Community Voices: Dharma Practice and Race
Some members of our community have in the past few months instigated a series of initiatives exploring race in the light of their collective Dharma practice and our Sangha.
This year, for many of us, has been a stark reminder of the ongoing harm of racism in our society and across the world. It has been highlighted and brought into our consciousness more strongly than ever before.
A group of Sangha members came together to explore these and other areas in more depth and in relation to one another. They expressed an active interest in exploring and addressing these issues in themselves and in our wider community.
Here are the voices of four of those Sangha members about why they started this journey and what they hope will come from it.
For me, the news coverage of George Floyd’s death and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests happened in the context of ongoing family discussions about the impact of white parents and mixed-race adoptions.
I began to realise in a painful way that my position of privilege as a white middle-class woman meant I needed, and wanted, to explore my own often unconscious prejudices and biases.
I felt I needed to listen, as openly as possible, to the experiences of those whose history and daily lives had been ignored or actively repressed for so long. It feels similar to how I had tried to get men to see how they benefited, also often unconsciously, from the power of the patriarchy in the 70s!
Until recently I considered myself not to be racist and therefore I thought my personal development in that respect was done. The realisation that my long-standing attitude of “I don’t see the colour of people’s skin and treat everyone alike” was actually deeply problematic, was a shock to my sense of self. “Wow” I thought; what else am I blissfully unaware of and need to examine further?
I believe the Dharma is the path to truth and reality. Therefore I am sure it is the best context to do this work in. I can trust our community will be a self-aware and compassionate environment in which to face the inevitable challenges and be vulnerable.
I hope to dig deep into my unacknowledged and unconscious conditioning around race in order to become a more aware being. Hopefully, I can then be part of the solution to the disease of racism, rather than remaining part of the problem.
I was deeply moved by the killing of George Floyd and the response of the Black Lives Matter movement. I also wondered why the Black and Asian communities were hit so much harder by COVID. This led me to start exploring the racial inequalities in our society and I had a lot to learn at a societal level.
What was really important to me was hearing the lived experience of racism for black and brown people – the nastiness and inequalities that they suffer. It was now also impossible to ignore the influence of this on my own life as a person of colour.
Exploring this hasn’t been easy within Triratna. At times, there has been a polarisation of views, that was incredibly painful to experience. I have also seen a tendency towards academic debate that dismisses the experiences and emotions of those whose life potential is abhorrently reduced by racism.
If we are to diminish suffering within our world, we can’t ignore one of the most prevalent, violent and subversive forms of pain in our society. It’s important that we look within ourselves, both as individuals and as a Sangha, and do what we can to address these issues.
In doing this work, I would draw on Dhardo Rimpoche’s phrases – and I think the ordering is important here. ‘Cherish the doctrine’: have faith in our understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and let them be at the heart of all our actions in this area. ‘Live United’: address any systemic racism within our own structures and create a place of belonging for all people who wish to explore the Dharma. ‘Radiate Love’: we do this not through angry words or polarisation but through love and a wish to alleviate suffering for all.
If I didn’t have the supportive context of our Sangha to turn towards these issues alongside others, after a while my motivation and concern would, I am afraid to say, slip further and further away from my heart and mind.
What I’m finding through this work, is that I feel connected to my heart on a deeper level, caring on a deeper level and connecting with others on a deeper level. I’ve started to think of this work as being all about awareness and kindness.
It’s always challenging to turn towards things that are painful but it’s also the place where healing and connection can happen in our community.
What’s Happening in our Community around Race?
- In late November this year, 24 members of our community, started reading and reflecting together on a book called Mindful of Race by Ruth King – transforming racism from the inside out.
- In December or early January, Ratnasagara and Anjali start a study group on Mind in Harmony, looking at mental states that cause harm to others and ourselves. The group starts on Thursday 3rd December…there is still time left to join! To join contact email@example.com
- We will be holding future Sangha Evenings to explore these areas further.
- In 2021 there are plans and ideas to put on some events specifically for people of colour. If you’re a person of colour – at any level of Buddhist practice – and are interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about the work our Sangha is doing or planning in this area, to have a chat about how you can be involved, or simply to connect, please contact email@example.com