Buddhist Centre Features

Reflecting on Racism with James Baldwin

On Sun, 7 June, 2020 - 15:51
Viveka's picture
Viveka

Dear Sangha friends,

I wanted to offer you a podcast to listen to in these times.

Listen to the podcast on ‘Nothing Is Fixed’ by James Baldwin’

Paramananda and I met on May 25 to record a conversation for The Buddhist Centre Online. At the time George Floyd had not yet died an unjust death in an encounter with police. Another black man Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting while jogging in Georgia was in the news. Our conversation began with a poem from James Baldwin and opened to reflections about the relevance and purpose of meditation in the times we are in - pandemic, the highlighting of anti-black systemic racism in the disproportionate covid-19 impact  and recent murders of black people in the U.S.

George Floyd.
Breonna Taylor.
Ahmaud Arbery.
Sean Reed.
Tony McDade.

The actual list of names of black people whose deaths link to the toxin of racism is much, much grievously longer. It is a unacceptably growing number of African descended peoples that started in 1619. 1619  the first year enslaved African were shipped and sold to colonialists undertaking the settling and seizing of territories that were home to Native Americans.

If you are not clear about the story of any of the black names above, I ask you to do your work to learn their stories. To bear witness. To understand the show of solidarity and moral conscience showing itself in large numbers of people turning up to declare that black lives matter and that we do not want to live in a world of policing that terrorizes black people and communities. This is a moral call and action and a call I resonate with as a dharma practitioner rooted in the first precept fo non-violence and love.  A call that community building is where our nation’s collective energy and resources should be directed, and not to an increasing project of criminalization and surveillance and othering of non-white bodies.

Please practice deep, deep empathy about why there may be such an intense response manifesting in protests across this country. Please work hard to see the unjust systems at play in this country that lead to such disparate impacts on black people, black communities. Please resist being distracted into superficial narratives about looting (property loss is not comparable to the persistent, unchecked loss of black lives). I ask you, what is the main story here, the story we should be concerned about? 

Please consider how concern can translate to action - and practice being active. Our practice is inclusive of acts of body, speech and mind. I’m not prescribing what that action should be. I am asking for Buddhists to not reduce the wonderful treasure of dharma to merely its contemplative gifts. In the podcast we ask, “What is the purpose of meditation?”

A final thought, we are now entering pride month. 51 years ago, LGBTQ patrons at the Stonewall Inn, led by people of color - specifically trans women of color - rose up against police brutality. This is not a new struggle. I leave you with the James Baldwin poem.

With love,
Viveka

she/her/hers

***

For Nothing Is Fixed

For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

James Baldwin

***

Take part in Viveka’s next live conversation with Paramananda

Watch Viveka’s talk: ‘The Buddha as Social Revolutionary’ from Buddha Day

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Parts of this conversation fall short of meeting our community guidelines around positive, empathetic and harmonious speech, and ways of relating to others online. We’ve decided to keep the conversation here because it also contains some helpful discussion and exemplification of Buddhist practice in this regard.

The Triratna Buddhist Order and Community is committed to fostering diversity as a practical aspiration in our presentation of the Dharma online, and at our Buddhist Centres around the world.

Responses

Shantiketu's picture

Hello Advayacitta.

Thank you for your response to me on 29 June, which I’ve only just seen. It’s not easy to follow all the threads, is it?

You point to other examples of man’s inhumanity to man. I don’t see that they are any more relevant here than saying that the fact that 701 homicides were committed in the UK last year would be acceptable as a mitigating factor for the actions of someone on trial for murder.

I recall that we had a conversation in another forum about evidence around the subject of climate change. If you’re not convinced by the wealth of information in the  research that Maitrisara presented earlier there’s probably little point in us having a similar kind of discussion on this subject. So maybe it’s best to leave it there.

Shantiketu's picture

This comment has been removed by the person who posted it.

Mike3333's picture

I’m new to Triratna, and Buddhism. Bit shocked by the original post. What did the order member say: Please resist being distracted into superficial narratives about looting

I’ve been on the wrong side of a mob, and the police were not going to help me.Not good, the mob is alway wrong and really dangerous. I don’t think this woman, Viveka, lives in the real world.

Glad to see that some Buddhists stand up to identity bullies!

Dayamudra Dennehy's picture

“This woman”, Viveka, is a beloved Order Member with a deep commitment to our movement and she is very much living in the real world.

The actual bully who ignited these protests is a uniformed police officer who kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, who was handcuffed on the ground, respectful, and not resisting. No citizen should be terrorized in this way. 

Please be kind in your critique. 

Mike3333's picture

Hello Dayamudra,

Great that (this woman) Viveka is beloved, she’ll need lots of friends once the police force has been defunded – if her house gets broken into in the middle of the night there won’t be any big burly police officers coming to her rescue. I hope her friends are type who’ll rush round in the middle of the: and fight. In her brave new world she’s gonna need them.

As ever, you didn’t reply to my point. Viveka said we should not resist being distracted into superficial narratives about looting. I’m still stunned by this. I was affected by the mob in Northern Ireland, she clearly has no way of understanding how frightening the break down of law and order is. Do you?

Just so you know, I spat out my white privilege guilt years ago. I live in London. The most underprivileged ethnic group on the UK is, wait for it…. the white working class. No articles by compassionate Buddhists about us.

The director of this site, Chandradassa goes on and on about diversity. Why is it that all the lead articles could have appeared originally in the Guardian? Am I missing something? Course not! thebuddhistcentre.com is just the Guardian newspaper in new blue Buddhist robes. Nice!

Actually, Candradassa, in interests of DIVERSITY I would like to have a monthly ‘column’ on your website. You have my email address.

Dayamudra Dennehy's picture

Mike- “As ever”? Have we met?

Viveka is a respected senior Order Member, Preceptor and committed teacher and leader in this Buddhist movement. Not “this woman”.

And actually, yes, I have experienced the breakdown of law and order. I lived in Indonesia during the overthrow of Soeharto when tanks were rolling through the streets. No police officers coming to anyone’s rescue then.  I was in India when the currency was devalued and everything was thrown into chaos. I saw police beating regular working people in broad daylight then. I would also call this moment the breakdown of law and order in The US, when African Americans and other people of color are regularly murdered by the police. I am concerned for my friends and my neighbors. 

“Big burly police officers” have never rescued me nor anyone I know. Quite the opposite. 

Advayacitta's picture

Hi Mike

I agree with you.

Sthirananda's picture

Well said, Mike.

Sthirananda

garavachitta's picture

Hi Mike,

Great to have you posting here. Make yourself at home. I hope you feel welcome.

Garavachitta

Shantiketu's picture

Hi Mike.

I’ve only just had a chance to read your comments. I can only imagine what it must be like to be on the wrong side of a mob since (so far at least) I’ve never found myself in that position. It must have been extremely scary for you and I can see why you felt the phrase ‘superficial narratives’ made light of your very real experience. I’m sure that wasn’t Viveka’s intention – but still, it’s another reminder that we all need to choose our words carefully in this (and indeed every) forum.

Having said that, I’d like to make it clear that I’m fully behind Viveka’s call to practice deep, deep empathy about why there may be such an intense response manifesting in protests across the USA and elsewhere.

akasajoti's picture

I’m not sure if this is the right context for the conversation I’d like to have, partly because I don’t want to be a part of directing this post and thread away from it’s intended purpose, and partly, I’m not sure about about the medium of a threaded post for sensitive dialogue. But, I’m going to try as I’m not sure of a more appropriate alternative…

Personally, I resonate with what Dharmashalin says: 

Based on my limited knowledge of the topic in hand I’m confronted with an immediate and unpleasant fact - I want to know and in fact be told what is right and what I should do.  I find arguments and concerns on both ‘sides’ compelling and that undermines my want for simple certainty and the safety that brings.

I experience some understanding of the multiple, and apparently opposing, perspectives here. Partly, at least, that arises from a limited understanding of the whole theme for myself. But as well as limited understanding, it’s also conditioned by a wish for openness to multiplicity and complexity, subtlety of thought, and harmony in our community.

I’m interested in having the meta-discussion, that I think is surfacing here, about compassionate action and socio-political engagement, and it’s boundaries, as a spiritual community; and also about ‘editorial policy’ – particularly how we communicate the diversity of perspectives within our Order and community, and also communicate something of our commonality with clarity, integrity and depth.

I don’t know how best that conversation is to be facilitated, and I don’t think it’s for this thread, but there is a particular question arising for me here and now that I think is a part of it.

Garavachitta, you suggest that The Buddhist Centre Online could ‘either recognise that contentious political articles have no place on its public pages, or it could undertake to publish articles balancing those views’; and Advayachitta, you write that ‘a dharmic approach must include consideration of appropriate levels of evidence, not just highly selected evidence, and not just from one point of view.’

The particular question that arises for me is to ask what either of you, or anyone else with a different view, would write, not in response to Viveka’s post but in response to the issues and events she is speaking to from her perspective, from your perspective? 

I suppose I don’t think that the way to ’communicate the diversity of perspectives within the Order and community, and also communicate something of our commonality with clarity, integrity and depth’, is only to refute one another’s responses to any particular issue. (Though, I also appreciate critique as necessary and valuable). I want to hear a diversity of voices speak for themselves, in their own terms. 

