Whenever I hear the term affirmative action, I breathe.
On the in breath, I say “Affirmative.” On the out breath, I say “Action.”
It’s calming. I’ll tell you how I’m applying it in a bit.
But first…. The breath is a vehicle of mindfulness. The in-breath. The out-breath. Conscious breathing. You can do it while reading this. It’s the basis of mindful practice.
So, when a monk takes his last breath, that’s breaking news.
And when that monk is Thich Nhat Hanh, the venerable Buddhist peace and social justice activist nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by no less than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it’s time to take a pause.
That’s one newsworthy last breath.
Thich Nhat Hanh through his dozens of books and recorded lectures (see YouTube) has taught millions to breathe and keep breathing. For love. For gratitude. For peace.
The Nobel Peace Prize wasn’t awarded in 1967, so it really was something just to be nominated.
In his recommendation letter for Thich Nhat Hanh–then an activist against the Vietnam War–Dr. King said: “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy than this gentle monk from Vietnam…His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
And what were his ideas? To be in the present moment where life is. Deeply. To let go of the past. To not fret about the future. To just be in the now to experience a true calming sense of self. And perhaps just to be, and not think. A simple notion, but one that could enable you later—in a new moment–to think about your situation and make the best possible decisions in life for you, and for others.
Thich Nhat Hanh called it being and living free, when you are “free from anger, fear, hate, the past, the future, and then you can make the best kind of decision.”
I wonder if Vladimir Putin should start meditating?
Me, I’ve been meditating more seriously since the pandemic, even teaching. I’ve had the time.
I was first introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh in the 1990s, when I approached an editor in Washington, D.C about a job. The editor didn’t hire me. But he turned me on to Thich Nhat Hanh.
I started reading a bit of his work. His poetry. And one of his books, “The Art of Power.” But I wasn’t ready to be still.
I was still amok.
In time, I craved for the wisdom of quiet. Of late, my meditation has been through mostly American practitioners.
But in my current studies even before his death, I found myself reading and watching (on YouTube) more Thich Nhat Hanh.
“Let us visualize ourselves a wave in the ocean,” he says in one lecture. “The wave might get scared. Shall I be? Shall I not be? The wave may get a complex. Am I inferior to the other waves? Am I equal?”
There is laughter in the audience. Thich Nhat Hanh knew how to get people to smile and laugh as he brought them to a deep place.
“Am I superior to other waves? A wave may ask the question: When did I begin? When shall I end? The wave does not live in peace. The wave is assaulted by many notions. Many ideas. The wave suffers because fear is within the wave.”
That’s the bad wave. But then he compares it to a wave practicing to arrive mindfully aware that it is water, the true nature of waves.
“The wave has been water all the time,” he says. “The wave doesn’t have to do anything. Because since the beginning the wave is water.”
That awareness is called enlightenment.
Thich Nhat Hanh taught that nirvana is defined as the extinction of all notions and ideas including the idea of birth and death, coming and going. And if we understood that, we would set the base for our happiness.
“If you still have fear within you, true happiness is not there,” he said. “That is why this simple exercise is very, very deep practice. Experiencing nirvana is something that can be done now.”
But like everything, it takes practice.
When a monk dies, you find yourself listening to his lectures and videos, and you realize that he was right along. There is no end. There is only a continuation.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches still.
**THE ANXIETY OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
**So it is with Thich Nhat Hanh in mind that I begin to contemplate the ugly present.
The threat of impending war in Ukraine. The existing war on the world of Covid and Omicron. And now, the issue that impacts Asian Americans most specifically, the never-ending generational war over affirmative action.
After years of legal anxiety in the lower courts, the Supreme Court has ended our wait. SCOTUS announced it will hear the two cases that challenge and could end affirmative action in higher education.
What should we do now?
I think that’s what Thich Nhat Hanh would say.
Breathe and do nothing. Just be in the moment. We know the past. (Look at columns on this website, how Asian Americans have been used as white proxies to fight the battle of professional anti-affirmative action forces, how the use of race has been upheld as constitutional in all the lower courts). We know the issues. The court will take up the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases that threaten the consideration of race in college admissions by the fall. A final decision could occur in June of 2023.
The key issue that has changed since lower courts repeatedly affirmed race-conscious admissions has been the composition of the Supreme Court, now firmly conservative at 6-3.
Also foreboding is that the same folks behind both the Harvard and UNC cases engineered the dissection of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. They have dedicated their careers to undoing civil rights legislation that make BIPOC communities fully participating Americans.
Instead of anxiously waiting on a decision, let’s lock into the present.
Continue to let people know what’s at stake. And why it’s important. How Asian Americans broadly have benefited from affirmative action, yours truly especially. I know I wouldn’t have gotten into Harvard without someone seeing me for who I was. An Asian American Filipino. Would they have noticed if race were barred from consideration?
It was important then, and it’s just as important now as we fight for diversity and inclusion.
So, yes, we continue to make the case for affirmative action. And as we do, we truly value and appreciate what we still have today.
But understand and truly value what we still have now.
The consideration of race as one factor in college admissions has been the law since 1978, and it has been affirmed by the high court in later years, most recently in the Texas decision. These precedents remain constitutionally sound and continue to provide us with the legal protections we deserve. That’s a lot of light to shed on any oncoming cloud.
Be in the moment. Do as I do. On the in breath, say “Affirmative.” On the out breath, say “Action.”
When the fight comes to us, we will be ready.
Listen to my show at 2p Pacific on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. We’ll practice together. Or recorded on www.amok.com.