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.

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Responses

Suddhayu's picture

Hi Viveka,

Thanks for posting. I live on the East Coast of the US in one of the whitest areas of the country, and our sangha reflects that. Like so many of us, I have seen so much video and read so many accounts of black people, indigenous people and people of color treated unfairly, abused, tased, shot and choked to death by civilian racists and police. It can have an overwhelming effect with a resultant feeling of helplessness, and then a numbness.

I remember a feeling after a few years in to the Obama presidency, that we had turned a corner, that the vector as a nation was up and away from racism. But it is clear to all of us now that that was never fully the case, and with the wrong leadership, many of the US’s racists have come forward emboldened and unashamed. But the problem is deeper than the extremes exhibited by people who actively give expression to hate. Our own conditioning and bias plays a role in how we treat each other, and in how we see the world. And that conditioning can often be hard to notice, the roots being so deep.

White people take a lot for granted in New England. I imagine that’s the case elsewhere too. I’m on two different Triratna councils (Aryaloka and Portsmouth Buddhist Center) and we have had multiple discussions over the years regarding the lack of diversity in our sangha, and how to address it. Meanwhile in the broader populace, there has been a building literature and culture of workshops around becoming aware of our privilege, shining light on hidden or unconscious racism, discovering where we may be complicit in systemic racism, and even just learning our full history.

I can tell you that I had never heard of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre until last year when it was depicted in the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen series. I remember looking it up on my phone, asking myself, wait a minute, did this really happen? And it did. It did happen. And it wasn’t a part of my American history class. I was 48 when I found out about Tulsa – I should have known about it when I was 8. 

I’m currently involved in the writing or editing of two different responses for our local centers to the recent surge of awareness and action in regards racism and police violence in this country. I’ve been bringing the current context of awareness, pain and struggle into the classes I’ve been facilitating online. Many of us are in pain and want to do something. And many of us need to feel this, sit with it, and allow a compassionate response to arise. There’s a lot to sort out. Many of us have become aware that we don’t really know how to respond to racism skillfully, without indulging our own outrage or horrified anxiety, without condescending to people who suffer directly from racism, without feeling insecurity around doing or saying something that makes the problem worse.

So we’re moving towards a more direct approach to uprooting racism in our selves, in our sanghas, in the wider community. To the extent that racism is based in fear and hatred, this is Buddhist territory. This is our ground. We know how to work with fear and hatred. So let’s get more specific. Let’s shine light on this pervasive expression of hatred and dissolve it. To that end, we are looking for skilled help in educating and workshopping around these matters. 

Before the matter of racism and our response to racism enters the political sphere, it is already in the sphere of our ethical lives. This is a social issue that we are not separate from or immune to as Buddhists, no matter how cloistered away. I wish it wasn’t a matter of left or right – I wish there was bipartisan support of anti-racist momentums in our culture. But in this country, that is not the case. Although it is not free from racism, there is far more awareness, sensitivity, dialogue and activism left of the aisle. 

I’m a Buddhist before I’m a liberal. My response to racism is based in basic human goodwill, clarified and reinforced by the Buddhist ideals I chose to dedicate my life to. Triratna as a whole can be an expression of this goodwill as it applies to the issue of racism without purposely drawing political lines. We just need to keep learning, seek to understand and empathize, give full expression to our ideal of community, and draw out the full implication of our ethics.

Manidha's picture

Deepest gratitude, Viveka!  We listened to your podcast at our Tacoma Buddhist Center Sangha night shortly after it aired.  We paused it at different times to engage people in dialogue.  It was great to hear what people were taking from what they heard from you and Paramananda.  It was so timely and relevant during a time when people were outraged, hurting and grieving the murder of George Floyd.  

I read your post before we started listening to the podcast and we discussed what you wrote.  People reflected on being moved by the magnitude of slavery and oppression against black people (not realizing it’s been 400 years), the immense work that has occurred to bring us to this point, the power of bearing witness, the treasure of Dharma not just being about contemplative gifts, and not being distracted by narratives about looting.  Thank you for the support, inspiration, and connection your offering bestowed upon everyone in attendance that night.

And let’s not forget your podcast was about the Buddha as a social revolutionary.  I cannot imagine how one could separate the Dharma from social justice.  Today, I attended a Black Lives Matter silent march in Seattle with thousands of people who were not distracted, but focused on the work ahead to create a kind and just world.  Thousands of people who joined others across the world in taking a stand for justice, truth and freedom for all.  I sometimes wonder what the Buddha would be doing if he were here today.  How would he be showing up in 2020?  I’m pretty sure I would’ve seen him alongside us today.

The fact that this has raised so much controversy is a positive sign to me.  Any radical change creates disruption.  It’s also an opportunity for us lean into the conversation and learn together, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. Thank you for your courage and boldness in challenging us to rise to the occasion, individually and collectively.

Lastly, I was deeply offended by the person who referred to you as “that woman.”  My request is that we maintain respectful and courteous communication on these forums.


 

Dharmaprabha's picture

Dear Viveka, Thank you for this vital invitation to awareness, to deep empathy. Your podcast with Paramananda is very moving and inspiring to listen - one gem that stays with me is when you said how meditation is relational - it really resonates with me and with my practice. Your invitation is a bridge and a challenge; a call for action instead of silence. 

Candradasa, thank you for your thoughtful, clear and thorough editorial policy. It offers me a sense of hope that we’re truly offering the Dharma to the world we live in, hearing and responding to its cries.

Bhante Sangharakshita back in his talk given in Bombay says “I believe that it is possible for any human being to communicate with any other human being, to feel for any other human being, to be friends with any other human being”.  I often come back to this reading and it feels so potent for today’s situation.

James Baldwin’s verses capture the fear that raises in my heart when I read some of the responses - in our community as well as outside.

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.

Much metta and courage to all - so that the light does not go out,
Dharmaprabha

Padmadipa's picture

Judging from the comments above a number of the ”Double C Conservative” order members (Big “C” as well as small “c” conservatives) seems to be objecting to Viveka even raising the issue of racism in our society and her suggesting useful approaches that we as Buddhists could be taking to this issue. I see absolutely nothing wrong with a Buddhist movement raising and talking about contemporary political and social issues, and putting out questions and feelers as to what our attitude should be. We live in wider societies whether we like it or not, and therefore questions and issues of that broader society and the way that it effects us as Buddhists is perfectly valid commentary. You do not get out of an issue by ignoring it! That is just simply ignorance. Indeed this attitude that we are a “spiritual” movement that should not be involving ourselves with “political issues” is in itself to take up a Right-wing conservative stance.  Clearly I would not advocate the adoption of any sort of definitive Party Political position for the movement as a whole, as we need to accept that there is going to be a range of political opinion within the movement. And individual Order members and Mitras who are going to be members and supporters of differing political parties (After all we currently have a leading Mitra in the movement who is also a leading member of the Conservative Party!) 

But on the other hand it is possible I believe, to outline some general approaches  to these questions that reflect our Buddhist values of mindfulness and compassion. One such issue must clearly be racism. You cannot be a Buddhist and a racist at the same time - to the degree that you still might harbour a certain number of racist attitudes and opinions is the degree to which you are not a Buddhist! Compassion is based upon an empathetic recognition of a fellow feeling of ones humanity to another. To try to divide one section of humanity off from another - i.e. racism - must per force not be Buddhism! It should also be very clear that many of the Buddha’s polemics against the Brahmins over caste can be generalised as arguments against racism too - the arguments he puts forward are of the same type and come from the same place - namely our common humanity - as anti-racist arguments.

A second political issue is that of poverty. I fail to see how you can advocate policies that promote Greed Hatred and Delusion and at the same time call oneself a Buddhist, as obviously greed hatred and delusion and their over-coming is central to what the Dharma is all about!