Quoting Dharmashalin again,

Could it not be said that issues that are too political are exactly the kind of issues that we need to bring wisdom and compassion to bear upon? At least in the UK and the States this is having a big impact on people’s lives and mental states and if we as Dharma practitioners and teachers don’t engage with it at all that seems weird and undermines a truth that the Dharma is a response to the world in its wholeness.

Advayacitta, you agreed that ‘the issue of racism, as well as other forms of hateful prejudice, are indeed ‘the kind of issues that we need to bring wisdom and compassion to bear upon’. I’d like to read what you (or Ratnaguna, or Garavachitta), would say in the conditions of the world at present, if you were to publish a post here on the public-facing window of Triratna’s web presence, to those suffering from ‘the issue of racism, as well as other forms of hateful prejudice’.

As I sit here writing this, what comes to mind, is the line in Sangharakshita’s poem, The Bodhisattva’s Reply: ‘what will you say to them?’. Maybe that’s the heart of my question really - what will you say to them?

What will you say to those
Whose lives spring up between
Custom and circumstance
As weeds between wet stones,
Whose lives corruptly flower
Warped from the beautiful…
What will you say to them?

with metta,
Akasajoti

garavachitta's picture

Good morning Akasajoti,

Thank you for your post. I found it very well expressed and thought it had quite a lot of nuance and sensitivity.

I really liked this part.

I’m interested in having the meta-discussion, that I think is surfacing here, about compassionate action and socio-political engagement, and it’s boundaries, as a spiritual community; and also about ‘editorial policy’ – particularly how we communicate the diversity of perspectives within our Order and community, and also communicate something of our commonality with clarity, integrity and depth.

I would really like this to happen too. At the moment I don’t think it is happening. This was really the motivation behind my posts, and I am also grateful to Viveka for making her post as it brought these issues more clearly out into the open.

I think overall in the Order there is very little communicated reflection on how our socio-political views of all persuasions grow out of the precepts and our desire for compassion and wisdom, from either the more conservative positions (like my own) or the more left/leaning radical ones that Viveka would appear to express in her article. 

It seems to me that we have a tendency to see our political values as identical with the precepts. This is not a good thing as it has a tendency to make us uncritically worldly and tends to facillitate us falling easily into polarised positions.

The particular question that arises for me is to ask what either of you, or anyone else with a different view, would write, not in response to Viveka’s post but in response to the issues and events she is speaking to from her perspective, from your perspective? 

I have thought about this in more general terms. I am currently trying to write a piece for the Order on how social conservative values are a very good match for the precepts, more so in my opinion than left/radical values. This is quite a big undertaking (and to be honest I’m not sure I’m up to it intellectually/emotionally.spiritually). It would need to be rigorous enough to be convincing, but not so abstract it put people off reading it. I hope I have the courage to try. Gulp.

What I would really like, if I managed to pull it off, would be the BCO to publish an interview with me about it and put it on the front page. This would give me a lot more confidence in the BCO as an institution. At the moment I find the site very alienating, because of what I see as its unreflective (or even having skim read the BCOs post below ‘calculated’) bias. This would go some way to meeting your desire that:

I want to hear a diversity of voices speak for themselves, in their own terms.

You have also said you would like to hear what I would say to the oppressed black people in America who experience police violence. To be honest I am not convinced that the BCO would publish it.

In the current discourse around the riots and protests, there is little place in the mainstream media for voices that as well as sympathise with the protestors call them to higher levels of self-responsibility, and deeper consideration of the consequences of their actions,and place them in a spiritual or religious context. That is what we always aspire to in our own community in situations of conflict. It is a truly wonderful thing I think, though incredibly difficult, and it is to my mind our main gift to the world. We should offer them the dharma in a way that is as sympathetic as possible and as challenging as possible.

One step towards this could be supporting and encouraging the USA’s  black community to turn towards its own leadership that has values similar to ours in their churches. The Christian values of forgiveness, patience and non-violence. There are many, many examples of extraordinary acts of forgiveness and non violence by black American victims. They are a profound inspiration to me, and my aspiration is to one day become a good enough person to become more like them.

i would also tell them the story of our brothers and sisters among the Dalits in India and how the dharma is helping them come out of their historic oppression under the caste system. I would encourage them to try and find a leader like Dr Ambedkar. I have just done some brief, and superficial, research on the amount of violence perpetrated by the Dalits, and am struck by how non-violent their resistance has been in a culture which looks to be at least as dangerous and violent as the USA’s, if not more.

But again my point is would be this be published? And where would it be published? Would this be permitted on the front pages of the Buddhist Centre Online?

If the BCO are up for it I will write an article offering a Dharmic perspective on the situation in the USA which would balance Viveka’s and hopefully bring an alternative view emphasising more the Buddha’s teachings on non-violence, and the work of forgiveness in our own hearts.

A final practical point. I would like the themes in this thread to be more directly available through the Order feeds at the BCO

Is there a way to copy this thread over, or start a new one which would then include the comments and Viveka’s article? If I remember from some of your previous comments you are quite tech savy. Could you, or anyone else, help me with this?

Garavachitta

JulieR's picture

it’s worth pointing out that the majority of the protests have been peaceful and have held periods of silence for those they are honouring. You have only focussed on the violent aspects of some protests, which of course have been widely reported in the media and your expectations that the protests should all be peaceful and happen to a standard you would expect of Buddhists even though those protesting aren’t Buddhists.

The trouble with a socially conservative viewpoint is that society as it is is expected to be accepted and to not ever change or be protested against. So no black civil rights movement, gay rights, gay marriage, equal rights for women, votes for women or equal pay, no protests against Wars, etc. Just keeping the status quo. As mentioned by others, Sangharakshita challenged the status quo. 

The black churches in the U.S. do of course have strong leaders but I question why you expect black people especially those who are poor and subsisting to be victims and constantly forgiving and non-violent in a social and legal system that is rigged against them. Perhaps read up on the militarisation of the police force since the Reagan years and the increasing reliance on incarceration as a method of control of those with mental ill health or addiction and also the lack of a welfare safety net to catch those not able to look after themselves. 

. Advocating self and community responsibility is fine but that can only happen when people have some kind of familial and societal support and most importantly - financial backup. Having compassion and metta for people is key, rather than judging them to a high standard. 

akasajoti's picture

Hi again Garavachitta,

It’s been on my mind a number of times in the last days that I haven’t yet replied to this response, which didn’t do justice to my appreciation of it, which I have spoken of to others in conversations in that time. 

I appreciate hearing you speak of your attempts to articulate how social conservatism can be an expression of the precepts, which I hope you do manage to write up, and which I would read with interest; and I appreciate your valuing of self-responsibility, the inner work of forgiveness, the practice of ksanti, the principle of non-violence. I agree that the Dharma ought be both sensitive and challenging and think that articulating these dimensions of a Dharmic response can only enrich our understanding and practice of what a deeply compassionate responsiveness to the world looks like. 

The conversation has moved on a long way, and my own energy for engagement with it, for now, has been diverted into considering how I can support the meta-discussions I characterised in my original post in my work for the International Council, and in the involvement I have with ‘communications’ in the movement. I will think more about what you say here, and in some of the points you raise in your open letter to the order, in relation to this work.

My own thoughts in the last days have also brought me to consider that for me personally, to engage with the meta-discussion is only a partial response. I also want to ask myself, how I, and we as a spiritual community, bring wisdom and compassion to bear on addressing racism, as well as other forms of hateful prejudice, and the visceral embodied suffering people face as a consequence, and I want to answer for myself the question I posed: what will I say to them?

I hope that you fare well in your engagement in this conversation, that you find ways to communicate what is of value, and what you wish to protect and uphold in our Order and community. May there be listening and learning for everyone. It’s been meaningful to me to meet you on these pages, in this conversation.

with metta,
Akasajoti

Centre Team's picture

A response to criticism of editorial policy at The Buddhist Centre Online, concerning our featuring of reflections on racism and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Dear Friends,

Thanks for sending on your concerns about editorial process arising from our publication of Viveka’s post reflecting on racism and James Baldwin.

I’ve already referred your complaints to our editorial team for discussion, and will report back any findings. 

I expect you’re not alone in wondering why we decided to invite reflection on what – I think it’s fair to say – are global considerations and questionings around racism and its effect on our societies. Here are some thoughts, which I’m sure are debatable! I’d be happy, in fact, if our involvement online provokes and promotes constructive conversation around the issues it relates to. That would be a start perhaps towards positive change in our own community with regards to diversity of various kinds, the promotion of which is a current adopted strategic priority of the European Chairs’ Assembly, as it has been in recent years at the Triratna International Council.

As a starting point, I’ll touch on general editorial principles and process on the site.

Editorial process
As an editorial team we try to ensure in our public posts that the primary focus of any piece firmly roots the issues being discussed in the context of the Dharma – rather than just in a particular political stance – since that is the basis for our community. Indeed, our coverage often references events and discussion within Triratna looking at the Dharmic implications of, and possible responses to, any area that is of widespread concern to many people in our community. The most generally contentious of these in recent years would probably be Triratna’s past and Sangharakshita’s sexual history; climate change; sexual identity (“Pride” and gender diversity); and race. The fact that we have such contention is in itself, I think, worth talking about.

