor:
Note, Pat believed that an indemnity had been agreed to, that should have protected him from further racial abuse at the hands of a specified individual, namely the Inquisitor, the very same individual who went on to progressively destroy Pat’s life and irretrievably alter that of his family. The indemnity was executed by Tu Pham and in calling upon her as his supervisor, Pat should have had confidence that she would not only have been aware of the issues, but would be bound to impartially investigate and act upon the Inquisitor’s libel, the illegal use of his apposition in ACT Treasury to access Pat’s personnel file at Ernst & Young and the breaches of Pat’s privacy both at EY and within Treasury.
It is ironic that a nation that finds itself so hard pressed to reflect deeply upon its own failings to its own Indigenous people and develop peace and kindness between white and black is brought undone by two immigrants, one from south-east Asia who was herself a beneficiary of the benevolence of Australia’s involvement in the Colombo Plan. Designed to support the tertiary education of migrants who would return to their country of origin, the concept was that raising the educational standards in less privileged countries would ameliorate the growth of communism in south East Asia and assist in stabilizing regional politics. As the battles of the 1960s and 70s were to demonstrate, it was perhaps a naïve hope. The result has been that the Australian Capital Territory employed an Australian educated immigrant who undermined one of our own. And is it any wonder, when the values of this country and those held by the ACT Government itself seem to be that it is every man for himself, with whites leading the way and anyone other than blacks next?
Yes, I can hear your shouts of denial in Canberra, but if you look at Pat’s case deeply enough, if you look at Australia’s most senior Aboriginal female bank executive, Lucinda McMillan and Angelique, all Indigenous victims of Canberra’s ruling racist elite, you will have trouble denying that there is not a culture of denigrating the native. Even the recent farce between the ACT’s Indigenous Affairs Minister and the Billabong Aboriginal Development Corporation demonstrates the severity of the disjuncture between the ACT’s much touted but entirely ineffectual Bill of Rights and the realities of life in the nation’s capital.
Before we seek to export our charity to other nations under the banners of international cooperation, Australia should look deeply within itself to address its failings with its own peoples. Without this soul searching, this country will only carry similar pains and hardships to other marginalized peoples. The experiences in our own country with our own Indigenous brethren, many of whom are quite literally partially of our blood and the resultant cultural disjuncture must surely stand as testament to the consequences of acting purely in self interest. Loving-kindness, best evidenced as justice for victims of racism, developed within our own bounds will do more for the spiritual development, peace and patriotism of this country than will any amount of money and international alliance. Then this country could truly be the envy of the rest of the world.