So I feel we need a lot more honest and frank discussion about these issues inside the movement; conducted in all due cordiality and respect for others points of view. But it is certainly not something that we should be shying away from.

And I salute Viveka for raising the issue!

Padmadipa

Matt Drage's picture

Dear all, 

This is the first time I’ve ever posted on any kind of internet forum (except very rare and very trivial facebook posts!). But I was moved to write in support of Viveka’s post, which to me seemed so important, asking as it does that we pay attention to the fact that - and work to understand why - anti-racist sentiment is currently running high. 

Personally, the recent visibility of anti-racist activism has been sobering. I’ve long been aware that I take for granted the ease with which I move through the world as a young, confident, well-educated, middle class white man. I would very much like to think that this ease is entirely the result of my own virtues, but sadly I’m not convinced! Throughout my time in London, I’ve occasionally become aware of the wave of fear that rises in me when a group of young black men approach me in the street. Of my tendency to want to cross the road, to keep my distance. Of the half-conscious negative judgements I make of the people who pass me by based on their skin colour, gender, or both. Most of the time, this happens beneath the level of my conscious awareness. It’s very uncomfortable to look at it directly. It’s even more uncomfortable to imagine how I’d feel if I’d lived my life being looked at in the way I often find myself looking at others: that is, with fear and suspicion. 

Perhaps others are free of the prejudices I find within myself; I hope so! I feel confident that it’s my responsibility as a Buddhist to work skilfully with my own biases, so that I can better bring metta to everyone I meet. I feel also that we have a collective responsibility to at least examine whether there might be more we (as in, Triratna) can do in this regard. I understand Viveka to be asking us to listen carefully to the grievances of those who are currently trying to make themselves heard, to look at ourselves, and at least find out whether we (individually or collectively) have a role in contributing to their suffering. To me this seems an eminently reasonable request. 

Like some others on the thread, I can sometimes feel overwhelmed and frightened by the polarisation, oversimplification and blame that has characterised some recent debates about identity, social justice and equality. The laudible desire to avoid extreme views does not, however, to my mind, give us sufficient reason to ignore the plight of a very large group of people who are right now very vocally telling us that they are suffering, and that they would like that to change. 

Much love to you all, 

Matt

Viramati's picture

I wholeheartedly support Viveka and would like to thank her for bringing this to the fore. I was initially very concerned by what I see as some of the ‘right-wing’ views expressed her in the responses but feel heartened and relieved to see more empathetic and supportive responses coming through (I too found the ‘that woman’ post to be particularly unnecessary and uninformed). Yesterday evening I joined in with a zoom meditation session hosted by Singhashri and led by Viveka and I found her to have an extraordinary capacity to led one into a deeper connection, thank you.

sal tomcat's picture

Dear Viveka,


The image of you, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, holding up a Black Lives Matter sign has meant so much to me, as did your beautiful and heartfelt podcast with Paramananda. We’ve never met personally, but I feel a lot of gratitude towards you for your work on this and your teaching, and want to send you my love and support and solidarity.

I’m a GFR mitra, and preparing to commit myself to the best life I can imagine. I just can’t do that if it means standing impassively outside a world of injustice or abandoning suffering others in the name of being ‘apolitical’. With your compassionate and emotional response, invoking the courage and poetry of James Baldwin, you help me see how I can engage with what’s happening in the world without polarization, without contracting into rage and blame, and without withdrawing in order to be ‘apolitical’. The issue for me is not ‘political’, but ethical – the righting of a historic wrong that has caused immeasurable harm and continues to do so. The dharma requires clear seeing, honesty, open-heartedness of me, and above all, to commit to not causing harm and to taking responsibility when I have. This includes inadvertent harm I may cause through my ignorance or foolishness due to being socialized white in a historically racist society – and this will take humility, courage and time. This is taking responsibility for my actions. I can’t speak for others, but for me, this is part of my commitment as a buddhist and a morally responsible human being.


In terms of remaining detached from worldly affairs in order to preserve the purity of the spiritual life, personally I’m not sure the Buddha meant that we should remain indifferent to the suffering of others or in the world – if so, what’s the Bodhisattva vow all about? What’s all this talk of compassion for? 


Of course black lives matter. In all good conscience, how could they not? ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become a slogan and sometimes when that happens, it feels like the simple meaning of the words gets lost. But let’s also remember why this has to be said in the first place – in the face of a world in which black lives don’t have value– or at least, not as much as others. Still, I don’t know how it can be the case that saying that black lives and black people are important, are sacred, are beautiful, are worthy of protection and respect, can be contentious, or reduced to an ‘ideology’ or ‘political opinion’. That the centuries of systemic oppression and injustice are at last being brought to the surface and seen for what they are can only be a force for good, to heal old wounds, increase connection and alleviate suffering.


Black lives matter in the world at large, and if I am to be able to say I am a part of it with my head held high, I need black lives to matter in Triratna. 


Thank you Viveka, for your courageous and sensitive work to ensure this, both in the movement and in the world. 

Dayachitta's picture

Thank you Viveka, for bringing this issue so directly into this mandala. 

Thank you too Candradasa, for your nuanced and thoughtful response to the issues that have emerged.

Thanks also to Amalavaca for posting the article by Andrew Sullivan ‘INTERESTING TIMES Is There Still Room for Debate?’ and Aranyaka’s response.

I have been realising over the past weeks how much I don’t know about many issues concerning race and prejudice, particularly in USA.

I found this article - it’s long - helpful in explaining the history behind the race relations problems.  In particular how the police in USA have become militarised with respect to race.  I expect those of you in USA know all this…

https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/bryan-stevenson-on-the-frustratio…

For me, the article and other accounts of black people’s experience has opened the door to a more experiential perspective of what it must be like to live in such a state of fear while going about one’s daily life.  
The weariness and anger that comes with it after a lifetime of  systemic prejudice and inequality, as well as the trauma of imbibing the cultural inheritance of one’s own family’s history of slavery.  

I grew up in Australia and I see parallels with the colonisation and subjugation by Europeans of indigenous Australians, as well as of the peoples in Africa, India, Asia and South America - fuelled in part by of European ideas of racial superiority and genetic perfection, in part by greed and privilege.

I also see similar parallels now, with the UK government’s arrogant belief in British ‘exceptionalism’, resulting most recently in the disastrous, chaotic handling of Covid19 epidemic - one example being their refusal to learn best practice from other countries with testing and tracing.

Sadly it’s not just endemic in the context Viveka is focussing on - it seems to be part of unexamined human nature, latent or expressed. 

These ongoing attitudes of superiority over the ‘other’ - in terms of race, class, gender for example - are about misuse of power.   Driven, as described in Buddhist terms by delusion, aversion, grasping, and fear too.

What to do about this?  Some suggestions based on my understanding of Buddhism:
1.   Inwardly:    Self awareness and self scrutiny about what is motivating one’s own responses.    Eg, via Mindfulness and Metta practices

2. Outwardly : Appropriate support and action.    Eg,  the realm of politics, community, group and individual action

3.  Self and other: 
Empathy for the suffering being caused to both oneself and the other.     Eg, Tonglen, Compassion practices

I’m aware that each of these approaches can become limited and even unhelpful if practiced alone, to the exclusion of the others:  a bit simplistic perhaps but anyway…

  •  Too much focus on oneself can cause selfishness;  
  •  group action can become coercive and collusive
  • the self/other practices can cause complacency if not actualised;  

One way to avoid these pitfalls is to appreciate, value and respect the effectiveness of each of these approaches and what we can bring to the mix - individually and collectively - which arm of Avalokiteshvara has our back…  

Alice Elizabeth's picture

Thank you Viveka for this beautiful post. I am deeply grateful to you for your courage and leadership in starting this conversation. This seems absolutely the right place for this conversation and it seems vital and urgent that all of us who are a part of this movement make antiracism a part of our internal practice and our practice out in the world.

powergrrl's picture

I am moved by what you shared Viveka. I can tell it is deeply heartfelt call for us all to look at how racism effects us all, whatever race we belong to.  