How do we know something is of concern? Well, first we pay attention a lot to the great stream of content from friends, Mitras and Order members on the web generally, where active concern about racism and genuine diversity in our community features as a regular topic of interest. Given the times on both sides of the Atlantic, that should hardly be a surprise today, whatever one’s views are about it!

Most importantly however, the team at The Buddhist Centre Online attends an annual cycle of local, regional, national and international gatherings within Triratna (eg. the European Chairs’ Assembly, Order Conventions around the world, and the International Council) designed to help promote a joined-up sense of who we are as a global community. We also organise and take part in weekly and monthly conversations online amongst teams of folk who work for various Triratna institutions (from individual Buddhist Centres to funding bodies to the College of Public Preceptors). 

We do all this precisely to make sure that, as far as possible, the content on The Buddhist Centre Online reflects areas of consistent focussed interest across the Order and community, and adequately attends to our collective culture and the shared priorities that arise within it (insofar as that is actually possible in such a broad community). We have an editorial board (looking at the level of editorial principle) and a working kula (looking at day to day issues that arise) to help us out when needed. The team here also has a set of trustees standing with us; and a wide range of other relationships with members of the Order whose work and practice informs what kind of content finds a home on the site.

It’s abundantly clear from our participation in these events, gatherings and meetings that societal-level concern about racial – and other forms of – diversity is a strong focus within Triratna, as one might expect. Therefore, we make sure it’s covered in our own work, and that people and institutions focussing on this area have the space and support they need to address it online.

I’d argue strongly that Viveka’s article - explicitly framed as a personal, reflective piece - meets all the criteria to be considered valid here and is consistent with Dharma tradition. She gives clear voice to the issues of suffering as she sees them and asks for an empathetic response that leads to action, whatever that looks like for us. It’s a good question to be asked: where does our energy go in response?

I did a thought experiment myself when I read it, trying to assess with an editorial eye whether it was good to post. I replaced every instance of “black”, “black people”, “black lives”, etc. with “Dalit”, “Ex-Untouchables”, “Indian Buddhists”. I also substituted references to “race” and “racism” with references to “caste” and “caste discrimination”. And reference to “America” with “India”. My own conclusion was that if this piece was about our Indian sangha’s ongoing struggle in the context of caste and active oppression in their country, people wouldn’t bat an eyelid! It would be a normalised part of our internal discourse, and there is no history in Triratna of Order members publicly challenging the validity of public discourse about the experience of suffering attested to by our Dalit friends. The fact that this isn’t so well established in Triratna around discourse about the experience of race and racism when it comes to non-Indian people of colour is, to say the least, of note.

We are very happy to facilitate a site where harmonious disagreement can also find a place as part of the broad exemplification of community online; but we don’t have the resources to represent every point of view with equal attention, nor do we feel that would even be appropriate. This is not to say we’d never consider a piece that represents a controversial dissenting point of view about diversity or anything else; but we’re not primarily interested in controversy itself, so it being dissenting, contrary or provocative wouldn’t be a good enough reason on its own to commission a story. 

We’d encourage anyone who wants to make a different case from the one advanced in any piece they read from us online to get involved with their local/regional/national/international Dharma contexts and see if their perspective and experience is shared widely enough to indicate a need for more focussed attention within our community; and from our team when we are thinking about what content best represents Triratna to the world.

Taking part in marking conversations about racism and positive diversity online
In my consistent experience as an Order member, issues around community representation and diversity are often in the air: both around my work as Director of The Buddhist Centre Online, and as someone who helps run a Buddhist Center in my home town. I have felt critical in the past of how the discussion around race and diversity has been handled in some Buddhist contexts (especially when I’ve perceived a lack of any explicitly acknowledged, shared Dharmic perspective). Then again, we have to start the conversations somehow, and those conversations don’t need to be perfect. It still seems abundantly clear to me that this is something that needs to be addressed within Triratna internationally. 

In fact, it comes up regularly as a big talking point at the the International Council and The European Chairs’ Assembly – how exactly can we (as a Movement) help address the fact that in general (with notable exceptions) Triratna in the West has a poor record when it comes to participation from non-white communities and (in most cases) wider LBGTQI communities? Over 50 years into our history, we are still a predominantly middle class, white sangha. And despite years of sincere attempts to understand and address this, not much general progress has been made; certainly nothing comparable to that made around attracting young people to engage with our community (a previously identified strategic priority across most of our institutions). 

This is a serious cultural issue for us, I think, and one it seems (from discussions online this past week) most Buddhist communities are also facing in line with the rest of Western society. It actively diminishes our potential to make a positive impact in the world. We don’t seem like a viable alternative context for far too many people. In that light, and in line with the strategic priority adopted by Triratna institutions, starting with Buddhist Action Month we are intending to continue addressing the current awareness of issues around race in a more focussed way over the next weeks and months. 

One of the common criticisms of content around contentious issues on The Buddhist Centre Online is that by being “political” we are taking part in a partial exemplification of the Order itself. This is, from a certain point of view, ungainsayable! By definition we cannot offer a public platform to every Order member, every variation on view, or every dissenting voice on a given matter (see above for how we try our best to do a good job nonetheless of reflecting a broad community). 

A more serious, and I think valid, question is whether engaging with politically relevant issues is evidence that at the heart of our editorial perspective there is simply an unconscious, undigested adoption of what are usually characterized as “liberal, left-leaning views”. And whether this, in turn, means an undermining of the whole basis of Buddhist practice, which is the cultivation of ‘Right View’. As the editor of a small Buddhist platform with a wide reach in our community, and to a lesser degree beyond, I take that point seriously. 

In this case, I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize Viveka’s reflections as merely “political” in a pejorative sense. Unless by “political” you mean genuinely ‘of the polis’, the people organised in communties: involved with the welfare of those people and, all too often, the suffering of those people. In that sense it could be spoken of as political only in the way the Buddha’s discourses on the society of his day might be said to have been. I accept there are perfectly valid differing views possible around how careful we need to be here; but the idea that we shouldn’t engage at all with the political in the best sense, strikes me as anathema to the Dharma itself. If we want to be relevant at all in people’s lives, we should go and meet them where they are – in their lives, struggling, suffering, seeking new perspectives on how they experience the oppressions of samsara. To do so is not to surrender to the extremes of any discourse we bump up against; nor to indicate all Order members agree around these things; nor to cede the ground of ‘Right View’ itself.

As a parallel, when discriminatory laws around LGBTQI issues were being challenged and eventually changed in some countries (only a few short years ago!), we started marking Pride annually on The Buddhist Centre Online. This was initially to show support of the movement to legalise gay marriage. At the time, we received expressed concerns, similar to your own today, about the appropriateness of this on a Buddhist website. Our point then was that such laws fundamentally reduce one class of human beings to an “interest group”, whose welfare and rights are subject to the whims of the dominant classes in the society in which all take part. As the site editor, I stand by that assessment in the current context too. 

I’d argue that to deny this is to be blind both to history and to easily verifiable evidence about how human societies still tend to work. Power and its application is an underlying problem. Any change that meets this problem in a spirit of genuine love is at least not part of the problem (long term solutions is another matter, perhaps). Abuse of power of the sort exemplified by homophobia or racism is, as I suggest above, no different from the caste system in India, and as such seems grossly unfair by any reasonable ethical standard. I suspect that basic sense of injustice is why so many people in Triratna (in the Order, in our institutions, and in the wider community) cared about the issue of gay marriage, even while marriage is not one of our Buddhist ideals or institutions. And why I think most people would recognise the need to speak up in some way about racism now at a moment when there is widespread heightened awareness of the issue.

To be clear, removing this kind of content and discussion from Triratna’s website would not be neutral. Remaining silent would not be neutral (or be likely to be perceived as empathetic by others). Any principled refusal to acknowledge our implicit relationship with the rest of the world – with the culture we take part in and are seeking to influence with the Dharma – would not be neutral. And in witnessing expressed experiences of suffering from within our own community, setting aside the opportunity to speak clearly and meaningfully in response is definitely not neutral. Viveka’s piece does not need to meet everyone’s sense of values to have value of its own.

On “identity”
There is much can be said about the dangers – from a Buddhist perspective – of too much emphasis on “identity politics” (on identity in general!). And I would agree with anyone holding to a clear principle that the emphasis for Triratna online remains focussed as much as possible on the Buddha’s teaching. I’d say even a cursory glance at the wealth of public-facing Dharma on The Buddhist Centre Online indicates we aren’t in any danger at present of losing touch with that when it comes to assessing what appropriate emphasis looks like. (If you are logged in, open a private or incognito window and reload the Community page to see only public-facing content. Scroll back a month or two to get a broad sampling.)

It can also be the case that in only emphasising the “ideal” when it comes to assessing what is and is not appropriate on a Buddhist site (or when considering issues around “identity”) we can effectively stifle both helpful debate and recognition of our own weaknesses as a community. At the very least we risk dictating that people in an active experience of suffering are silenced because it does not suit our own sense of holding to the ideal. Then it is no longer about the mere abstract consideration of principles when deciding how we conceive of Buddhist practice, it represents a moral issue in itself.

