“Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation” Is The Book For Right Now

Featuring image via radicaldharma.org

About six years ago I began to meditate as part of a Zen practice community, or sangha. We met once a week in a yoga studio and sat on cushions in a circle for twenty-five minutes. Afterward, we would listen to our teacher read and extrapolate from a book on Buddhism. We would have conversations about how these themes related to our lives. We practiced deep listening. No interruptions. No cross talk. No advice giving. No direct address.

Those conversations, among people of all different ages and life situations, initiated a sense of belonging and groundedness that I’ve not felt before or since. At the height of my practice, I began the day with one hundred and eight prostrations. I chanted and lit incense twice a day. Many of my friends and I accepted the Buddhist precepts into our lives during ceremonies in the desert.

During a silent retreat at a ranch in Aravaipa canyon, not too long after Eric Garner was killed, I re-read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It struck me that one of the characters in Kundera’s Prague was critical of shouting crowds, regardless of their politics. At this time, protests were raging all around the country. That first blush of Buddhism had made me feel equipped to deal with things like discipline and mortality. But my promise to be a warrior of compassion in light of police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, and social media comment wars was starting to feel quite a bit more complicated.

It didn’t help that my sangha was having troubles of its own. A small committee of members dedicated themselves to reading and discussing race and privilege at a coffee shop one summer, and before long, some folks decided to leave the sangha. I wasn’t part of this group but apparently a point had been made: the sangha was dominated by white men. We were unable to parse the emotions that this idea brought up for our community. It has been years and people on both sides of the debate still remember the whole thing with palpable frustration.

In the meantime, the sangha has dramatically changed. We’ve moved in and out of town, started families, taken jobs. Sangha members have grown sick or passed away or gotten divorced. I haven’t been in months. Most of the people who made that space feel especially queer, feminist, radical and of color have splintered off altogether. In all that time we didn’t seem able to explore the ways in which white supremacy and heteronormativity had played a role in the infrastructure of that space regardless of how many cis white men actually spoke on any given day. Our splintering was complicated by a number of factors. But our failure to sit with this one paradox as a community might have been the beginning of what broke us.

So it was with great relief that I encountered the book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation a few months ago. And it may indeed be a great relief to any sangha that has encountered these kinds of issues whether or not you choose to navigate them together. There is nothing unique about this kind of impasse. This is a universally difficult conversation for any community to have.

First of all, this book champions the possibility that all sanghas might not be right for everyone. It should be okay for people to make this choice. But it also asserts that discomfort is an inherent consequence of engaging with questions of social justice in any practice community. Lama Rod Owen says it best: “We waste sangha and community when we choose not to engage in discomfort associated with liberatory practice.” And, “I absolutely believe that we can use the quiet or the sitting practice to avoid having that dialogue.”

Inside you’ll find personal accounts of dharma practitioners who had difficulty working with white teachers, with negotiating a queer black identity in distinct spiritual communities over time. There are stories of standing in protest at a state sanctioned execution, of facing the addictive powers of Netflix, Hulu and Facebook. We get to read transcripts of conversations that the authors held during a series of dialogues they initiated at the Atlanta Shambhala Meditation Center, the Brooklyn Zen Center, the Harvard Divinity School, and the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley. There is a prayer of awakening in three languages. There is mention of the dharmic integrity of Rihanna’s, “Bitch, Better Have My Money.” For serious.

I get frustrated when people talk about meditating as though it’s a day at the spa. This path toward awakening asks us to reckon with every single ounce of our shit. This path prepares us to reckon with the even bigger shit that is the wider world. The authors of this book have a commitment to the kind of internal discipline that you’d practice at a Zendo. But they take all of this personal practice, this essential foundation for non-violent protest, with them to demonstrations in Ferguson. And then they take it back home again.