At the Glasgow Buddhist Centre, the council wrote a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, and a similar call for us all to seek truth, reconciliation and understanding of the crimes and harms done in our communities because of racist ideologies.  As Tim Wise says,”Ask a fish what water is and you’ll get no answer. Even if fish were capable of speech, they would likely have no explanation for the element they swim in every minute of every day of their lives. Water simply is. Fish take it for granted.” Privilege in our society for having light-colored skin is the same. We white people simply don’t see it.  

The call is for all of us to take a look around, and start seeing it, so that we can start to create a more just, equitable society in which all can live lives of dignity and peace - free from the dehumanization that perpetuates these oppressive systems, and allows police and the justice system to discount the lives of people of color, and other minorities.

But make no mistake while white people do have certain privileges in our society, the system of oppression effects us deeply - once we start to look. I feel for all four of those police officers in Minneapolis who are now facing criminal charges and who face the same dehumanizing system that allowed them to take another life so easily.  I refuse to not see their humanity or I am no better than the system that I wish to see dismantled.  They must absolutely take full responsibility for their crimes, and I wish to include them in my own call for empathy and understanding. I want to understand the systems that created their anger and violence, the same way I want to dismantle those systems that took the life of George Floyd and so many other men, women and children.  

As Marshall Rosenberg says, ”Peace requires something far more difficult than revenge or merely turning the other cheek; it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other. Being aware of those feelings and needs, people lose their desires to attack back because they see the human ignorance leading to those attacks. Instead, their goal becomes providing the empathic connection and education that will enable them to transcend their violence and engage in cooperative relationships.”

May we all learn to listen to each other, to deeply understand so that true empathy can blossom and we can all find peace with each other.  May even those who we see as our enemies become perfect Buddhas.

vajrabhadri's picture

Thanx powergrrl 😍 for a thoughtful and beautiful piece of writing….really moving and insightful. D🙏🌈🌹

powergrrl's picture

Thanks Vajrabhairava, appreciate your words.  Just coming back to this now I only just realized I didn’t use my name on my piece.  I don’t want any one to think I am trying to hide behind a pseudonym.  

Kindly, 

Pasadini

SueTurner's picture

Thank you Viveka and Paramananda for sharing yourselves and introducing me to James Baldwin. I watched his debate with William F Buckley and found it so inspiring, that in 1965 James Baldwin could participate showed just how courageous a man he was. I’m not sure that I could ever stand up in such a way.

George Floyd’s murder, the ensuing riots and debates and everything have so greatly saddened me. I know in part that my living alone while I shield has let my heart be more open in a sense but while that may be part of it, I think only a small part of it.

I remember doing my social work training (1989-1991) and starting to read Black women writers and June Jordan had the most powerful effect on me, not just in terms of challenging my own internal racism but got me emotionally into understanding the political parallels between a black man’s murder and the murder of a gay man and how nobody cared about either. I came out in 1989 and read about the civil disobedience and Black Power Movement and think the Stonewall Riots probably wouldn’t have happened without having them as role models so we could stand up for ourselves as a lesbian and gay community. Also, in the 80’s and 90’s there was our shared sense of powerlessness when you couldn’t even trust the police who were supposed to protect you and knowledge that if you were being assaulted in the street no one would come to your aid.

Thirty years on for me I have rights, I can’t be sacked or evicted just because of my sexuality and if I’m assaulted I can report it as a hate crime and I believe that I will be treated with sensitivity and respect by the police. The police now seem positively different from the police I had to regularly deal with in my early social work career. Though I suspect trust of the police within BAME communities may be very different. I feel safe to walk the streets as a lesbian. So there’s a great sadness that so little seems to have changed for Black people in the US since June Jordan was writing over 30 years ago. That Black men and boys do not have the freedom to just go out jogging without risking their lives to some white men who might think you a burglar and shoot you. That mothers and fathers fear that they may not see their children later that same day. I get the anger and the fear that it doesn’t matter if you are a church pastor, if you’re a black man you’re game. To have to live your life like this. Women at some time in their life will have known the fear these Black men live with when they’ve gone out at night without the other abuses life can and has thrown at them. When I was younger I lived with a low level fear for years on end because of domestic violence as I grew up then due to my gender and sexuality. That fear subtlety affected my behaviour, openess and confidence in every aspect of my life. So to know that in a so called democracy people still spend their lives living with low level fear and feelings of powerlessness that can so easily peak because of the level of racism not just in the police force, but society in general, led to me being in touch with a great sadness for many days last week. Thirty years on my situation has changed considerably in the UK yet this is still the case.

I’ve also felt so moved by so many Black people that have shared the reality of their lives on line and heartened by white people coming forward to be supportive and work out what they can do. Thankfully last week there was also Singhashri’s Holding Compassionate Space with BIPOC and this week I’ve come into a more active place and been listening to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s edifying podcasts https://www.aboutracepodcast.com/ which have made so much sense of things that have been happening in the UK among different racial communities and classes.

I think this is so big. Essentially for me this is about all those men and women that live in fear just because of some feature that firmly puts them in the “other” camp. As a Buddhist I will continue to work on wearing away the division between self and other and engaging in a way that is constructive and appropriate. I might get it wrong at times as I try but as Bante would say better honest collison than dishonest collusion.

Karmabandhu's picture

I have two main responses to all of this:

Firstly, empathy and a sense of solidarity with black people, who as a group have taken  and continue to take a lot of punishment in our society.

Secondly, a wariness that the current rage, the desire to tear down statues not just of slavers but of national heroes like Winston Churchill, and talk of ‘white privilege’, etc. will only serve to divide people and create a political backlash. Often the counter-revolution, the reaction, ends up winning. I hope that this does not  turn out to be the case for Donald Trump in the US. He looked to be on the ropes with the Covid crisis, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the divisive tone of some of this campaign (including the violence around the edges) were to lead to his re-election. He thrives on division. So, I think as a central thrust, we should beware of making white people feel guilty for being white. It’s not the right way to go on any level. If we look at both Nelson Mandela and Dr King, they both succeeded by preaching a universal message. 

Aryadrishti's picture

When I moved from Vancouver, BC to Missoula, MT, I found the lack of people of color and the sound of diverse languages unsettling. Even though I am white and only speak English it felt creepy. I moved to immerse myself in Triratna culture and Missoula was a rich haven of spiritual growth and friendship. Living in a spiritual community and working in right livelihood gave me a taste of a new society. One that actively worked to dismantle the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion. We aimed to operate in the love mode rather than the power mode of the world around us. We were idealistic and imperfect, yet that experience has only strengthened my resolve to work towards a new society and those ideas continue to inspire me. It was also where I first directly witnessed racism towards a dear friend in the Sangha not just once but over and over.

Listening to the podcast by Viveka and Paramananda, I was heartened by the depth of their friendship and practice. I am inspired by the call to action and enjoy learning about James Baldwin. I am grateful to the very few people of color who are involved in Triratna, especially those who have become ordained. Going for refuge with these friends has brought me into contact with a breadth of experience and views that has challenged and enriched my practice. It pains me to read the responses to this post that want to “balance” Viveka’s request for empathy towards blacks in America. The members of our Triratna community may well be predominantly left liberal politically. Conservatives may not be feeling heard in our Buddhist Centers. Trying to silence, counter, and diminish the plea of one of our very few Order members of color speaking honestly and openly about race does not help. As a white conservative Order member, I am appalled that some of us, instead of taking her seriously, have actively written her words off as liberal politics. I read Viveka’s post as a plea to not turn away from the suffering of the black community around the world. This is an opportunity to witness, an opportunity to act, an opportunity to ease suffering.    