It’s unsurprising, I think, that the change of view represented by the present awareness around systemic racism – and by subsequent calls to action of body, heart and mind – might causes waves of discomfort. Many kinds of institutions in society are only just starting to grapple with these same issues. It will take time, for sure. As I said, in Triratna we have done much to address participation of young people within our sangha, but I’d say still relatively little to address explicitly other areas concerning diversity, particularly racial diversity. That is surely a great opportunity for us as we look to encourage an ever-widening circle of people to engage with the Dharma – whoever they are, however they choose to love, whatever they happen to look like.

More pragmatically, last month over 70,000 users visited The Buddhist Centre Online and our attendant social media spaces. They are, by definition, mostly not Triratna Buddhists, nor are they probably Buddhist at all. But they are interested – both in what the Dharma is and in who we are as a community. Featuring Viveka’s article is a small but unambiguous and immediate expression of solidarity with a large group in society who have been, and still are, discriminated against around the world. In that sense you could argue it’s in some relationship to a radical tradition in contemporary Buddhism where silence in the face of worldly oppressions is neither neutral, nor an effective expression of our ideals as Buddhists. Since Buddhism came to the West, there are many who have (like the Buddha, like Sangharakshita) more often than not questioned the status quo in society. Was Sangharakshita being political, partisan, too liberal, or illiberal when he challenged the validity of nuclear weapons and their general acceptance as a condition for stable society?

Of course, merely including pieces like Viveka’s does not make us diverse, nor does my response obviate the dangers of a too-worldly discourse, which latter concern perhaps prompted your criticisms. However, anyone visiting the site and our social media spaces this week will at least correctly assume that as a community we aspire to welcome unambiguously people of all races (which is still pretty unusual as religious organisations go), and that the Dharma makes no doctrinal case for discrimination. 

That much may well be obvious to people inside our community and seem like it doesn’t need saying. I’d argue that our public face has to be much more explicit about it wherever possible. From this basis we can then, I hope, go on to explore issues in Triratna around diversity, identity, and received culture – and look at how the Dharma commends the spiritual virtue of seeking to move beyond such things as a reliable refuge.

I’ll let my friend Suddhayu (Chair here at our little Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire) round off this reply. He wrote this (specifically addressing the question of gay marriage and Buddhism) on our Center’s Facebook page a couple of years ago when the law (finally) changed here in America to allow gay people to wed:

One of the conditions for effective Dharma practice is a stable and supportive society. Although laws do not end discrimination and violence in the minds and actions of all individuals, they do offer social protection and the possibility of justice to those who would be discriminated against. Although from a Buddhist perspective, marriage is not the most profound union, we recognize its importance in the structure of the society we live in. More importantly, we recognize the value and potential in every individual to become kinder, more mindful, and wiser. Marriage equality is an indication of positive social change, and of greater empathy, that will benefit us all.

I’d argue that facing up to structural and systemic racism in the ways we organise our societies as human beings would also be such a supportive condition for the arising of “greater empathy”. It’s in this kind of accepting, open, practical, inquiring, compassionate, idealistic and kindly spirit that we choose to signal our alliance with black people – with all people concerned about justice – on Triratna’s website this month and, I hope, every month. Standing with those suffering is perhaps the greatest encouragement of all, even when we can’t and don’t know how to fix it. Everyone should see us and know at a glance that in our community they might find meaningful friendship and care.

With metta,

Candradasa
Director, The Buddhist Centre Online

JulieR's picture

Thank you so much for this Candradasa. I have been thinking about substituting every mention of ‘Black People’ with ‘Dalits’ or ‘Caste system’ and talking about opposing inequality within India through the Karuna trust and the many Triratna Buddhist centres there helping to liberate people from the caste system. You have expressed it so much more eloquently than I could. 

I actively looked for a response on the situation in the U.S. from the Buddhist Centre online before found this piece by Viveka as thought it would be strange not to respond, especially as this is Buddhist Action month.

Triratna in the West is an overwhelmingly white organisation and I often wonder what that looks like for black people coming to the Centres for the first time and how that feels. I’m aware LBC runs classes and retreats for people of colour and agree with you  Candradasa that  Triratna needs to be more explicit in its welcoming people of all races. 

Advayacitta's picture

Hi Candradasa

Please reflect closely on the post above, in response to Viveka’s article:

“I’m new to Triratna, and Buddhism. Bit shocked by the original post. What did the order member say: Please resist being distracted into superficial narratives about looting

I’ve been on the wrong side of a mob, and the police were not going to help me. Not good, the mob is alway wrong and really dangerous. I don’t think this woman, Viveka, lives in the real world.

Glad to see that some Buddhists stand up to identity bullies!”

Do you realise that people who do not agree with identity politics, or the dominant left-wing narrative that so often includes it, can feel uneasy and unwelcome in our movement? I would like you to reflect upon that.

Actually, the emphasis on racism stimulated my memory of my childhood friend George, one of the few black people around in an area of east London in the 60s where the population was almost all white. It was an education witnessing the racism that his presence triggered. I remember particularly when he turned up for the first time at the cycling club to which I belonged – the hateful discussion of him, full of bigoted stereotypes. Quite a large section of the club members left it after he joined.

I asked myself, what behaviour have I witnessed more recently, that parallels what I witnessed then, and which is as bigoted? The answer to that question is easy – behaviour coming from many people on the ‘left’, especially those into identity politics, when someone disagrees with them. Out they come with bigoted stereotypes, like calling someone ‘far right’, and away they walk from interaction.

So I consider that the people who actually most need to examine their own personal bias are people who hold such ‘left-wing’ and identity politics views.

The bigotry and systemic discrimination of identity politics cause serious harm, against the unfavoured groups. For example, here is part of a newspaper article from 2018:

‘Britain’s education system is failing to tackle the “astonishing” underperformance of boys as feminists have made the topic “taboo”, the former head of the university admissions service has warned.

Mary Curnock Cook, who was chief executive of Ucas until last year, said the fact that boys are falling behind in education is a national scandal – yet it is such an “unfashionable” topic to discuss that it has become “normalised”.

Girls outperform boys in all aspects of education, from primary school to GCSEs and A-level results. Last year, 57 per cent of women went to university compared to 43 per cent of men, a gap that has widened significantly over the last decade.

“I just find it unacceptable to think that it’s OK to let boys fall further and further behind in education and allow the gap to get bigger,” Ms Curnock Cook said.

“Boys underachieving in education is becoming pretty normalised - everyone knows it yet no one is doing anything about it.” She said that other disparities in education – such as the gulf between rich and poor children – are narrowing, but the gap between boys and girls is getting wider.

 “In about ten years’ time the gap between boys and girls will be worse than rich and poor. That is astonishing really.”’

I could continue, for example in how the politically correct system has relegated much of the white English working class to third class status, their needs dismissed.  Thus the systemic sexism and racism that was in operation when so many thousands of working class white girls (as well as others, such as Sikh girls) were exploited and damaged by what are euphemistically called ‘Asian grooming gangs’, with full knowledge of local authorities, police and government. How do you think those girls and their families feel, when progressives go on and on about needing to address white racism?

Identity politics involves significant double standards, sentimentality and prejudice, and it causes serious systemic harm.  It has no place within the Order.

Dayamudra Dennehy's picture

Julie- The San Francisco Buddhist Center has been very responsive in this moment. And a few of us are having conversations, behind the scenes, about anti-racist Dharma study.

You are right that Buddhism in the West, particularly our movement, is very white. You can read on this thread how much resistance there is to committing to anti-racism. But a new generation is leading the way and I am here for it.

We have so much work to do. And resistance to this work is an indication of just how much there is to be done. Joyful work.

Kamalanandi's picture

nice one Candradasa, you fill me with confidence xxx

Padmadharini's picture

I don’t think this woman, Viveka, lives in the real world.

Firstly, Viveka is a senior Order Member, Preceptor and valued teacher and leader in our community.  She cannot be reduced to “this woman”. 

And just to say that as a white working class, queer woman, who grew up with plenty of oppression, I want to support us returning to Viveka’s letter and the issue at hand.  

I read Viveka’s letter not as a left-wing, liberal rant, but the words of a concerned woman of color, who I know feels deeply for and is speaking on behalf of friends and colleagues in these minority communities, of which she belongs. A woman who has copious compassion and care, and has indeed educated herself on the topic to which she speaks.  

Padmadharini   

JulieR's picture

Yes Dayamudra I agree that resistance on here amongst Buddhists, Order members especially, who do not appear to want to reflect on their own views on race and how they came to hold them or show compassion shows that there is a long way ahead . I’m in the UK and glad that Buddhist centres in the US are responding and leading the way. 

Khasanti's picture

Thank you, Viveka. I was very moved by your conversation with Paramananda, and I appreciate this clear and heartfelt appeal to us for witnessing and empathy.

Shraddhajit's picture


Well said, Candradasa. Thank you. Viveka gave a great talk on similar issues a few years ago at an international gathering. Naively I brought it up with my friends in the Order as a discussion point, hoping to raise some awareness of this issue at my local Buddhist Centre. The immediate response was ”it was not Dharmic” and the conversation moved on to other things. I am glad you brought up the parallel of our attitude towards the Dalits. If we applied the same principle here we would not have a problem with racial diversity at our Centres. Perhaps it is easier when they are THERE and we are here. The old missionaries applied the same rule!