So much of what I’ve needed to think through in my own practice, my own blackness, my own privilege, and my own grief about the state of this country was covered in this book. I went through periods of resistance and annoyance and procrastination. I kept picking it up and thumbing through the pages. Reading a chapter, weeping. Reading a chapter, staring at the wall. Reading a chapter, calling a friend to vent. Based on what I’ve seen of the show In Treatment, it was like going to a good therapist for the first time.

Rather than speaking in terms of spirituality or theism as a central tenant for radical practitioners of Buddhism, Radical Dharma draws the reader to consider love as discussed by authors we all love like James Baldwin and bell hooks. And specifically in this context: institutionalized racism at its core is a pervasive absence of love. One of James Baldwin’s recurring messages is that white people are denying themselves the full scope of their humanity by denying themselves the capacity to love the people they oppress. In the words of Radical Dharma, an entire generation of white people “allowed their children to witness the sale and degradation of other human bodies. This most unnatural of arrangements, executed for nothing more aspirational than the privilege of financial gain, required the compulsion toward compassion for other beings to be systematically uprooted and replaced with widespread indifference.”

What does it mean to live in a society that still relies on widespread indifference in order to function? There is an entire chapter in this book about the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery “except as punishment for a crime.” (The book would be well complimented by watching Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary, 13th.) When a mostly white sangha struggles to accept the way that this legacy of indifference manifests in the “refuge” space of their own practice community (through micro-aggressions, assumptions of inferiority, distrust and projected fears) they may not realize the extent to which they are making the sangha hall subtly, invisibly unsafe for people of color. Especially in an environment where politeness and kindness are thought of as interchangeable. Especially in environments that operate unwittingly “within the Puritan values of whiteness foisted upon the country at large.” I’m especially in love with the conversation in this book about the “obsession with authenticity” in many majority white Buddhist practice spaces.

But don’t worry, POC. We have work to do, too.

One of the most significant things that this book does, elegantly, is to explain the ways in which concepts like self-care and empathy have been dramatically mischaracterized in radical activist communities. “I could see,” writes Rev. angel Kyodo williams, “that many activist elders and now my younger counterparts had fallen into that vortex, and it seemed difficult to get out once you were caught there.” How can radical traditions embrace the very real motivating force of anger while also mitigating the inevitability of burn out?

Anger and forgiveness have a complicated history in any country where things like marginalization and state sanctioned violence and mass imprisonment and deportation and capitalism are involved. There is an inherent politics at play in the emotional lives of marginalized people. I remember feeling overwhelmed and confused after reading the New York Times op-ed piece, “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylan Roof,” which Roxane Gay wrote in the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre. She explains with bold precision how dehumanizing it is to expect African Americans to forgive the people who keep killing them. Requiring forgiveness of the oppressed is basically forcing us to nod graciously in the face a murderous status quo. She writes, “Over the weekend, newspapers across the country shared headlines of forgiveness from the families of the nine slain. The dominant media narrative vigorously embraced that notion of forgiveness, seeming to believe that if we forgive we have somehow found a way to make sense of the incomprehensible.” She goes on, “We are reminded of the power of whiteness.”

I respect Roxane Gay’s right refuse forgiveness, to be “done with forgiving.” But I also believe in the power of this gesture beyond what it offers to a white supremacist status quo. I am constantly irritated with how eagerly white people hear these kinds of proclamations, though, which makes me want to take back that forgiveness, whip it around like a matador’s cape. But my Buddhist practice has asked me to at least move in the direction of compassion even if the journey is nauseating. Even if the precept of “non harm” means about twenty different things at once.

As far as I’ve seen, dharma teachers recommend caution when engaging with hatred, even though Buddhists are known for things like sending good will or metta to someone you feel disdain toward, or practicing tonglen— breathing the suffering of other beings into your own body. These kinds of practices can be draining and for good reason they take some people much guidance and many years to do properly. But even if it takes awhile to get there, the dharma tradition is rooted in nuanced thinking. Rev angel Kyodo williams writes, “Spiritual tradition is comfortable with paradox, whereas many political movements are not.” Buddhist philosophy only ever asks us to wonder things that have no easy answer. Like: is there enough room to practice compassion at the same time that we notice we’re being manipulated and dehumanized? How much of our own humanity is taken away from us when we don’t allow ourselves the emotional space to practice love in any circumstance?