I own a business on the edge of the protests and stand with many other local business owners who value black lives over our property. Protests are messy, often driven by anger, and are polarizing because they are all about changing the status quo. Our civilization has developed via protests throughout history and around the world. Through them we have gained independence in India and America, women can vote, slavery is no longer legal. Already the protests happening now have led to change locally and nationally. For the first time, I am proud to be an American when I see our country coming together to witness the suffering of black people and actively working to change the conditions that cause that suffering. I hear the words and pain behind the outrage and the out-pouring of love in response. Through all our flaws and imperfections, I hear a longing for a new society and a willingness to work for it. I hope that conservatives and liberals alike within our movement can support that vision. 

Singhashri's picture

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

Singhashri's picture

Thank you for sharing your experience so beautifully grounded in Bhante’s vision for a new society and for reminding us of the rich history of protest and why it’s such an important act in a true democracy.

Samayasri's picture

Hi all

Stepping in with some data that may be of interest. There are lot of variations out there: but I found this CNN analysis helpful (not least as it highlights the situation in Europe as well).

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/us/us-police-floyd-protests-country-compa…

i also found this data helpful - as it shows the disproportionate level of police deaths on POC.  It also disproves the trope that harsh policing is about where crime is worst: not true (in the US at least).

https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/

On a personal note, I want to add that I am not ‘anti police’ and I wouldn’t want any part in cultivating hatred towards police officers as a group or as individuals. I think they often do a crappy and painful job in the service of others. I am against institutionalised racism wherever it shows up: and obviously an armed & racist police officer or police district can do a great deal more harm than a racist librarian.  Just because many of us believe and support Black Lives Matter (the right of POC to live in dignity, equality and safety) it does not mean there is necessarily a cultivation of hatred happening towards others: that seems to be one of the assumptive leaps that has happened in some contributions on this thread.

love to you all

Samayasri, New York

Singhashri's picture

Thank you for sharing this critical data. I appreciate the effort it takes to do that. So helpful.

Upayadhi's picture

Dear Viveka,

I hear your call to deep empathy and to compassionate, determined action.

I am so grateful to you for writing this, and to you and Paramananda for the podcast, and to the BCO for publishing it. In my particular context, to be silent is to be complicit with institutionalized and normalized violence.

In addition to the recent killings of black people at the hands of police and vigilantes, I have been stunned to see the brutality of the police response to so many peaceful protests. Here in New York City, religious communities came together to help lobby the mayor to end the curfew. And today there was a community ritual in Harlem where I live, to mark the repeal of laws that withhold police performance records from the public, and the passing of new laws to ban chokeholds, a law being named after Eric Garner, another black man who died while crying out that he could not breathe, here in New York. 

I live adjacent to a large police station in Harlem. As a white person, I experience the station as mostly a neighborly nuisance: they let their sidewalk trees die, they poorly manage huge amounts of trash which then degrade the local environment, and their out-of-borough cars occupy our sidewalks preventing regular street cleaning and the easeful passage of strollers, walkers or wheelchairs. There is a strange feeling that they are here, but not embedded or committed to the neighborhood. Yet, these municipal issues are luxury problems. My body does not brace with fear when I walk by the station, because I do not have friends and family members who have died in police custody, and because my skin is white. I have been conditioned to think they work for my safety, no matter how un-neighborly I might experience them to be. Unlike most of the black men in my neighborhood, I am not stopped several times a year and questioned, or worse. People don’t call 911 on me for living my life while being white. Black leaders are stretching their imagination to a world where they could breathe and not be reminded of their race day in, day out. I feel a moral responsibility to work harder to imagine what it’s like to move through the world in a body that is differently racialized than mine.

Seven years ago, a 21-year old Black trans woman was beaten in front of the police station next to my building, and died of her injuries. The violence was caused by severe transphobia. This was not a case of police brutality, but because it happened literally in front of the police station, another kind of brutality was laid bare: that of neglect and disconnection. The added injury to her family and the community was how no one protected her, which further compounded a sense of betrayal that is centuries old. I will never forget the swelling of grief and rage in the thick summer air when we joined our neighbors to mourn and protest together in the park. Her name was Islan Nettles. 

I often imagine the Buddha walking around Harlem, just another brown man with a cool outfit taking a stroll. For months after this event, and again in recent days, I could see him holding her broken body, standing at the gate of my building, looking at me, wondering when I will come out of the safety of my white lady cage, and what I am going to do about all this dying at my doorstep? When I walk on that very bit of sidewalk in front of the police station, I have to ask myself: how do I participate in a world where this becomes possible? How do I disrupt my own passive complicity? What becomes possible from that awareness? 

Also close to home is the question: how do I, in subtle and overt ways, contribute to a white dominant culture within a sangha setting, comfortable for some and off-putting to others, resulting in a sangha demographic that does not represent the demographic of my city?

Educate.

One of my favorite signs in the protests has been:

Treat Racism like Covid-19:
1)    Assume you have it
2)    Listen and learn from experts
3)    Don’t spread it
4)    Be willing to change your life to end it

I am no expert. I am learning all the time. Context and language can help. Below is a listing of resources specifically for Buddhists and who may find it helpful to supplement their study of these issues with resources that consider race and racism from a Dharmic lens. 

(Some Additional) Resources for Buddhists Committing to Racial Justice
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZFX4cvkc4dAjqG1HNP82SWQ71KS5u0ZKg2kpJXeOSBs/edit?usp=sharing

It strikes me how starting to learn about racism is similar to learning to meditate for the first time. The more mindful I am of the breath, the more often I notice how I get distracted; and for a time, I think I am getting worse, until I realize this means I am actually getting more receptive, more mindful! I can drop the totally useless beating-myself-up and start celebrating the bursts of awareness. The more I learn about how racism works (personally, interpersonally, socially, institutionally, etc), the more I spot my own racism or my participation in structural racism, and then I am empowered to disrupt it. I can’t unlearn what I can’t even see, so this is liberating!

Agitate.

Time for me to join the “Good Trouble” as John Lewis puts it. Agitation that is ethically grounded. A few days ago, I attended a protest led by Christian and Muslim faith leaders in Harlem. There was such palpable grief and heartache, but also joy and hope and a kind of unity I have never witnessed before… I am also thinking of the value of another kind of agitation. In 2012 I stumbled into a retreat on the Dukkha of White Privilege, the first of several to follow, and life has never been the same. I don’t feel guilty, guilt is of little use to this process of liberation, and it centers the white experience, which is not what is being asked of me. I feel responsible, I feel inspired, I feel love. As yes, the work is deeply unsettling – but in the way that spiritual death is unsettling. It’s some of the hardest work I have ever done, and it would not be possible without spiritual friendship. I would offer that in my experience “dismantling whiteness work” is insight work. Heartbreaking, rattling and thrilling. It goes right for the jugular of conceit and delusion (buckets of metta required for the ride!). I have found it turbulent, non-linear, dis-lodging, liberating, full of pitfalls, trap doors, and also profoundly joyful and connecting and worthwhile… and urgent – for Black Lives and for our inextricably bound liberation. Our liberation is on the line.

Organize.

I am inspired to work with others for Black Liberation, and to hold each other in love along the way, as goes the poem. Viveka, I remember these were some of the words you offered in your talk in 2016 at the Convention to fellow Order Members: “I come to you in love.” You asked us to commit to 20 hours of anti-racism training a year, and to join you in a vision of a radically diverse sangha within 5 years. We have such a long way to go still, yet I know this process has started in Triratna in some places. The link I have shared above lists upcoming courses and cohorts that people can join to study and learn with others, or on their own. There are entire DIY curricula for white Buddhists that have been made openly available by various Dharma Communities, and that can be taken up individually or as groups of spiritual friends.