Jnanasiddhi's picture

Thank you for this contribution Viveka, and for your kind invitation to us to look deeper, always a Buddhist practice I feel. As someone who has felt the apparently contradictory tugs of working for change ‘out there’ and change ‘in here’, I was very struck by Sangharakshita in ‘Transforming Self and World’, “We have had enough of political, social and economic arrangements that do not allow people,a,decent human life….The transformation of the self AND the world is what the Buddhist way of life is all  about”. (My capitals).  That I can put myself behind, no contradiction at all, do both! 

I now work in the world of peace education and find it interesting to find similar apparent dichotomies around me: from those who see clearly the overwhelming need to emphasise individual’s ability to practise peace, summed up by the phrase ‘peace starts within’ to peace activists call that ‘there is no peace without justice’ and all the work is needed at the level of issues. Following the example of transforming self and world, it’s clear to me we need both. On an individual level,we can all cause pain and harm and need to look within to how our words and actions build peace, and on a societal level there is much we need to change to have a just and more equitable world that allows for decent lives. As a Buddhist practitioner I feel called to both. 

Making sure black lives matter, to us not only as as individuals, but to the societies we live in, the educational establishments we rely on to educate our young people, and the peace keepers we entrust our safety to (a few of many examples) is a transformation much needed and worth working for. 
 

Paramachitta's picture

Thank you viveka,

I really enjoyed listening in on your conversation with Paramananda and felt with you, especially now, with  all that is transpiring across the world.  I rejoice in your courage and willingness to show yourself and share your experience with us. 

pasannamati's picture

Thank you for your reflections Viveka – and I am grateful to BCO for posting it, as an expression of solidarity to all who are affected by what has been happening. I feel it is important for our community to have a presence in this dialogue. 

I have been deeply saddened hearing these continuing stories of black lives being taken and I have been more deeply hearing and feeling into the underlying thread of racism that continues to impact on BIPOC communities - in the US, here where I live in the UK, through caste distinctions in India (I was heartened to see the response of our community in Nagpur) and elsewhere in the world.

I can’t hope to transform myself or the world without looking deeply at my own conditioning and what prejudice I hold because of my views. I want to be able to step beyond my politics, to sit with my discomfort and uncertainty about how we join together and change this. I want to be able to stand more consciously and consistently alongside my BIPOC friends, my community and all beyond and to say that black lives do matter – to recognise and dismantle the privilege that my whiteness gives me and, in giving it to me, takes away from others – creating fear, hatred, oppression and “other”. As such, I found your questions very helpful and commit to doing that work.

May this be a way for me to stand with those suffering and open to their struggle with a more compassionate heart.

With metta,

Pasannamati

Danajoti's picture

Thank you Viveka for sharing this.  I too appreciate this opportunity for reflection. I am married to a black man who has had different experiences to me with the UK police, one of which we laugh about but has serious undertones. .When he was a student, he walked out of a city centre car park to be approached by 2 police officers, one of whom asked with great suspicion what he was doing in the carpark. He unzipped his jacket to show them his car park uniform! There are other incidences where the police have stopped him asked what he was doing what was in his bag etc. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. But I am prepared to bet that every person of colour I know can tell me when their ethnicity was used against them to make them feel uncomfortable.

In particular I really resonate with this statement you made.

“This is a moral call and action and a call I resonate with as a dharma practitioner rooted in the first precept of non-violence and love.”

This is why I am taking a knee tomorrow in a static socially distanced protest alongside my Preceptor.

shunyamala's picture

I had a heartfelt response of appreciation for Viveka after reading her letter to our sangha and once again after seeing it published here for our worldwide order.  It is evident that there is a need for empathetic and open hearted response to the anger erupting throughout our country over historical and current injustice.  This cry for change is happening in every community large or small and cannot be ignored.  The people showing up for our classes in San Francisco are holding anxiety to a degree I cannot remember seeing in the past 25 years and not to respond would feel shallow and coldly separate from the world evolving around us.


These protests are asking all of us to engage, to listen, and to be responsible for our own learning in realizing what has brought us here after hundreds of years of discrimination and oppression toward people of color.  And these protests are effecting positive change, let’s hope it is sustainable.  Police departments across the country are setting new standards of conduct, Municipalities are looking at ways to refocus their programs to better serve the whole community, the presence of public symbols of racism from years ago are being rejected, and businesses across a wide spectrum are re-examining how they conduct their operations.  

In short, change is happening before our eyes!   Do we, as spiritual leaders in our communities, really want to have a tepid response to a changing society that is finally realizing that we are all connected, we are responsible for our actions, and that all people deserve to be treated equal?


I feel extremely grateful to be part of a sangha that is turning toward what is uncomfortable, turning toward the experience of suffering and pain and injustice, and finding ways to respond with compassion and understanding, to as James Baldwin so poignantly writes, “to hold each other”.   
 

Dhivan Thomas Jones's picture

Thanks Viveka for your post and for inviting us to listen to your discussion with Paramananda. Those words from Baldwin – ‘the world is always changing / the light is always shifting’ – resonate even more strongly given the world-wide response to the death of George Floyd. What you two say in your podcast reminds me of the way that in early Buddhist accounts of awakening, there is a merging of affective and cognitive dimensions of insight – what we understand, we feel; what we feel, we know. When I saw the video of George Floyd being killed, I felt a pain that connected with knowing about the long historical of injustice towards black people in the US and beyond. When I saw news items of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, I felt a relief connected with the knowledge that this was a long overdue act of recognition of the long shadow of the slave trade. For me, Buddhist thought and practice is connected with overcoming the deep prejudices and cultural constructions that keep people from being able to fully develop as individuals. For me, a Buddhist response to the Black Lives Matter campaign would be a direct parallel to Dr Ambedkar’s Dhamma Revolution, which itself draws inspiration from the Buddha’s rejection of caste prejudice even in his time long ago. I want to be part of a Sangha that welcomes everyone who goes for refuge to the Buddha, putting aside differences to find common ground and a larger sense of community. Sadhu to change-makers and light-shifters, and the deep unifying power of poetry.

Taravandana's picture

Thank you Dhivan

i resonate with what you have written here and especailly about wanting to  be part of a sangha that welcomes everyone who goes for refuge to the Three Jewels, putting aside differences to find commeon ground nd a larger sense of community.

Dear Viveka,

Many thanks for posting this article and for your conversations with Paramananda that i found moving and heart warming.

 After reading through most of the thread I don’t know where to begin in responding to all  contributions here about racism, Black LIves Matter and what its appropriate or not for us to explore here as Dharma Practitioners.

What i can say is that I want to keep working on my mind and heart so that  eventually I’ll be  able to respond to every one whoever they are   with kindness and an open heart, wisdom and compassion

And as Akasajyoti said:

“My own thoughts in the last days have also brought me to consider that for me personally, to engage with the meta-discussion is only a partial response. I also want to ask myself, how I, and we as a spiritual community, bring wisdom and compassion to bear on addressing racism, as well as other forms of hateful prejudice, and the visceral embodied suffering people face as a consequence, and I want to answer for myself the question I posed: what will I say to them?

I agree with Vishvapani that  i think its important we are having these challenging conversations here, important to for our community and its capacity to hold difference and to us individually to help us keep going beyond the limited perspectives of self centred world views.

Love Taravandana

Dayamudra Dennehy's picture

I am very grateful to Viveka for this letter and to Viveka, Paramananada, and Candradasa for this thoughtful conversation.

This moment in our country, the US, is one of awakening from a great slumber. It is a moment for us to pause. To listen. To bring empathy to what we see and what we hear. We are Buddhists meeting the suffering of the world with our practice. Our African American community is suffering. I am heartened by the young people in the streets leading the call that all citizens enjoy the right to be happy, well, and free of suffering. In our city of San Francisco alone, one 17-year old young woman, Simone Jacques, led a protest of over 10,000 people.

The young Dalit Buddhists I work with in India are very heartened by these gatherings for equal citizenship and racial justice. Dalits are killed on a weekly basis in police custody, but the community is afraid to protest. There are regular brutal atrocities against caste-oppressed communities. Those with caste privilege certainly never publicly protest to share in the Dalit community’s sense of outrage and fear. My young Dalit friends look at these Black Lives Matter protests with curiosity and they are encouraged. It gives them hope.

As for “looting” in the US, that word itself goes back to our shared brutal colonial history. I have learned that  “loot” is a Hindi word with Sanskritic origins and entered the language in colonial India. South Asian historian Vazira Zamindar points out that one of its initial usages was to define as rapists and looters those who were involved in the first rebellion against the East India Company in 1857. Our country has a long history of looting; looting Black bodies, looting indigenous land, looting housing markets, looting the transfer of wealth.

For those who see this meeting of the world’s suffering as “political”, I pose that everything is political. Taking an “apolitical” stand is in itself a political act, and one rooted in privilege. I challenge my fellow white Buddhists to pause. To listen. Stop reacting. Let’s look at how our own conditioning might be impacting our responses. Let’s bring an empathetic curiosity to what is happening in our streets right now. There is so much we don’t know. This is an opportunity for us to learn.