Recently, someone I deeply admire made fun of Congressman John Lewis for saying that he forgave the policeman who broke his skull in Selma. This reminded me of a passage I’d read by Thich Nhat Hanh, who chose to feel love toward a soldier who pointed a gun at his head in Vietnam. I feel actual physical pain at the notion that these actions were somehow cowardly. Surely the overemphasis of moments like this on the part of white folks who have no interest in letting go of privilege is cowardly. But when utilized in spaces that lean heavily in the direction of violence and hatred, compassion and a commitment to nonviolence are an excruciating discipline that requires we disregard our most basic impulses. Avoiding difficult conversations, unfriending people we disagree with, and other modes of Facebook whateverthatis are not the beginning or the end of “the work.” Rev. angel Kyodo williams asks, “How do you go back to places like rural Georgia and have these conversations? You start with the people closest to you, which is hard. That’s the hardest work I think.”

This book isn’t easy. Which is part of why it’s so good. There are chapters that take forever to move through because they hit upon so much. If you are new to this practice, this book is not a primer. It can be read alongside other books that can walk you through the basics of Buddhist practice and race relations more generally. Many of the authors you might engage with beyond this text are mentioned in the book—Jan Wallace, WEB Dubois, Cornel West, bell hooks. Pick up some Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Pema Chodron, Joseph Goldstein, Alice Walker and Sharon Salzberg while you’re at it. Regardless, I hope that this book comes as an emphatic relief to folks who have felt at a loss as to how to bring social justice into their practice communities. Even if you’ve tried another book already, try this one. Try more. Keep going!

The way Rev. angel’s name is capitalized is intentional.


Are you following us on Facebook?

Profile gravatar of Aisha

Aisha writes essays about art, race and film from Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared or can soon be found in Ecotone, The Offing, Sierra Nevada Review, Ninth Letter, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Essay Daily and Guernica, where she serves as a contributing editor. Her book, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White, was published by University of Iowa Press in 2013.

Aisha has written 13 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! It’s great to see commentary on race and politics that’s rooted in spirituality and compassion.

    I’ve been mulling over similar thoughts on forgiveness, and I appreciate your nuance here. Forgiveness should never be an obligation; it’s not even for the benefit of the oppressor, but rather so the person who’s been harmed doesn’t have to live with resentment forever.

  2. Thank you for this. This week I struggled with the dharma, especially with the idea of radical compassion. On one hand, I have always said I am drawn to the dharma precisely because it isn’t easy. On the other hand, I am afraid that compassion could lead to complacency instead of change, and it seems awfully convenient to forgive what is in many ways unforgivable. Still, I want to reject indifference and hatred. I’m glad people are having this conversation right now, I really hope Sanghas in America can become the open and safe community spaces they ought to be for everyone – we all need it!

    • I don’t think compassion means making excuses or putting up with harmful behavior. It just means doing what you need to do without hatred. True compassion is inclusive of yourself, and all beings, not only “the perps”– it’s not the same as “pity” (which can create separation and actually be a form of condemnation). Compassion it is something that naturally arises and can’t be forced as an obligation.

      It is difficult to describe when using language from within a cultural context that basically lacks these concepts, but one way to think about it is in terms of liberation and non-harm. There are times when equanimity looks turbulent on the surface, but underneath it is pure of heart and wide open. Likewise, compassion may look soft and yielding but it also may look intense and firm.

      You know you’re in a state of true compassion when you are peaceful all through and at the core– not numb, not repressed, not forcing yourself to tolerate… but when you feel a flow of energy that empowers you without, aversion or grasping.

      I’m not in this state all the time but I’ve had glimmers. It feels amazing, not like struggle.