Lastly, I am moved by Baldwin’s poem and by Paramananda’s words on responsibility towards past and future generations. Viveka, you name 1619. Only 10 years later one branch of my ancestry arrived here on Turtle Island, in a very different kind of boat, and their journey cannot not be but deeply intertwined with structural racism and the decimation of Indigenous peoples. In another branch of my family, I know of at least one family member who was likely part of the KKK. I have empathy for my people, reflecting on the stories they were sold and their own suffering. And I am uplifted by the possibility of extinguishing collective karma.

May we be supported in this work by the super-powers of curiosity and heart!

Black Lives Matter.  

With love and solidarity,

Upayadhi

Singhashri's picture

Sister, there is so much here that moves my heart and stirs the belly. Thank you so much for taking the time to share so personally and also provide resources so needed right now.

Black Lives Matter. Because Love Matters. Xxxxxxx

JulieR's picture

I am blown away by the wisdom of your post- thank you xx 

Viramati's picture

Thank you for this clarity

Maitrinita's picture
Hi Viveka, Thank you for continuing to practice and exemplify courageous conversations around race. Your article was beautiful, challenging and moving. It’s inspiring being in a sangha that you are part of. In all its messiness and grit. X Maitrinita
padmatara's picture

Thank you Viveka for your time and your trust in making this request of us. The latest series of horrific assaults on black lives has been impossible to ignore, and has forced many of us around the world to face the cruel impact of our silence and inability to listen, and to really consider our part in the systemic racism in the US and elsewhere. I hope that we can remember what you and others have asked and that we continue to listen, remember, practice empathy and consider what action we can take in each moment.  I hope that this time there will be lasting change. 

prasadachitta's picture

First as others have, I thank Viveka for her clear and compassionate call to feel and be in solidarity with a people nation and world in mourning.

This is a time for connection thru empathy. Some may choose to destroy property and we may judge them as “wrong” in their actions and if that judgment does not include being informed about the conditions which bring about such pain and grief then that judgment is indeed superficial and a distraction from what is truly important here. It does make me sad that I share spiritual kinship with others who cannot understand this. There does seem to be a serious naiveté about this subject.  It seems so odd to me that we have so much connection and teaching around the cast situation in India but yet this is too “political” for our shared spiritual discourse? Seriously confused on that one. 

Let me tell you about my experience here in America. Im white and  when I was a child of eleven living in East Hollywood I was walking with two of my friends who were the same age. They were both indigenous looking and their families probably came from south of the border somewhere but they may have just been long standing Angolinos for all I knew. We used to play Basketball together and then walk home after school. One day a police car pulled onto the sidewalk and  blocked our way. Both my friends were violently thrown onto the ground and handcuffed. I stood by frightened and confused. I wanted to stay and wait while my friends were searched and left lying on the pavement. I was told to move on in what I recall to be a frightening manner. I went some way down the street and waited there for what seemed a long time. My friends were eventually released and came up to me quite shaken and told me they had no idea what that was about. We were all about eleven years old!  That is what inner city policing is like in America.  Please do not be Naive about this. Listen to the people who know and are targeted. A Few years later a man named Rodney King was filmed being severely beaten repeatedly with batons. He was struck over 33 times while lying on the ground by five officers from the same police department that harassed my two young friends. This was no heat of the moment attack. It was a sustained and brutal beating of an unarmed man.  The officers were acquitted of wrongdoing. My mom moved to a better area where I could go to a school with wealthier and whiter student body. This is not an anecdote in America. Please do not be Naive. I don’t know what its like there in Briton. It is true that many who are not black are also brutalized by police. That is a problem which is also something we should not ignore.  Black people in America have endured a long and extremely brutal history of legal, economic and civil disenfranchisement. Learn your recent history. Its not that long ago. Racial identity is a condition of the situation.  Black lives Matter.  It needs to be said. Its not about politics. Its about conditionality being met with Love and compassion. Wake up! 

Nanasiri's picture

I appreciate Viveka’s words regarding this painful time, and the challenge to us not to turn away from the pain. I also read the responses that are critical of Viveka’s letter.  As a social worker, having worked in shelters for people living without homes and severe mental illness and currently working with low income older adults with mental health issues in San Francisco, I am a witness to the impact of social injustice and systemic racism on black, indigenous and people of color. A huge part of my practice is endeavored to working on my own implicit bias and prejudice.  In my work, it is important to me and my like-minded white counselors that we challenge ourselves, deepen our connection and develop cultural humility to stand with, advocate and help POC heal from the effects of discrimination from lack of access to housing, wealth and education, from segregation.  So this means working in a system that is broken, is extremely difficult to navigate, and works against underserved and marginalized communities. It is heartbreaking.   

In challenging ourselves, we need to talk more about our history of colonialism and European imperialism; that the UK and US were built by black people. We need to learn and become aware that a huge part of our history (and I’m originally from Liverpool) includes how Britain and the US benefited massively from the slave trade. The word ‘slave’, of course, eradicates a person’s identity.  Yes, we all know this history and how little we want to talk about it. So we need to stop and ask ourselves how we’ve colluded with the overall structure? How is racism manifesting in the system, in the structure of society?

We all witnessed the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer on our TVs.  It was horrific. The black community are angry and grieving.  My black coworkers and friends are grieving.  We are all grieving. Furthermore, the black community are angry that it’s taken lifetimes for white people to listen and admit that these violent acts have been happening, and are still happening - all the time.

Will we keep listening and speaking out against racism and brutality?  Will we do the work to change systemic racism?  Will we look deeply into our hearts, with vulnerability in confronting our worldviews? Will we explore our conscious and unconscious biases? Or will we disassociate as we’ve done so many times before?

The uncomfortable truth is that racial differences are here to stay. We have to think of ourselves in racial terms. It’s uncomfortable for white people to talk about, hence the response to Viveka’s letter.  But racial indifference is even harder. So we need to keep talking about this, we need to care and respond with love, and not be blind to the injustice and suffering of others.

As Buddhists, I think we can all agree that it is important to address the problems of the world. To meet the world with kindness, compassion and action; with mindfulness of body, speech and mind. My heart goes out to everyone right now living in fear and suffering.  

So I fail to see how Viveka’s compassionate response to the black communities’ suffering is threatening political views. It’s time we stopped and listened and really worked on the radical change we want to see in the world. Nothing is fixed. If the desire for all beings to be healthy, happy and free from suffering is ‘political’ then I’m all for it.  Bring it on.

Vishvapani's picture

I would express my appreciation of the participants in this discussion for their contributions to what I think is a good, and important dialogue for our community. 

I am moved by Viveka’s engagement with this cause and its deep roots in her community, and awed by the depth of her commitment to it. It is evident that she engages with BLM as a Dharma practitioner, and expresses her engagement in those terms. For myself, I sympathise with BLM as a powerful expression of the frustration and rage that has developed through the lifelong experience of so many black people in America of racism and the impact of a militarised police force. 

At the same time, I recognise the caveats expressed by Advayacitta, Garavacitta and Ratnaguna, and sense that it may help to acknowledge their comments in that spirit. I think their questioning of the views and interpretations that accompany the underlying feelings is reasonable, as are the warnings about group mentality. A questioning attitude towards those things has to be important for all Buddhists. 

Although my own political sympathies are on the political left, I recognise that there are many steps of interpretation between the Dharma principles which I trust we all share and the interpretation of society that makes for a political outlook. Perhaps it should be obvious, but it nonetheless seems important to recognise that there is no necessary Buddhist political stance. I also acknowledge the truth of Gavaracitta’s comment 

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 corollary is that we need to get used to disagreeing without polarising, questioning ourselves and listening better to others. My criticism of this thread is that, both in the OP and in the comments there is a lot of rhetoric, some of which tends to caricature both one’s own position and that of one’s opponents; and a certain amount of speaking at cross purposes. The podcast is engaging, but it doesn’t use the time to explore the issues around BLM in away that engages with the complexity these issues raise (at leas for some people).

