Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘Since becoming a transmitted dharma teacher, others’ preoccupation with blackness—specifically, my blackness—has been nearly inescapable. I have been told by students and teachers of all races that my purpose is to speak and act against racial injustice. And I am to do this with the mahasangha looking on, feeling relief at having accomplished the diversity agenda. My black skin has been a desired commodity in some corners as an obvious marker of diversity, as if diversity is not a complete cosmology of the entire universe…

Many, because I interweave my experience of blackness with Buddhist teachings, assume my teachings are limited to skin color. The assembly often seems perplexed by the turning of the dharma wheel from a lived experience unfamiliar to them, and many express confusion as to whether I am actually espousing Buddha’s teachings or just speaking about my skin color. This is not to deny that many do hear and receive the truth in my dharma teaching, but it can be hard-won when someone recognizes the Buddha’s teachings as being expressed from a different lived experience.

Conversely, I have been condemned for my participation in Buddhist centers that perpetuate racism. But who among us does not walk every day in the mud of the world? And yes, I have suffered within these places. Even while wearing Zen robes, some students and teachers do not see me as a legitimate Zen teacher, even within the institution in which I was ordained. Of course, this is humbling and keeps my head from swelling up while wearing the brown okesa. As my late Zen teacher, Zenkei Blanche Hartman, shared, “When bothered with not being seen, ask yourself, who do I think I am?” There is no answer, only a sober moment and space for nothingness to do what it does. The silence enters and the mountain speaks.’ (from an article in Lion’s Roar)

DSCF8586 copyZenju at last year’s jukai that she refers to in the article.

DSCF8546 copyZenju holding up a Daikokutennyo piece at the ceremony.

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