      I hope this helps. I also hope it doesn’t sound lecturey. I have struggled with the same kinds of things you mentioned, and it’s been really a big thing for me, to find my way with it a bit, so I wanted to share.

      • Agree 100%. The compassion is for the human condition, for the existence of suffering (internal and external), and for the recognition that we are all in the same boat of trying to navigate an injust world. It naturally creates a desire to reduce the suffering, both that which is bestowed by others, as well as that we bestow upon ourselves in our own minds.

  3. It’s against the vinayas to sit in the seat next to a trans woman, and that is just what is done to me in every meditation group I bothered visiting. It’s against the vinaya to ordain a trans woman that a man can’t fuck without being accused of being a pandaka (faggot), so pretty much every one of us. Both translated vinayas make it clear that trans women are low-level sex workers and nothing else, and that monks would sneak out to make use of my ancient mothers. That is still true in modern times. These rules are still so true, even among monastics from and in America, that TERFs are a large number of women gathered to see “Ayyas” Anandabodhi and Santacitta that visit my area twice a year. Said nuns make trans women stay in a trailer they have for male visitors. Thubten Chodron is chums with Catholic nuns, and misrepresented the trans suicide statistics so that transitioning, was the cause of mass suicide rates for trans people. There is a pray the trans away monastery in Thailand.

    That’s just some of the misogyny specific to trans women. In the Dharmaguptaka vinaya, from which Zen formed, you are only allowed to be a nun if you aren’t trans or intersex or have otherwise male-unpleasant genitals, and you have to be beautiful enough. I’ve seen how straight nuns treat lesbian nuns in one Tibetan group.

    These scumbags pretend to be the paragons of askesis, while living in country mansions, waited on by servants, in what to American eyes are elegant robes. While I’ve actually been homeless, and I actually don’t have the spoons to shower more than twice a moon, and I’ve actually done all the other things that they consider lofty ascetic discipline, to make my life easier than it would be. And that, is why I am too filthy, physically and sexually, to be allowed into any of their palaces, or Western meditation centers or book discussion groups or whatever.

    You say well that doesn’t mean you can’t exist in the LGBT groups. A cis lesbian teaching in the damn LGBT Center was visibly terrified of me sitting in the front row, spent the entire dharma talk probing my mind and having a conversation with very specific things I had been thinking the last several days before that, and blessed everyone on the way out except me.

    Well maybe the Lesbian Buddhist Sangha in Berkeley is okay, it says lesbian trans women are welcome. They have displayed on their website their white woman’s burden to save women of color from their lack of feminism. (Who taught them feminism if it wasn’t women of color?)

    Well maybe the trans community is okay. The trans Buddhists group asked trans folks that visited their site to say hi, said they are in a habit of answering with a hello back, and they’re still active. I emailed them three times. It’s run by a trans man. The trans woman that wrote the article that’s searchable from Google about the pray the trans away camp in Thailand, didn’t answer three emails. A trans man that teaches Vipassana in the area called me he, in a trans safe space, in this bitter tone, and I corrected him and he said in the same harsh tone, oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. That was during the only time I bothered wearing a skirt and a hot pink sports bra to meet the trans woman uniform requirement of being painfully obviously femme in some way, to avoid being ruthlessly abused out of LGBT spaces. My hair does not grow long and down, and thus has no use for making me arousing enough for men (making me pass as cis, that is), so I keep it short. He is ofc aware that I kept it as short as a nun does, and that I am a lesbian and have no use to dress in a way that gets men off.

    It is Buddhism that stepped on my last nerve and made me the raging, spiteful person Autostraddle staff wishes would stop commenting on their articles. You have conspired with my enemy and shrouded it in nonviolence and an empty illusion of trans integration. I see you. I see which side every cis lesbian takes in the war against the male when lesbian trans women are concerned. Why is it that when Trump said he accepted trans women, you knew he was lying, but when Buddhist monks lie, it’s too slick for you to catch? Because you like them too much to let them go and sit with me instead. That would suck. Therapists with decade/s of experience quit on me. Buddhism quit on trans women a long, long, long time ago. You don’t want problems so bad that the inventors of coping skills can’t handle me.