On the editorial issues, I think we do need to allow space for a range of views, and this will undoubtedly be uncomfortable. The reality is that thebuddhistcentre lacks the resources to host more than the occasional piece on societal issues, meaning that when these pieces do appear they have an undue weighting. I would like to see much more scope for this sort of thing. 

 

dhivajri's picture

[also posted as a thread]

Black Lives Matter & Power Concedes Nothing

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. – Frederick Douglass

Perhaps you’ve heard that our experiences of the world are conditioned and contingent. In our families, cities, societies, religious communities, families, and in our own minds we are conditioned by culture, ideology, politics, social structures, and identity. I’ve certainly heard from reputable sources that these things drop away in states of deepest insight, but that doesn’t mean much about the world we live in every day.

Although the writers apparently cannot see it, the conservative arguments made here are deeply rooted in (can you guess?) identity politics – the identity of the aggrieved conservative cis white man. He is aggrieved because he is completely confounded (but certainly not made speechless) by the reality around him that his life and his ideology is no longer the organizing principle, the very center of every cultural, social, and political space. His identity is no longer the neutral human substance, which the rest of us dilute and pollute with our brutalized and troublesome bodies, colored skin, anger, vaginas, nonbinaries, and unacceptable loves and desires; with our demands for justice and liberation for everyone, for the recognition and care of the humanity in each and every person on this planet. Since his kind still hold most of the wealth and most of the power, he really cannot imagine that his voice is not the most important absolutely everywhere, cannot imagine that if his voice isn’t heard loud and proud the world will go on just fine.

If there are people in the order who want to preserve a supposed politics- and identity-free zone in their spiritual community, then by all means advocate for that. It doesn’t exist, it never has existed. They want harmony in the sense that everyone is silent about everything important in the lived material world. That is not harmony, it is oppression. But if that is indeed what they want, then they should work to bring it about. This professed ideal is completely undermined by the choice to make political arguments for the “conservative” side. They seem quite unaware that their very words – uninformed, ugly, and paternalistic – are clear evidence of the need for change and the persistence of racism. To read Viveka’s compassionate letter of “calling in” as a political diatribe says much more about them than about her. 

If you think it is not dharmic to bring politics and identity into the sangha, then why the hell are you arguing about politics and identity? Do you think the thoughts you’ve shared exemplify a compassionate and wise dharmic response to the world? State your case from an affirmative place of your own convictions – how deeply ironic that you expect the powers that be at TBCO to do this work for you. You are in a minority (of indeterminate but possibly quite small size), which, guess what, sucks. While I am concerned with justice and liberation for most minority groups, I’m not concerned with people who wish for their own minority rule, which is exactly what barring people from expressing “political” views would be. Call me a hypocrite. 

If you don’t understand that the slow murder of George Floyd was a racist act by a racist man in a racist system, then I don’t have anything to say to you. I’m not going to change your mind, and you sure as shit aren’t going to change mine. I of course have the advantage of being on the right side of history and of being on the side of human freedom. The conservative arguments are not going to win in this small context, perhaps you should consider if this is how you want to spend your time. You may have to settle for your voice being extremely well represented in most every institution and power structure around us, including this order.

All this pearl clutching and deep concern about the ravening mob is a tiresome misdirection not based in reality. If you knew even the slightest thing about work for Black liberation you would know it is grounded in love and joy and vision for the future. Yes, if the devil is kneeling on your neck, you need to fight like hell to get him off, but the right to breathe is step 1, step 0. All of us, even the aggrieved but generally safe white man, should be considerably more concerned about the violent militarized power of the state than the fact that sometimes after a protest there are crimes against property (often sparked by police violence) or that some people no longer wish to commemorate racists and slavers in their town square. This is truly nothing compared to the violence perpetuated by the police and those very dead white men.

But the groupthink is destroying civilized discourse! Do some people act in a performative way within a narrow range of opinion? Of course they do, groups of people have tendencies to act in group-like ways – if you think about it I’m sure you can come up with examples from your very own spiritual community. A bunch of white people are getting a deeper understanding of racism, interrogating how they have benefitted from it, and pushing other white people to do the same – what a horror show. Get over it. There’s no Maoism without a Mao in a position of great power, no McCarthyism without a McCarthy (and a Roy Cohn); this moment will pass. To state the very obvious, those who want radical change are barely in government, and not even close to influencing it, let alone controlling it. 

Freedom and justice have never been won by oppressed people behaving the way the ruling class thinks they should behave. Power concedes nothing. 

Others have said much more eloquent, kind, and dharmic things on this thread, starting with Viveka, and I refer you to them. I am particularly thankful for the words of my north american sisters, brothers, and other siblings, wherever you may be in the world. And all gratitude and respect to the Black people and all the people of color in our movement and order, whose striving for themselves and the world isn’t thrown off course by this racist bullshit.

I’m pissed off and my words have been harsh, and no doubt less effective than the kind words of others. Those offended should feel free to complain. 

Black Lives Matter and Silence = Death

Dhivajri

Dayamudra's picture

“All this pearl clutching and deep concern about the ravening mob is a tiresome misdirection not based in reality. If you knew even the slightest thing about work for Black liberation you would know it is grounded in love and joy and vision for the future.”

Yes. The Black Lives Matter movement has predominantly been led by Queer Black women. It is a celebration of life. We’d do well to listen and learn.

Thank you Dhivajri.

Padmadharini's picture

I love you and thank you.  Very articulate, well-informed, and I celebrate your courage in saying it as it is.  

Padmadharini 

Silasiri's picture

Dear Viveka – Thank you for your thoughtful teaching which has challenged me to examine the ways in which I may perpetuate a longstanding system of oppression of people of color, and the active reminder that Black Lives Matter.  These times are a call to compassionate action and engagement as well as for justice, wise listening and learning the ways to be strong and informed allies. I will not turn away from the pain and the struggle long held by black communities and people of color in the U.S. and around the world, including any harm done by me.

Dear Sangha – I commit to the internal and external change work required of me as a Buddhist and a world citizen in facing and changing systemic racism and prejudice.  I commit to better learning to be an anti-racist.  I invite others within this Sangha and this Movement to join in this effort so that we may wake up together and grow a more unified and diverse Sangha, as a jewel like no other.  We can do this!

Upayadhi, thank you for crafting and sharing your resource list.  I can certainly use it.

Candradasa and Parami, thank you for your reminders of right speech and intention and for making us aware of some of the challenges of moderating this thread.  I am deeply interested in our shared outcomes.

After rereading my previous post (now deleted) and some time spent in self-reflection, I found that my expression of how painful racism has been to witness was more about me than it was about ​the will to alleviate oppression and suffering in the present AND I realize that some of my words were composed in a state of distress and reactivity.  These are traumatic times and I hold this experience very strongly in my body.​  To revisit my words was a great opportunity for practice.

Kindly,
Robin

Silasiri's picture

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

Ciaran Cannon's picture

What I want to communicate is massive thanks to Viveka for your clear, compassionate call to action. And your talk at the Buddha Day celebrations. And also for the deeply connecting, loving and grounded meditation you led on Friday evening at Radical Embrace.  Thank you for sharing your deeply integrated personal (and therefore political) life/practice; I take much inspiration from it.

I have work to do to be with and not react from my discomfort - however it manifests - whether in response to my own lack of knowledge about the impacts of structural racism (including on my own views and actions) or in response to people with views that I would rather polarise with.  I long for a compassionate response to all of this - and I also long for change.  How to hold these things.. I have much to learn.

