Another attempt to think out loud on the subject of diversity:
In the discussion around the Heart Sutra last Saturday, we talked about prajna paramita as the wisdom that understands emptiness. I tend to trust that at a certain point in a meditation practice, the truth of the three marks of existence (that all things are impermanent, that all things are unsatisfactory, and that nothing has an independent self) becomes clearer, and that it is possible to let go of conventional notions of looking at the world, accepting emptiness as an equal truth. In zen, especially as articulated by Dogen, the emphasis is on being able to embrace, as one whole, the contrasting or paradoxical views of conventional difference in the relative world and the interconnected unity of the absolute (‘form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form’ as the Heart Sutra puts it). This is itself the liberation of practice-realisation.
I often teach that we have less control over situations than we imagine, and that letting go of the desire for control can be very liberating. But that comes from a place of privilege as well as a place of emptiness. Over the years I have heard people of colour close to Zen Center saying that communities with less privilege and power have had resistance to being told let go when they don’t have so much to let go of, and are instead fighting for a fairer share of agency in the world.
It was easy for me, as someone who scores pretty much a full bingo card on privileges (white, male, middle class, English as a first language, heterosexual) to be able to give up some of the power afforded by that privilege. During my years of high school education in England, it was explicitly and repeatedly spelled out that we were being groomed for leadership, and we were constantly reminded that preceding generations of boys at that school had led the country and the empire, serving and dying in many wars. Some people I met in those years are now running the country, or at least imagining they are. Since none of that appealed to me very much, it was not hard for me to forge a more individual path – that is a benefit of starting from a place of privilege.
When I read around this subject (most pertinently recently here, and here), the tone in the below-the-line discussions that bothers me most is that the people who have historically found themselves without the kind of power I took for granted, are constantly being told -by those who have more power – that they should let go and accept the way things are, that the problem they are at pains to highlight do not exist, as if power and privilege dynamics were not real and entrenched and worth fighting against. This is only something you can claim when you are in the position of privilege.
I do not believe it is my place to lecture people who have a different experience of privilege, as to how they are supposed to respond, but instead I need to listen, and pay attention to what I am being told. This is not so hard to do; it does perhaps require understanding everyone to be a child of Buddha, with equal access to, and potential for, buddhahood, but also having their own unique circumstances which they are having to meet and respond to. As the New Yorker article notably puts it:
‘Garza’s argument for inclusivity is informed by the fact that she—a black queer female married to a trans male—would likely have found herself marginalized not only in the society she hopes to change but also in many of the organizations that are dedicated to changing it. She also dismisses the kind of liberalism that finds honor in nonchalance. “We want to make sure that people are not saying, ‘Well, whatever you are, I don’t care,’ ” she said. “No, I want you to care. I want you to see all of me.”’