    That’s fine. You can go on and pretend everything can be resolved through reasoning with well-intentioned people. Did this response change anything at all about how you will actually behave in life? Probably not enough. Dialog time is over.

    • Green, I appreciate you outlining your experience. It is generous to offer, especially in light of how painful your experience has been. My first inclination was to close up and get defensive, but then I realized that I wrote an entire review about how this is not how I want to react to discomfort. I get it if you are done with the dialogue, that’s your choice. But I also thank you for asking to be seen.

    • This is all so painful. I wish you had a sangha that provided refuge rather than all this crap.

      I know the pain of not having a place that includes me, and of being hurt by people and places that put dogma above dharma and fails to practice even what it does manage to preach.

      I’m sorry about all of it.

      One thing that has helped me with this pain has been knowing I’m not alone, even when there’s no one I can point to and say is with me. In a larger sense, there are others like you, and like me, and we are all part of something larger. And your ability to know and love and experience things others are blocked to, gives you/me/us a kind of well of energy that those who reject it are unable to tap in to.

      I realize this is not at all comforting when feeling loneliness or fear or the sting of BS, and it does not in any way make the situation itself any better. But I would not let what is obviously contracted forms of consciousness in others deprive you of wide open spaces and expansion for yourself.

      Sometimes the solo practice can be deeply joyful, until others can be found to practice with.

      I hope that you will be able to find lovingkindness, joy, equanimity, and companions on the jouney, one way or another, with or without any particular practice.

    • Hi Green,

      For what it’s worth I agree with you that so much of the tradition truly has been corrupted, and there have historically been many issues with hpw women have been treated as well – especially in the Thai and Tibetan traditions, but in other historical sects as well. It’s a valid perspective, and it truly sucks. But I’d also suggest that if the teachings are important to you, please keep trying. Things are slowly changing, and as with any group or ideology, different sects take a different approach. If you can’t find a sangha that works for you, consider starting your own. Don’t let the outdated attitudes or fears of others stop you from claiming your space. You have as much right to the teachings as anyone, and maybe you could create the refuge you so desperately seek.

  4. I’m glad to hear that this review resonated for some. I completely understand if it doesn’t resonate for others. I found this book a helpful tool and of course respect if it or the belief system it interrogates and/or the institutions surrounding it are not for you.

  5. Oh, so happy to see another black queer woman into Buddhism in this site. Sometimes I feel like a unicorn because I’m not in a Christian Church like a lot of my black sisters. I have found when I step away from Buddhism I always come back and wonder why I stepped away in the first place. Jack Kornfield recently gave a talk (you can listen to the poscast) on the evolution of Buddhism in West with regard to the challenges of addressing institutionalized patriarchy (from a western perspective) that is part of many of the traditions. He does acknowledge the irony of a man discussing the topic and because he only speaks for 45 minutes, he doesnt delve into intersectional nuances. However, he tells the tales of some badass buddhist nuns. Also, the divine goddess that controls birth and destruction is worth the listen imo.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for the recommendation.

    “I’m especially in love with the conversation in this book about the ‘obsession with authenticity’ in many majority white Buddhist practice spaces.”

    This is a topic I could read about for days.

  7. Thanks for raising this subject, and passing along the news of this book that explores it further.

    Most of my exposure and training have been with Vipassana, but there are lots of overlaps.

    I think people are messy and baggage-laden wherever we/they go. The tools of spiritual practice can help people undo patterns of oppression and patterns of victimization, but they don’t erase the fact that these things are “pre-existing conditions” and people start where they are, which is often not where we want each other to be. Suffering among unenlightened people is pretty much a given, and this is one of my personally least favorite forms.