Centre Team's picture

Notes on community guidelines and moderation: a request for engagement

This is a general editorial response focussed on the comment thread on this post. You can also read our general response to complaints about the post itself

The Buddhist Centre Online is not Twitter. It is not Facebook. It is not just a news website. It shares some common functions with all of these, but it is also something else. It was built with love by members of the Triratna community, funded by donations from across the world, for us to discuss and share the Dharma with others. It is a space to exemplify the best of our community, and we hope that users can join us in living up to that vision.

The best of our community is kindness, empathy, connection, genuine curiosity, authentic, positively expressed experience rooted in the Dharma itself. We believe that here people might hold genuinely different, maybe even painfully different, views, and yet stand on something together that is bigger and deeper than all of that.

We hear that some people don’t appreciate aspects of the original post or don’t see sufficient Buddhist value in it to merit its place on our site. We are listening and will continue to try and meet you and understand your concerns and your perspective in a positive way, including finding ways to hear your own constructive vision of the Dharma. 

We hear that some people are dismayed that others not only cannot appreciate the original post, but even wish it removed. We are listening and will continue to try and promote harmony around what we understand seems like a breach around core Buddhist values, at a time of great suffering for people of colour, and renewed momentum in society for people who wish to work against racism in their own lives.

We recognise that there is also much that is good in this exchange, even where it is challenging. And as to the bits that seem less positive, we don’t have all the answers, by any means. We may have more to say (in public and in private) about those specific aspects of the thread over the coming days and weeks. In reflecting about all of it ourselves, as an editorial team we want first to offer a refresher in the rules of engagement on this site; and make a request that will help us all hold a difficult conversation perhaps a little better than it is currently being held.

Community Guidelines
Here are key excerpts from our community content and moderation guidelines, which are designed to help create a positive environment for everyone:

1. Please be courteous at all times. If you’re engaged in any kind of discussion, be as prepared to listen as you are to express yourself. Remember that there’s always a real person behind a computer/device screen, and they are likely quite different from you.

2. Think twice before posting anything that’s likely to give offence or be inflammatory. That doesn’t promote good conversation. If you’re upset at something you see here, perhaps let a little time pass before responding. Bear in mind this isn’t a space to vent our views, it’s about exploring respectfully with others what it means to be a Buddhist within our community and in the modern world generally. 

3. We may remove posts or comments that are considered off-topic.

4. Everyone has off-moments, and we’ll always try to be in friendly dialogue with you if a problem arises with one of your contributions. But we reserve the right to remove posts and comments (or even suspend user accounts) when we feel these guidelines are not observed. 

Whatever you contribute, we very much encourage you to think about it in the light of the Buddhist ethical precepts around ‘Right Speech’. These encourage communication that is: truthful, kindly and gracious, helpful and harmonious. 

Moderation
We try to keep things light when it comes to moderation of posts and comments within this shared space. And we ask the community itself to lead with this. If you have seen something that concerns you, please feel free to contact us. However, we do ask that you bear in mind the following guidelines, which will help preserve a harmonious atmosphere throughout the site:

  • Remember there is always a person behind the post or comment you’re objecting to. They may just be having a bad day… If you’re upset, perhaps let a little time pass before responding to them or us.
     
  • Try contacting the person first in a spirit of open, courteous engagement to see if hearing their perspective changes your own view of things, or if hearing yours changes theirs.
     
  • Take care to make sure what you are asking us to look at is actually against the spirit of the group or the site itself, rather than simply a difference of view or of personal taste. If in doubt, ask a friend and/or the administrator of the group.
     

The most important thing about this is the first bit: we ask the community to lead with this. That means you. And it applies perhaps especially on public spaces. Which brings us back, finally, to this comment thread…

A sampling of complaints to our team about the comments on this thread (so far)

  • This thread and the tone of some of the comments risks bringing the Order and Movement into disrepute in a public space. 
     
  • Some of the comments here make it seem like Triratna is racist or, at least, not a welcome space for people of colour.
     
  • Some of the comments contain, effectively, ad hominem negativity towards the person who made the post, or the person to whom someone is responding.
     
  • People’s experience is being dismissed without any attempt at connection or empathy in the spirit of the Dharma. 
     
  • This thread has steadily moved “off-topic”. What are you going to do about it?
     
  • Some of the comparisons people are making about others they disagree with are inflammatory and, in some cases, actively offensive.
     
  • Some of the comments here are attempting to shut down dialogue just because there is disagreement.
     
  • This post has been hijacked and turned into a sounding board for other frustrations.
     

That’s just some of them. How does it feel reading that list? It certainly doesn’t make us happy here.

In theory, as an editorial team, we’re supposed to weigh, assess, then take action wherever a possible breach of the community guidelines has occurred. Usually that involves first reaching out personally to individuals (we’ve already done some of that and will do more); but in this case, to be honest, to do so in all the cases that require it would likely be far too onerous a process. Like you, no doubt, we’re pretty busy. There’s a lot on.

We also suspect that if we were to act within our “normal” duty as moderators on this thread, it would not necessarily cool the situation for some of you. So what to do?

A request from the editorial team
In light of all this, we will do our own work around this thread as sensitively as we can. In the meantime, please consider what changes you can make to your contributions that would better serve our community and Order online. You can edit comments. You can remove a comment and leave a blank to show that one was there before. You can replace a deleted comment in-place. 

If you’re part of an exchange where someone has done this, and your subsequent response now seems off, please consider re-working your own contribution.

There is a great opportunity for our community if we can figure out how to have this kind of conversation in a better way. The underlying issues won’t disappear, it will still be messy; and we recognise that this is just the start of a different approach to engagement with the deep differences captured here. We’ll check back in a few days, and look forward to seeing how things go. 

Yours in the Dharma,

Candradasa (Director of The Buddhist Centre Online) and Parami (Chair of the Editorial Board)

Dayamudra's picture

Thank you, Candradasa, for this call to Right Speech. You are a brave man. I respect you deeply.

marysalome's picture

This is really nicely put, and I appreciate the thought that went into it, Candradasa and Parami.

One thing that jumped out at me was the concern that “Some of the comments here make it seem like Triratna is racist or, at least, not a welcome space for people of colour.” 

This is a painful but critical topic. While cultivating skillful reactions has been my primary focus, that can only go so far. I’m grateful this topic is getting the energy it is. If we can establish a context and history of turning toward this issue together, we can create a foundation for something more welcoming. I’d like to be able to proudly invite my friends to join me without warning them that they might encounter unexamined ignorance or exoticization, or stumble over an off-putting trope in a text. I’d like that for myself. I’d like to be part of making this one of those places. 

With respect and in sangha,

Mary

Dharmavadana's picture

Thankyou Candradasa and Parami for these very wise and welcome words.

vajrabhadri's picture

Sadhu! to Candradasa and Parami  for these thoughtful words….perfect timing. D🙏🌈🌹

Arthavadin's picture

Thank you Viveka for writing such an impassioned piece.  I don’t tend to read social media threads but a mutual friend encouraged me to have look at this one.  What strikes me is that there are at least two conversations happening simultaneously and neither ‘side’ is really listening to, nor addressing, the concerns of the other. 

One conversation is basically stating the rather obvious truth that black people are often subjected to direct and indirect racism and we should be acting to address this. The other conversation is that the Black Lives Matter movement is potentially a Trojan horse for divisive identity politics.  Consequently, those with more socially conservative attitudes are refusing to engage with Viveka’s exhortation to action on her terms.  For what it’s worth, I reckon both ‘sides’ make valid points and with a little more humility and listening perhaps a common basis for action could be achieved. 

A third related conversation relates to the appropriateness of seeking to address what some experience as political rather than ethical agendas on BCO.  

I  have a vested interest in the issue of race, especially as it relates to policing in the UK.  I wrote my degree dissertation on racial prejudice and throughout my career in public/government service (UK) I’ve done what I can to address this issue from the inside. 

