Determined, insightful, nonviolent—Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman tells the protesters of Occupy Wall Street that they’re just the kind of people the country needs.
Everyone here is an example of something I’ve been wishing for for many years. You are what I call “cool heroes.” By cool I mean nonviolent. Cool heroes are people who are forceful, intelligent, just, and insightful, who can speak up loudly and clearly, but without getting angry or indulging in hatred.
We need cool heroes today. We don’t need hot heroes. You’re happier than the violent people. Look at you; you’re all smiling. The final completion of the American revolution has to be fun, nonviolent, and determined while cool. As Gandhi said, peace has to be the path to peace. Violence will never be the path to peace. Jesus said “Love thine enemy!” The Buddha said that hatred will not put an end to hatred. Only nonhatred and love will put an end to hatred.
We are here at Liberty Plaza because we’re trying to keep liberty alive on this planet. This planet is in dire jeopardy because of the military-industrial machine, which is beyond East and West. The industrial part represents organized greed. It expands the greed of individuals with hi-tech power and it is exceeding the capacity of the planet. Pollution, global warming, and overpopulation come from this technological expansion of greed. On the other side, we have hatred. This necessarily goes along with greed, because greedy people hate other greedy people, whom they assume are trying to take away whatever it is they want.
We need to control both greed and hatred. But to do that, every person has to control the greed and hatred in their own minds. No one should be protesting against nasty bankers if they really hate them. They are not deserving of being hated; they are suffering people just like us. At the moment they may seem luckier than us, but in the long run they are unluckier. They are taking away too much from too many, and this makes them paranoid and unhappy. They need ten million dollars, and when they get it, they want a hundred. And when they’ve got a hundred million dollars, they want a billion. By then they’re on their fourth trophy wife, their kids can’t stand them, and they are literally afraid of everyone.
Therefore, we don’t hate the bankers and traders of Wall Street whose offices overlook us. They are objects of sympathy and compassion. Actually, I think people shouldn’t be allowed to graduate from business school without getting an education in what enlightened self-interest really means. They should get extensive training in personal emotional and meditative skills to cultivate true contentment, so that one of the important questions they have to answer before they graduate is, how happy are you really?
Your voice here today is being heard worldwide. Against it is the whole TV nation, twenty-four hours a day giving your compatriots— good, kind people all over the country—a completely distorted vision of what is really going on here. To break through that you will need to be persistent. You are making your voices heard now, but the difficulty is going to be to sustain it. You have to be as smart and as durable as the Ukranians of the Orange Revolution. They were nonviolent, they stayed out there in the public square, and they changed their country.
You have an aura of liberty about you—that is the precious thing that you demonstrate here. However, the corporate interests have taken over the mass media and the electoral system, and they are defeating your will. Every poll shows that a majority of Americans want Social Security, a single-payer medical system, and banks and companies that work for them. We have to vote the corrupt people out of Congress so that the wishes of the American people will be honored. They should serve their constituents, who are you, and not their contributors, who are the one percent up in those Wall Street buildings.
I would like to ask, where is the sweetness of Jesus Christ in this country? He consorted with the poor, the downtrodden, the abused, and he put his life on the line for them. Jesus was the sweetest. Every Buddhist worth their soul loves Jesus.
So you have to stay here, peacefully insisting on change, clear in your understanding. But you must beware of anyone who seems to join your ranks who is too hot, who preaches hatred, who thinks there is one bunch of people who are really the villains. As I said, those bankers are victims themselves. They are doing evil now, of course, but they are also helpless victims of their own greed and a system that allows them to magnify it beyond their control.
In that light, we should all meditate every day. But not some kind of “I’m not thinking anything, oh I feel so good!” meditation. That might feel nice, like Prozac or something, but it can be a little addictive and it doesn’t increase our insight, intelligence, or compassion, which are what we really need. So when we meditate, think about compassion, and think about the fact that we are free to envision a better world. And stand up for it, with hope and joy.
Adapted from a speech by Robert Thurman to Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park in New York’s Liberty Plaza on October 13.