    I remember a teacher at a 3 day meditation retreat who told a story about how he was trying to kill a bamboo plant, and he went on and on and on about how the mind was like this plant, it keeps coming back and you have to keep rooting it out. And I was in so much pain from how violent and aversive the guy was toward the bamboo and the mind.

    But I also absolutely do not know how to live with and get along with certain people.

    Maybe there is a middle way, where we can challenge ourselves/each other sometimes, but also, at other times, align ourselves with people/practices that are more easeful and already in our kind of flow. Maybe the forming and breaking down and re-forming of groups is natural impermanence in play.

  8. This site is good for paganism/witchcraft/horoscopes and now I see Buddhism too, but it doesn’t hardly talk about Islam, Christianity or Judaism from a point of view of a believing lgbt+ person. And Judaism, islam and Christianity are the majority of lgbt+ people’s heritage, both in u.s. and Globally. So I am glad that lgbt+ Buddhists can relate to this website happily, but while we are on the subject of religion, I’d like to respectfully request more columns or articles, on all the other many religions which lgbt+ ppl believe in, who yet have big problems attending churches, mosques, temples, etc, due to discrimination. And thus can be isolated from their heritage which ain’t fun atall. Xx also, Buddhism,in terms of the cultures where it is the indigenous / original / first version that existed of the religion, can be extremely homophobic, whereas the western varieties are less so. Another example of difference is that also western Buddhists don’t tend to literally worship the dalai lama, whereas indigenous Buddhists do. For example, just view any footage of Buddhists meeting the dalai lama – the white Buddhist shake his hand, as if they are his equal, whilst the other (non white Buddhists who grew up from birth as buddhists and for whom it is their cultural heritage) are crying and shaking, it is a deeply moving and reverent experience for them – due to a completely different state of mind and belief structure. For similar reasons some non western Buddhists get offended by Western Buddhists for ‘cultural tourism’ and other cans of worms. Many Western Buddhists join Buddhism after rejecting their Christian heritage for being homophobic and for other reasons. Not realising that non Western Buddhism (in its original non diluted/changed formats) is equally homophobic, sexist, etc. I guess since this is a u.s. based site we won’t have a column from a Buddhist in Asia quite yet. Anyways What I mainly am trying to say, thru examples, is that I understand why lgbt+ ppl love paganism, witchcraft, neo-thought, new agism and Buddhism; because in the place where they come across these, the versions (western) which they encounter can appear to be more liberal and accepting of lgbt+ ppl. But can we please also have articles etc. About other religions which more (numerically) lgbt+ ppl believe in, (yet they are isolated from cus of homophobia etc in said religions) so it wud make sense to cover these, since you already cover paganism and Buddhism etc. I am assuming that you currently cover paganism, witchcraft, astrology and Buddhism because you believe they are more pro-lgbt. so, I have tried to explain why actually, with their non western (original) varieties this is not always the case. So that, I can argue that there is equal justification for you to have articles on Christianity, islam and Judaism, and other religions. Because, there have likewise been pro-lgbt interpretations of those religions over many decades.