I can not speak for the situation in the US (which is very particular), but I can state with confidence that within British policing the issue of race has been taken, and is taken, very seriously indeed. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry kicked UK policing into touch over 20 years ago and it’s still very much alive and kicking.  I, with a few colleagues, developed the first national positive action leadership development programme for BAME police officers and I’m proud so say that several years later many of those who went through that initial programme are now operating at the most senior levels in the country.   

Earlier this year I  interviewed Ian Hopkins, the Chief Constable who is taking the national lead on the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion agenda for the (UK) National Police Chiefs’ Council.  That man’s heart and soul is exactly where it should be, and so are the hearts and souls of many of the other police chiefs that I’ve interviewed.  Despite being a cash strapped public service, UK policing is throwing money, time and resources at this issue - and rightly so!

Yes, Black lives definitely do matter and, at least in the UK, something is being done about it.  This doesn’t mean that there isn’t much more to be done, of course there is, but let those of us in the UK respond sensibly in a measured way to the reality that is contextually specific to our country rather than getting whipped up into a frenzy and conflating it with what is happening in the USA, or for that matter any other country.  Sure, there are some commonalities, but there are also differences.  

Regardless of our personal politics, I expect (and believe) that all Buddhists condemn what happened to George Floyd.  I for one will will happily campaign for fairness and justice for all people and I commit to doing what I can that is within my sphere of influence.  But, a cynical part of me wonders how much of what we are witnessing right now, especially by those not directly affected, has more than a whiff of virtue signalling.  I hope not!

aranyaka's picture

Hi Arthavadin,

Thank you for this measured response and for sharing your impressive first hand experience of working at the coal face of the questions at hand.

I agree with you that there are at least three conversations going on in this thread. There has been some more detailed discussion around editorial policy elsewhere and I have attempted to pull out some of those themes for more detailed discussion elsewhere:
https://thebuddhistcentre.com/order-connection/threads/responses-black-lives-matter-protests

Much Metta, Aranyaka

Dayamudra's picture

Here’s another summary.

Viveka, referred to twice as “this woman”, made a call to compassion and a shared commitment to anti-racism. Her letter was dismissed as “crude hyperbole”, “ideologies of evil”, “group hysteria”, “inverted prejudice”, “highly contentious”. In response to weeks of protests which are overwhelmingly peaceful: “the mob is alway wrong and really dangerous”. There is also an effort to instruct BLM organizers in “the Christian values of forgiveness, patience and non-violence, the many examples of extraordinary acts of forgiveness and non violence by black American victims.” For those in The UK who don’t know directly how life is here, in The US, for people of color, listen. Learn. We don’t need any more Andrew Sullivan quotes. 

Meanwhile 2 Black men have been LYNCHED in California, police brutality in the US continues, and even the United Nations has been invited to investigate. It’s a problem. And anyone who thinks that lynching needs to be demonstrated as ”racially motivated” should do their homework.

Black Lives Matter. Because Love Matters. 

Arthavadin's picture

Thanks Aranyaka.

Arthavadin's picture

Hi Dayamudra.  I can only respond for myself rather than for those who wrote the comments that you’ve quoted (which do not reflect my views).  

I can assure you that the crystal clear picture from this side of the Atlantic is that the way black people are treated across large swathes of the US is, and always has been, shameful.  The position in Britain is nothing to be proud of either although, as I said, I do have some confidence that significant efforts have been, and are being, made to address inequalities here.  

The reason I, and imagine many others, rarely engage in social media threads such as this is because they are so readily used as a platform by angry loud people, become a self-confirming echo chamber, or else descend into a polarised and offensive slanging match. I’ve certainly been guilty of the latter two offences (on facebook) and I know I’m at risk of of the first. Ultimately, none of these result in nuanced discussion or debate that moves an issue on in a meaningful way.  I fear this doesn’t bode well for the future of our order which, post Covid 19, is likely to be discussing and meeting more and more online. 

Dayamudra's picture

Thank you, Arthavadin. I can feel the kindness in your words. Like you, I rarely post on these forums, out of fear of the condescending and dismissive tone of many of the louder voices. It is painful to read accusations of “identity politics” “liberal McCarthyism” “political correctness” or whatever they are on about. Of course none of us think that we are racist. (Why would we?!?) Still, many of these posts have caused harm.

I do wonder, truly, if it is possible for us to discuss race, racism, racial oppression without centering the white male British experience? Just look at the amount of space on here taken up by white male British voices. And look for whose voices are missing. Without reacting, could we be more curious about this? I wonder.

I appreciate the courage it took for Viveka to post this letter and this podcast. I am also deeply grateful for the post today by the Black and Asian Order Members from London. I am listening. I am learning. I want to evolve.

Black Lives Matter.

“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” James Baldwin

aranyaka's picture

Hi Dayamudra,

For those in The UK who don’t know directly how life is here, in The US, for people of color, listen. Learn. We don’t need any more Andrew Sullivan quotes. 

As Arthavadin very eloquently pointed out there are at least three conversations going on in this thread. I, like you, find myself strongly disagreeing with the sentiments put forward in one of those conversations.

I also agree that those of us in the UK need to realise that we probably do not fully appreciate the full nature and implications of the culture of racism as embedded in the US. The nearest analogy that I can imagine would be it being akin to the Class system in the UK.  But a world of class where it was still possible for the upper classes to behave in ways that they were able to 100 years ago with impunity……

But there are other conversations being highlighted in this thread - including genuine concerns about other dynamics at play. These fears need to be heard and engaged with too. 

We need to listen and learn and engage with all these conversations, all these concerns, all these fears. So yes, we do need Andrew Sullivan quotes as well…. and simply closing down any of these conversations will not help.

Much Metta, Aranyaka 

Dharmavadana's picture

Thank you Viveka. I very much appreciate your call to empathise and respond with active compassion to fellow human beings who are suffering. A famous quote comes to mind: 

‘Buddhism addresses itself to the individual human being, regardless of race, nationality, caste, sex or age…

‘This is one of the reasons why I am a Buddhist. I believe that humanity is basically one. I believe that it is possible for any human being to communicate with any other human being, to feel for any other human being, to be friends with any other human being. This is what I truly and deeply believe. This belief is part of my own experience. It is part of my own life. It is part of me. I cannot live without this belief, and I would rather die than give it up.’

I’m sure everyone will know this. It comes from a talk Sangharakshita gave in India, though I can’t find out when. If we feel for other human beings, if we aspire to be friends with them, we can’t let them suffer. It seems as simple as that to me.

I’ve extracted from a longer quote which can be found here: https://manchesterbuddhistcentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/WhyIA…

maitridasa's picture

From a lecture called “Dr Ambedkar’s True Greatness” published in Triratna Grantha Mala in 1986

dhivajri's picture

We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist. - James Baldwin

verdonkdharma's picture

The white fragility on this post is palpable.  I’ve come across so much of it in the past few weeks that I feel somewhat inoculated to it, although it is also disheartening to see amongst members of my own spiritual community.  Thank you Viveka for being a voice for millions of people of color across the world.  As a black man and Buddhist here in the United States, it’s messages like this that make me feel welcome at my sangha.  If order members on here are uncomfortable with it, good.  George Floyd was beyond uncomfortable for 8 minutes 46 seconds as Derek Chauvin squeezed the life out of him.  I’ve been uncomfortable for over 38 years as a black man being followed through stores for no reason, being called racial slurs as people have whizzed by me on the road with confederate flags, and being called nigger by classmates or members of the public during multiple incidents in my life.  It’s been wonderful to attend multiple protests here in Seattle over the past few weeks and see people from all walks of life declare without hesitation, “black lives matter!”  For some of you, these messages are too political.  Well you certainly have the privilege of having that perspective.  For me, the dharma and social justice are inseparable.  

To quote MLK “It’s all right to talk about long white robes over yonder, in all of its symbolism,” he said, “but ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here and His children who can’t eat three square meals a day.”

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