The Dharma that our teacher Sangharakshita taught us is revolutionary. Bhante spoke of evolving. Of embodying a Boddhisattva Vow, bringing compassion to the suffering of the world. How will we respond in this moment to the cries of the world?

Black Lives Matter.

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Dayajoti's picture

Thank you so much for your post Viveka.  I really appreciate your requests, specific and clear. 

I found the response in Bristol really uplifting.  The toppling of the statue of Colston, but also the next sangha night we had, led by Advayamati.  He spoke very personally, as someone of colour, about how he practices with all this.  I found it really beautiful and moving. 

Then the issue was raised about the lack of racial diversity in the Bristol sangha, and what we can do about that.  There seemed to be a new clarity and resolve amongst us in the sangha about doing what is needed to address this, which I found really heartening.   Hopefully we will follow through with this.

Maybe this has already been said in responses - but I’ve long thought that as dharma practitioners we have something specific to offer here.  We can see our own prejudice, and that of others, as conditioned arising, the fruit of so, so many conditions.  Then perhaps it is easier to acknowledge it and work to dissolve it, without guilt, blaming or shaming.   

Karunagita's picture

I was moved listening to this conversation between Viveka and Paramananda and am looking forward to the series. I also very much appreciate this post and the clear call for empathy and connection as an integral and important aspect of practice and engagement at a Buddhist at this time. Thank you Viveka for your wise and kind voice at this time - much appreciated  

Akuppa's picture

Thank you for your post Viveka. It doesn’t seem an unreasonable thing for a member of our community to draw our attention to an area of suffering in the world, and ask us to look at it. I hope that, amid the clamour of argument, we don’t lose sight of your original and simple requests. 

I note that in none of your requests have you asked us to condone violence, merely to understand the stories of people and communities affected. This is an essential act of peace making, of building community in our societies, rather than deepening division.

Perhaps, as you suggest, we could all take a little time to actually learn the stories and put ourselves in the shoes of those you have mentioned, and their families. And to imagine what it’s like being part of a community who experience racism as, in the words of Barack Obama, tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal.” And to imagine ourselves, if we need to, as someone whose family and ancestry has been on the wrong side of slavery and empire. And to learn deeply from the whole story, and find our own response, appropriate to our own situation. It might actually be a liberating thing to do, whatever our political slant.

Thanks and metta, Akuppa

Kamalanandi's picture

ah Viveka thank you so much for sharing this here. I really appreciate your writing and your appeal to us all to consider how to act. I am sad that some in our Order don’t like what you have said but I am not surprised. Stand strong and know that you are appreciated by me and I find no fault in your words expressed here but rather feel inspired and energised. How nice also to see an Order member make reference to the origins of Pride too! much love, Kamalanandi xxx

Danaraja's picture
Thank you so much for this piece. It was very informative and moving. It has motivated me to educate myself about race and racism. Rather than simply consume the news I was moved to try to understand the position of the protesters. They are obviously hurting. I applaud bringing the world into our space here. If we aren’t engaged in the world then where (and why) are we? My understanding, from our teacher, is that the Buddha taught against caste supremacy, such as in the Assalayana Sutta. Was Bhante not engaged when he supported Ambedkar’s mission to convert dalits to Buddhism and in his radical move to ordain women? I celebrate our Order’s continued refusal to turn away from the world and rather see the lotus pond vision of the Buddha which spurred him to engage in the world, as Bhante exemplified and taught us to do Thank you Viveka and Paramananda Love to all Danaraja
Singhashri's picture

Dear Viveka,

I feel so much gratitude to you, Paramananda and Candradasa for the podcast and for your call for greater empathy, curiosity and understanding as the world faces another deep turning, hopefully towards greater justice for those most oppressed by hundreds of years of systemic racism, both in the US and around the world.

Thank you for your leadership in bringing more awareness to the collective aspect of practice. Reminding us that we are of the world and in the world and that to pretend we are separate from the world is to ignore the most basic and fundamental truth of existence.

When I read your post and listened to the podcast, my heart swelled with love and a knowing of how deeply you feel the impact of state sanctioned violence against Black bodies in every cell of your being, and your bodhisattva vow to support liberation for all who suffer in this world.

I vibrate with you. I am with you. Even across six thousand miles, I feel you.

I believe deeply that no one is free until we are all free. How can I ask others I practice alongside to bring awareness to the breath when I know there are others I share this world with who can’t breathe freely? Who live under the constant threat of racism, and the countless ways it rears its ugly head in almost every facet of public life. If I want to breathe freely and for those I practice alongside to breathe freely, I must commit to supporting a change in this world. Supporting the kinds of change that the Black Lives Matter movement is calling out for, clearly and with great love.

I know what they are asking for because I’ve done my homework. I would ask that anyone who considers themselves a Buddhist within Bhante Sangharakshita’s movement take the time and energy to learn more about this moment, how we’ve arrived here, and what is being asked for by the people at the frontlines of this historic moment.   

It is really quite simple. The chance to breathe freely alongside one another in our humanity and in solidarity with all of life. Justice for those who have been harmed. And a radical change in how we do community.

Black lives matter.

With great love and in solidarity,

Singhashri

Viramati's picture

This comment has been removed by the person who posted it.

Viramati's picture

Thank you Singhashri

Padmadharini's picture

Dear Viveka,

Thank you so much for what you have shared.  I resonate so deeply with your words and what is expressed. I thank you for your courage in bringing this to our attention, and am grateful this is being highlighted on the Buddhist Center. 

I hope that as Buddhists we will naturally respond to your call to empathise deeply with what we are witnessing in the US in these expressions of outrage and commitment to black lives. 

I am glad to read that many of those who responded are educating themselves about the terrible injustices that continue to run deeply through American culture, and indeed globally. I believe this is an essential part of unlearning bias. 

Working in the US as a hospital chaplain, I have seen first hand the devastation experienced by the African-American communities during COVID 19, which has laid bare how discrimination drives health disparities among black people.  There is a mountain of data documenting this. 

I do not believe politics sits outside of our dharma life. Nothing sits outside of our dharma life.  How we face and deal with what is present, including what is happening in our communities, requires the same mindful, kind and wise attention.  I return to the 4 Noble Truths - the Buddha’s call to action.  That we must know suffering; feel suffering; understand suffering.  And that of course includes the suffering of others. So I challenge myself to imagine experiencing fear, and hopelessness and despair.  Imagine what it must feel like to lose a child for no reason, as they begged for their life. 

When I open my heart in this way, I notice that I am inspired and moved to action.  To show up at rallies and make my voice heard; to donate to the good causes; to support all people of color in this movement by letting them know that they are just as important as we are.  To address why we are not more inclusive - and not to be politically correct - but to feel the sadness of that exclusion.  

Thanks again Viveka for all you bring to our movement.  You are blessed and wonderful.

Padmadharini  

ruthlove's picture
Thank you for sharing these deep and beautiful words. So needed in these times. I completely support the posting of this, and think this is totally appropriate.
ruthlove's picture
Also wanted to say, as someone in the tfo process and who is deeply inspired by the representation of the order as avaloktesvra, it feels so clear to me that reaching out to engage with this issue, with becoming antiracist, with black lives matter, with police abolition, is a matter of duty, a matter of heartfelt metta. We can do this without focussing on ‘he kicked me, he beat me’ by offering skills like meditation to those involved, by showing up, doing the work to dismantle our own racism and unconscious biases.
marysalome's picture

Just a quick note, as I’m wedging this in between taking my dog to the vet and a meeting with Red Nation about climate, and I am not a fan of online comments, mine included. I thought it important to say saddhu and thank you Viveka! I’m so pleased to be part of a sangha where awareness and engagement don’t stop at the shrine room door. I appreciate your writing and the podcast with Paramananda.

On a personal note, I’m bi-racial and reading the comments, I have an old feeling of watching mom and dad fight (though they were always in agreement about race). It’s frustrating! It’s hard! But it’s important to communicate about these things, even when some of you are so wrong – I mean even when we disagree. ;)

Continuing with the personal, for all my loved ones who are Black, I must say Black Lives Matter, or I won’t be able to live with myself.

Be well,
Mary

RoseLB's picture
Thank you Viveka. As a GFR mitra I am relieved to see this posted here. (Thank you BCO) And such responses of open willingness to look at how this order relates and responds to suffering. It feels painful to think that unseen power can limit Triratna’s potential in the world. And how we are missing out on more marginalised groups being present with us here. I value listening and an open hearted response in action. The words of Jack Kornfield I find particularly helpful; ” There is no neutral. The basis of the path is acknowledging I have a position”. As a dharma practitioner I have much work to do in spotting my biases. And much to learn from other people’s experiences.
shraddhasiddhi's picture

Dear Viveka,

Thanks so much for your post, and highlighting the pain and suffering that folks of colour all over the world experience every day. Thank you for the call to recognise the pain involved in a racist world and system, and for the call for us to lean in and have empathy, as fellow Buddhist practitioners and human beings.