  9. This site is good for paganism/witchcraft/horoscopes and now I see Buddhism too, but it doesn’t hardly talk about Islam, Christianity or Judaism from a point of view of a believing lgbt+ person. And Judaism, islam and Christianity are the majority of lgbt+ people’s heritage, both in u.s. and Globally. So I am glad that lgbt+ Buddhists can relate to this website happily, but while we are on the subject of religion, I’d like to respectfully request more columns or articles, on all the other many religions which lgbt+ ppl believe in, who yet have big problems attending churches, mosques, temples, etc, due to discrimination. And thus can be isolated from their heritage which ain’t fun atall. Xx also, Buddhism,in terms of the cultures where it is the indigenous / original / first version that existed of the religion, can be extremely homophobic, whereas the western varieties are less so. Another example of difference is that also western Buddhists don’t tend to literally worship the dalai lama, whereas indigenous Buddhists do. For example, just view any footage of Buddhists meeting the dalai lama – the white Buddhist shake his hand, as if they are his equal, whilst the other (non white Buddhists who grew up from birth as buddhists and for whom it is their cultural heritage) are crying and shaking, it is a deeply moving and reverent experience for them – due to a completely different state of mind and belief structure. For similar reasons some non western Buddhists get offended by Western Buddhists for ‘cultural tourism’ and other cans of worms. Many Western Buddhists join Buddhism after rejecting their Christian heritage for being homophobic and for other reasons. Not realising that non Western Buddhism (in its original non diluted/changed formats) is equally homophobic, sexist, etc. I guess since this is a u.s. based site we won’t have a column from a Buddhist in Asia quite yet. Anyways What I mainly am trying to say, thru examples, is that I understand why lgbt+ ppl love paganism, witchcraft, neo-thought, new agism and Buddhism; because in the place where they come across these, the versions (western) which they encounter can appear to be more liberal and accepting of lgbt+ ppl. But can we please also have articles etc. About other religions which more (numerically) lgbt+ ppl believe in, (yet they are isolated from cus of homophobia etc in said religions) so it wud make sense to cover these, since you already cover paganism and Buddhism etc. I am assuming that you currently cover paganism, witchcraft, astrology and Buddhism because you believe they are more pro-lgbt. so, I have tried to explain why actually, with their non western (original) varieties this is not always the case. So that, I can argue that there is equal justification for you to have articles on Christianity, islam and Judaism, and other religions. Because, there have likewise been pro-lgbt interpretations of those religions over many decades.

  10. I’m so happy this book is getting the attention it deserves! I was able to hear one of the authors speak, Black Buddhist Dr. Lama Rod Owens, at Harvard Divinity School’s Black Religion, Spirituality, and Culture Conference this past month and he was IT.

    He speaks in profound ways on anger, indigeneity, and what Buddhism has done for him. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the text and I’m glad to see others enjoying it!

  11. Thanks for this. I’m a practicing Buddhist and I sometimes attend retreats at Thai Plum Village (I work in Asia and the Middle East). I have sort of the inverse experience, where I am often one of the very few white people there because it’s a monastary in the forest as opposed to an expat oriented sangha. The majority of the monks and nuns there are Viets who were unable to practice in Viet Nam and are willing to give up many things to practice and live in Thailand, and many of the Thai practitioners are also going against cultural mores because they are two distinct sects of Buddhism. It’s great to be around people who are so committed to creating peace and genuine community that is actively inclusive. They always find a monk who can speak English and he translates stuff for us via headset and I feel like I’m in Rent. (It’s awesome).

    I am a huge fan of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings about a lot of stuff, but in particular his view that compassionate listening and dialogue is one of the most radical practices out there for creating social change. The practice of beginning anew has been especially helpful for me and especially the advice to wait until the other person can hear you – which is sometimes hard to swallow. So much of how we are received and “heard” by others is determined by what is happening inside of us. This internal work, in my opinion, is so important to fostering the kind of dialogue that leads to tangible change. I read a lot about how to be a “sacred activist” (or “engaged Buddhist”) because I think it is important to incorporate compassion and self-care with confronting injustice, or you can end up coming to activism from a place that adds harm rather than reduces it. It’s hard for sure, but I think it is one of the most effective ways to build bridges, as someone that requires navigating cultural and ideological differences as part of their work. Timing and tone are so important – especially at those moments when rage seems like the most justified respose.

    MLK and Thich Nhat Hanh have a long relationship, and I also find King’s prescriptions helpful – especially his focus on those who are tepidly indifferent or unengaged as opposed to those who are actively against us. Privilege (and blindness to privilege) are obviously huge factors.

    Thanks for this article, and I look forward to adding this to my reading list. I also found a dharma talk by the other addressing the topic, for those who may want to listen:

    http://www.sfzc.org/radical-dharma—an-introduction-to-race-love

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.