Portsmouth Buddhist Center

What can a Buddhist do about Racism?

On Sun, 14 June, 2020 - 19:12
Suddhayu's picture

*This is a message being sent to our sangha that we also wanted to post here.*

At the beginning of April our chair, Suddhayu, wrote to encourage us to find opportunities for personal transformation in working with the emotions arising in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The violent police killing of George Floyd, within the  larger context of many such murders, and the intense national (and international) focus on racism of the past two weeks also give rise to strong emotions. For many of us, these events raise the question of the connection between our efforts toward personal transformation and our desire to see positive transformation in our society.  

As it happens, June is Buddhist Action Month. In a recent online event, a senior Order member, Parami, gave a talk, titled “Compassionate Revolution,” and addressed that question. She referenced a 1971 talk by Sangharakshita, the founder of Triratna, on how Buddhists could respond to the issues of the day –– basically the same issues we are facing now. These issues, Sangharakshita said, although they initially provoke responses of outrage, anger, indignation and worry, often in the end just lead us to a feeling of helplessness because they are so big and complex. Out of this sense of helplessness can come the urge to withdraw into the details of our own lives, which, for many of us are privileged lives. And yet as Buddhists we are committed to facing reality as much as possible. And we know that to withdraw is to contribute to the problems. So what can a Buddhist do?

Sangharakshita suggested four things, which Parami also shared:

1. Find a means of personal development. This means going beyond just getting better at living in samsara to the work of eradicating the three poisons of craving, hatred and ignorance.

In relation to racism, we need to have a good look at ourselves, talk with our friends, and find opportunities to educate ourselves and become more proactive in undermining racist tendencies in our own minds, and in our community. To this end, PBC is working with others in Triratna to provide workshops at the local, regional and international level. We’ll announce these Triratna initiatives once they’re planned. There are also book groups and workshops now being organized widely in our communities.

2. Join a spiritual community. Many of us have already decided on Triratna as a context for practice. Of the many contributions we can make within Triratna and the PBC sangha, questioning our own conditioning around race, and asking more from ourselves in relation to inclusivity are of crucial relevance here. Our center is in one of the whitest regions of the US, and that is noticeable in who comes to our center. The PBC Council is asking itself, and we can all ask ourselves, what can we do to invite and welcome more Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) into our community? 

3. Withdraw energy from “anti-spiritual” forces. These are forces that foster the three poisons, for example, consumer culture or harshly divisive sources of information and opinion. The energy we gain from this withdrawal can be channelled into more meaningful engagements. 

4. Exert an influence for good in the circles that you move in. As Buddhists, we can exemplify skillfulness in communication and nonviolent action. We can actively hold space for difficult emotion, encouraging a compassionate response to arise. We can campaign for more empathy, compassion and understanding in our society, and support initiatives that lead to a kinder, wiser world.

The Buddha stood out in his day as anti-caste; he eliminated all caste distinctions in his community and is often depicted as challenging caste assumptions. Triratna has a direct link to that aspect of the Buddhist tradition through Sangharakshita’s friendship with Dr. Ambedkar, who led hundreds of thousands of low-caste Indians to reject caste by converting to Buddhism. When Ambedkar died just weeks after the first mass conversion, Sangharakshita gave numerous talks to help the new Buddhists understand what their conversion meant. Today there is a huge Triratna sangha in India and roughly half of all Order members are Indian. 

We are proud of this aspect of the worldwide Buddhist movement of which we are a part. It inspires us in our efforts toward personal transformation and our work to build effective spiritual community. At PBC we uphold the values of our tradition, and where we see a connection with the causes of our time, including community initiatives that expose and transform racism, we can offer our support. We commit to doing our work to end racism.

The PBC Council:
Candradasa, Maryellen, Shraddhavani, Suddhayu, and Viriyalila