White people are taught not to talk about racism, because it makes us feel uncomfortable. That’s how I grew up. Well you know what, karmically, fuck that, - I’ll throw off that habit, because life is too short to listen to that nonsense.

When I do manage to do that, and start to talk about race, what do I feel?…uncomfortable!

I realise that I feel very uncomfortable because I hadn’t even clocked that my skin has a colour – imagine that? Why can everyone else see it, but not me? So, I have tried to walk with a sense of the awareness of my colour in the world, and my skin colour is white.

“Whiteness” has been a system that has been indoctrinated within me, with small whispers of tempting little stories such as: “it’s good to be white” and “to be white is to be in power and in control” and “to be white is to the top of the pile” - it tells me all sorts of stories this system that lives within me, and is reinforced all around me.

This system is clearly completely crazy, and based on no reality whatsoever, and yet, all manner of us collude with it, but we’re barely conscious when we do. At least that’s the way it plays with me, I have to listen real close to get more conscious of hearing it, as it usually whispers rather than yells. It’s truly cruel, and unjust, and makes us wretched, this system, and this application of racial superiority as whites which has happened the world over. Of course most of us think it’s other people that do this, and think these things, barely pausing to notice anything that ‘whiteness’ might be whispering to us inside our own heads.

Becoming aware that I wear the emperor’s new clothes of a white skin, is a big wake-up call.

When I have tried to talk with other white people about race, we inevitably end up talking about other things, - how much we’ve suffered in other ways is a big favourite, - but usually we’re deflecting. It is uncomfortable being aware of what white people have done to black people, and other folks of colour the world over. That’s probably why we deflect and can’t keep on topic. It is all very painful, and it causes people of colour great harm, and obviously causes murders and deaths, and has done for centuries. Then there’s the other sibling of whiteness, the colourism that lurks in communities of colour. Sometimes we love to bring up that one, as if that somehow justifies not talking about whiteness…

There’s a lot of pain to turn away from there. But I’ve found that I stand a better chance of not turning away if I sit with who I am, and examine the racist thoughts within me. Then I can be of use, to myself, and to my community. I have found out that when I’m able to own my own colour, then I stand a better chance of getting out of the way of myself, and connecting with folks of colour, with empathy and heart.

Whiteness is even stopping me wanting to post this right now, because it whispers to me: “you can do better”, “what will the other white people think of you?” (notice it doesn’t seem to care what folks of colour might think of this post!) it also whispers: “you have to be perfect and say things perfectly before you post something”. Well, “whiteness” – I see you, and you know what, we human beings, we’re good enough, we don’t have to be held to your standards, I will get around to posting this post!

At this moment of time I dare to hope – that the world is clearly in a process of turning towards racism and trying to look it in the face in a new way. When we do this it is of course uncomfortable, and is ugly and messy, and painful. It has me admitting that I just don’t know, and I best leave some space and shut up, especially when it comes to talking about race, as I’m at the beginning of a journey and that many others have been on this journey for a much longer time than me. I best shut up and listen to folks of colour who clearly have much to say but who “whiteness” has been side-lining for years. Whilst I best shut up and make room for others, I also need to play my part as racism is clearly a white problem. 

Uncomfortable, frightening and tiring though it is to sit in the space of the unknown. When I can, something deeper always comes. Meditation has taught me that. Ethics has taught me right from wrong. And wisdom has taught me that it usually dawns when I least expect it. I pray for wisdom, and the heart for all of us.

May we all be free from the suffering that this odious system brings. But first, we’ll have to wake up to the ways we all collude with it. A truly painful and uncomfortable endeavour.

With love to you, and everything you give, and how you show up in the world. For me, you are an emotionally safe person, a person who owns their stuff, and helps others to do the same. The best kind of person there is. Thank you for leading by example.

Love Shraddhasiddhi (they/them)

Samayasri's picture

I’d like to express deep gratitude to Viveka for her reflections and for sharing her experience and lived knowledge of these issues in an USA context, as a woman of color and as someone working at the cutting edge of many of these issues. Thank you Viveka.

I also want to thank her for her courage for entering into this forum with her reflections.  I hadn’t considered that posting about racial discrimination on Buddhist Centre online would expose her to so much antagonism and it’s been painful to read.  Viveka is not - as one of you called her - “this woman”. She is my sister and your sister and deserving of our respect.

I want to comment on this remark:

Do you realise that people who do not agree with identity politics, or the dominant left-wing narrative that so often includes it, can feel uneasy and unwelcome in our movement? I would like you to reflect upon that.”

And point out that all the evidence, accumulated over many many years, is that our Order (outside India) conversely has been an easy welcoming space for people (indeed I suspect a refuge) for those who prefer to ignore ‘identity’ and the real consequences that discrimination based on race or gender or disability can have on the lived experience of others.  Any of us need only to walk into a Sangha night in the global North or an Order Convention in the UK to see the proof of this tendency with our own eyes - a sea of mostly white people. There is rationale of why this is so in rural or largely white population areas or countries - but it is also true of us in London, Birmingham, New York, etc etc, etc.  As I trust we all agree the dharma is equally transformational and relevant for all - one can only assume that it’s us and how we show up and the views we hold - not the dharma - that is creating barriers to more diversity and inclusion in Triratna.

So for those of you unwilling or uncomfortable being asked to reflect on - or act to redress - the frightened and cruel deaths & indignities that many people of color - inside the USA and beyond - encounter due to racial discrimination, I’d invite you to reflect closer to home.  Please consider whether there is a connection between some of the views on here, an ongoing collective* reluctance to engage directly in the sorrows of the world, and the reason we continue to be a disproportionately white movement in an anguished and vibrant multi cultural world wrestling with critical global questions that directly pertain to human dignity, suffering and connection.

with love to you all Samayasri, New York.

* I know that many of us, as individuals, are engaged in deeply inspiring social and humanitarian efforts as dharma teachers, neighbours and citizens. Many sadhus to all of you my friends.  The point I am making is about intentional directed collective effort.

Dayamudra Dennehy's picture

I am grateful for your post Samaysri. I too found the antagonism on this forum surprising and intensely painful. Everything is cracking open right now. We can be part of this beautiful moment or be left behind. Thank you for your courageous response.

Amalavācā's picture

I’ve read with interest today, views expressed in understandably emotional terms over the last few days on these pages. I would invite those who feel utterly certain of their views to reflect on these words (from Andrew Sullivan) which I think eloquently articulate some of the complexities, concerns and reservations about certain contemporary social movements (primarily those concerned with ‘identity’) which seemingly have unimpeachable intentions/motives. However it is the unwillingness to engage with those who express concerns and reservations (regarding violence or the burning of buildings/businesses or what views are to be accepted publicly, etcetera) that concerns me in the longer term. I was utterly horrified by the sickeningly casual way in which George Floyd was killed. History has however, shown us that ideological and revisionist movements can attain power and pursue programmes of radical change that can lead to an unpredictable multiplicity of both intended/attractive and unintended/unattractive consequences. I have thought recently that we seem to be entering a period which feels like some sort of weird socially ‘liberal’ ‘McCarthyism’ of the order Advayacitta alluded to in one of his earlier posts. I sincerely hope I am wrong in this regard.


INTERESTING TIMES 

Is There Still Room for Debate?

By Andrew Sullivan

In the last couple of weeks, as the purges of alleged racists have intensified in every sphere, and as so many corporations, associations, and all manner of civic institutions have openly pledged allegiance to anti-racism, with all the workshops, books, and lectures that come with it, I’m reminded of a Václav Havel essay, “The Power of the Powerless.”

It’s about the dilemma of living in a world where adherence to a particular ideology becomes mandatory. In Communist Czechoslovakia, this orthodoxy, with its tired slogans, and abuse of language, had to be enforced brutally by the state, its spies, and its informers. In America, of course, with the First Amendment, this is impossible. But perhaps for that very reason, Americans have always been good at policing uniformity by and among themselves. The puritanical streak of shaming and stigmatizing and threatening runs deep. This is the country of extraordinary political and cultural freedom, but it is also the country of religious fanaticism, moral panics, and crusades against vice. It’s the country of The Scarlet Letter and Prohibition and the Hollywood blacklist and the Lavender Scare. The kind of stifling, suffocating, and nerve-racking atmosphere that Havel evokes is chillingly recognizable in American history and increasingly in the American present.

The new orthodoxy — what the writer Wesley Yang has described as the “successor ideology” to liberalism — seems to be rooted in what journalist Wesley Lowery calls “moral clarity.” He told Timesmedia columnist Ben Smith this week that journalism needs to be rebuilt around that moral clarity, which means ending its attempt to see all sides of a story, when there is only one, and dropping even an attempt at objectivity (however unattainable that ideal might be). And what is the foundational belief of such moral clarity? That America is systemically racist, and a white-supremacist project from the start, that, as Lowery put it in The Atlantic, “the justice system — in fact, the entire American experiment — was from its inception designed to perpetuate racial inequality.”

This is an argument that deserves to be aired openly in a liberal society, especially one with such racial terror and darkness in its past and inequality in the present. But it is an argument that equally deserves to be engaged, challenged, questioned, interrogated. There is truth in it, truth that it’s incumbent on us to understand more deeply and empathize with more thoroughly. But there is also an awful amount of truth it ignores or elides or simply denies.

It sees America as in its essence not about freedom but oppression. It argues, in fact, that all the ideals about individual liberty, religious freedom, limited government, and the equality of all human beings were always a falsehood to cover for and justify and entrench the enslavement of human beings under the fiction of race. It wasn’t that these values competed with the poison of slavery, and eventually overcame it, in an epic, bloody civil war whose casualties were overwhelmingly white. It’s that the liberal system is itself a form of white supremacy — which is why racial inequality endures and why liberalism’s core values and institutions cannot be reformed and can only be dismantled.

This view of the world certainly has “moral clarity.” What it lacks is moral complexity. No country can be so reduced to one single prism and damned because of it. American society has far more complexity and history has far more contingency than can be jammed into this rubric. No racial group is homogeneous, and every individual has agency. No one is entirely a victim or entirely privileged. And we are not defined by black and white any longer; we are home to every race and ethnicity, from Asia through Africa to Europe and South America.

And a country that actively seeks immigrants who are now 82 percent nonwhite is not primarily defined by white supremacy. Nor is a country that has seen the historic growth of a black middle and upper class, increasing gains for black women in education and the workplace, a revered two-term black president, a thriving black intelligentsia, successful black mayors and governors and members of Congress, and popular and high culture strongly defined by the African-American experience. Nor is a country where nonwhite immigrants are fast catching upwith whites in income and where some minority groups now outearn whites.

And yet this crude hyperbole remains. In yesterday’s New York Times, in a news column, there was a story about the attempted purge of an economics professor for not being adequately supportive of the protests of recent weeks. It contained the following sentence, describing research into racial inequality: “Economics journals are still filled with papers that emphasize differences in education, upbringing or even IQ rather than discrimination or structural barriers.” But why are these avenues of research mutually exclusive? Why can’t the issue of racial inequality be complicated — involving many social, economic, and cultural factors that operate alongside the resilience of discrimination? And wouldn’t it help if we focused on those specific issues rather than seeing every challenge that African-Americans face as an insuperable struggle against the hatred of whites?

The crudeness and certainty of this analysis is quite something. It’s an obvious rebuke to Barack Obama’s story of America as an imperfect but inspiring work-in-progress, gradually including everyone in opportunity, and binding races together, rather than polarizing them. In fact, there is more dogmatism in this ideology than in most of contemporary American Catholicism. And more intolerance. Question any significant part of this, and your moral integrity as a human being is called into question. There is little or no liberal space in this revolutionary movement for genuine, respectful disagreement, regardless of one’s identity, or even open-minded exploration. In fact, there is an increasingly ferocious campaign to quell dissent, to chill debate, to purge those who ask questions, and to ruin people for their refusal to swallow this reductionist ideology whole.

The orthodoxy goes further than suppressing contrary arguments and shaming any human being who makes them. It insists, in fact, that anything counter to this view is itself a form of violence against the oppressed. The reason some New York Times staffers defenestrated op-ed page editor James Bennet was that he was, they claimed, endangering the lives of black staffers by running a piece by Senator Tom Cotton, who called for federal troops to end looting, violence, and chaos, if the local authorities could not. This framing equated words on a page with a threat to physical life — the precise argument many students at elite colleges have been using to protect themselves from views that might upset them. But, as I noted two years ago, we all live on campus now.

In this manic, Manichean world you’re not even given the space to say nothing. “White Silence = Violence” is a slogan chanted and displayed in every one of these marches. It’s very reminiscent of totalitarian states where you have to compete to broadcast your fealty to the cause. In these past two weeks, if you didn’t put up on Instagram or Facebook some kind of slogan or symbol displaying your wokeness, you were instantly suspect. The cultishness of this can be seen in the way people are actually cutting off contact with their own families if they don’t awaken and see the truth and repeat its formulae. Ibram X. Kendi insists that there is no room in our society for neutrality or reticence. If you are not doing “antiracist work” you are ipso facto a racist. By “antiracist work” he means fully accepting his version of human society and American history, integrating it into your own life, confessing your own racism, and publicly voicing your continued support.

That’s why this past week has seen so many individuals issue public apologies as to their previous life and resolutions to “do the work” to more actively dismantle “structures of oppression.” It’s why corporate America has rushed to adopt every plank of this ideology and display its allegiance publicly. If you do this, and do it emphatically, you can display your virtue to your customers and clients, and you might even be left alone. Or not. There is no one this movement suspects more than the insincere individual, the person who it deems is merely performing these public oaths and doesn’t follow through. Every single aspect of life, every word you speak or write, every tweet you might send, every private conversation you may have had, any email you might have sent, every friend you love is either a function of your racism or anti-racism. And this is why flawed human beings are now subjected to such brutal public shamings, outings, and inquisitions — in order to root out the structural evil they represent.

If you argue that you believe that much of this ideology is postmodern gobbledygook, you are guilty of “white fragility.” If you say you are not fragile, and merely disagree, this is proof you are fragile. It is the same circular argument that was once used to burn witches. And it has the same religious undertones. To be woke is to wake up to the truth — the blinding truth that liberal society doesn’t exist, that everything is a form of oppression or resistance, and that there is no third option. You are either with us or you are to be cast into darkness.

And that’s where Havel comes in. In his essay, he cites a greengrocer who has a sign he puts up in his window: “Workers of the World, Unite!” If he did not put one there, he’d be asked why. A neighbor could report him for insufficient ideological zeal. An embittered employee might get him fired for his reticence. And so it becomes, over time, not so much a statement of belief as an attempt to protect himself. People living under this ideology “must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.”

Mercifully, we are far freer than Havel was under Communism. We have no secret police. The state is not requiring adherence to this doctrine. And it is not a lie that this country has some deep reckoning to do on the legacy of slavery and segregation. In so far as this movement has made us more aware and cognizant of the darkness of the past, it is a very good thing, and overdue. But in so far as it has insisted we are defined entirely by that darkness, it has the crudeness of a kind of evangelist doctrine — with the similar penalties for waywardness. We have co-workers eager to weaponize their ideology to purge the workforce. We have employers demanding our attendance at seminars and workshops to teach this ideology. We have journalists (of all people) poring through other writers’ work or records to get them in trouble, demoted, or fired. We have faculty members at colleges signing petitions to rid their departments of those few left not fully onboard. We have human-resources departments that have adopted this ideology whole and are imposing it as a condition for employment. And, critically, we have a Twitter mob to hound people into submission.

Liberalism is not just a set of rules. There’s a spirit to it. A spirit that believes that there are whole spheres of human life that lie beyond ideology — friendship, art, love, sex, scholarship, family. A spirit that seeks not to impose orthodoxy but to open up the possibilities of the human mind and soul. A spirit that seeks moral clarity but understands that this is very hard, that life and history are complex, and it is this complexity that a truly liberal society seeks to understand if it wants to advance. It is a spirit that deals with an argument — and not a person — and that counters that argument with logic, not abuse. It’s a spirit that allows for various ideas to clash and evolve, and treats citizens as equal, regardless of their race, rather than insisting on equity for designated racial groups. It’s a spirit that delights sometimes in being wrong because it offers an opportunity to figure out what’s right. And it’s generous, humorous, and graceful in its love of argument and debate. It gives you space to think and reflect and deliberate. Twitter, of course, is the antithesis of all this — and its mercy-free, moblike qualities when combined with a moral panic are, quite frankly, terrifying.

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values,” President Kennedy once said. “For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Let’s keep that market open. Let’s not be intimidated by those who want it closed.

aranyaka's picture

Hi Amalavaca,

Thank you for finding and sharing this very interesting and, in my opinion, well written article. I share your concerns.

Key quotes for me (for those who don’t want to read the whole thing):

“a world where adherence to a particular ideology becomes mandatory”

“There is truth in it…. But there is also an awful amount of truth it ignores”

“No one is entirely a victim or entirely privileged”

“ There is little or no liberal space in this revolutionary movement for genuine, respectful disagreement….or even open-minded exploration. Question any significant part of this, and your moral integrity as a human being is called into question.”

“you’re not even given the space to say nothing…. It’s very reminiscent of totalitarian states where you have to compete to broadcast your fealty to the cause”

“If you argue that you believe that much of this ideology is postmodern gobbledygook, you are guilty of “white fragility.”… merely disagree, this is proof you are fragile.”

“It is the same circular argument that was once used to burn witches”

“everything is a form of oppression or resistance, and that there is no third option”

“it is not a lie that this country has some deep reckoning to do on the legacy of slavery and segregation. In so far as this movement has made us more aware and cognizant of the darkness of the past, it is a very good thing, and overdue. But in so far as it has insisted we are defined entirely by that darkness, it has the crudeness of a kind of evangelist doctrine — with the similar penalties for waywardness”

“some sort of weird socially ‘liberal’ ‘McCarthyism’” - Yes that is my fear too.

Aranyaka 

Sthirananda's picture

Amalavācā, thanks for posting Andrew Sullivan’s excellent article. It’s a relief to hear a voice of reason. I agree with what you say about ‘liberal McCarthyism’. What’s happening on the streets, in the original post and some of the comments does strike me, in my opinion, has having the ‘crudeness of a kind of evangelist doctrine’. 

Sthirananda

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