Jasmine Syedullah

‘Sangha is a Sanskrit word meaning association, assembly, company, or community. Sangha might me that homeleaving means letting go of the desire to save master from himself. It means learning to let people go, and to even let them go back home. Sangha has taught me to mind the gap between what we say and what we do. The practice pulls us together, but we are not all headed in the same direction at the same time. We long for community but do not know how to sit with difference. We try to take connection and eviscerate what makes us distinct. Just as the commuter watches for the train from the busy platform, I have watched the crowds try to form community, peeling into the station, pooling together, waiting on the arrival of their most trusted form of transportation. Time passes, and we grow anxious. So many promises. Such promising destinations. We can get lost in all the excitement of waiting for deliverance from the presence of what bell hooks so wisely names white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. We can get so obsessed in the anticipation of reaching a sense of escape, of touching this shiny, intoxicating promise that when the train arrives, we don’t think. We jump on board! Won’t any way out of isolation do? Maybe if we all just board the next one, we can get there all at once.’ (Radical Dharma)

Rev. angel Kyodo williams

‘Zen tradition doesn’t have a centralized structure, but they have power structures. Marginalized people are largely challenged by the power structures. Of course, once you’re deeply inside, you may know that there’s ways to reorganize your own mind in relationship to that power, but you have to get inside, which is why we see the experience of people coming and leaving. I have the benefit of being invited to different communities. And all white-dominated communities have slightly different permutations of the same thing.

Zen is single teachers. Once the teachers get to be teachers, they get to do anything they want, which is the only reason I can exist and be of use at all. It happens to be built into Zen that now that I’m a teacher they can’t say anything really to me.

On the other hand, in non-decentralized structures, teachers of color are threatened with their participation and existence. It’s subtle, but they’re not as vocal. It’s not because they don’t think the same thing I do. I’m having the same conversations with them, but the structures that exist and the way the power is disables their voices. That creates a ripple effect. People of color that come go, “OK, this is great. But every time I look up there, once again, I’m being told that the only people that can tell me something about myself and help me to learn and understand myself isomeone that has no shared conditional experience with me.”

Human beings are about communication, so there’s a communication in the power structures themselves. So who’s sitting here says something. All my life, this is never who was going to be sitting up here. That meant that I had to, as you said, weather it – stick it out. As the demographic changes and people are more empowered in their own lives and finding power in their own lives, they’re more and more unwilling to stick it out.

So as we have more people that are ready and open to different teachings outside of the traditional, conventional religions that they grew up with, they’re simultaneously politicized in such a way that they’re not willing to subject themselves to what many of us subjected ourselves to for a long time.

They’ve had enough.’ (Radical Dharma)

I have a couple of upcoming talks that I am starting to think about, and right now the notion of sangha and what it means is uppermost in my thoughts. This week, the posts will be in service of that notion.


The true form is magnificently illuminated with gleaming fire.
The teaching’s voice is total silence amid the ringing wind chimes.
The moon hangs in the old pine tree, cold in the falling night.
The chilled crane in its nest in the clouds has not yet been aroused from its dreams.

Dana Velden

‘Stepping into intimacy through our bodies, through our sense doors, through the basic acknowledgment of our aliveness, is the first step. But we are creatures of the mind as much as (if not more than) creatures of our bodies. In some ways, our bodies are always intimate, for that is their nature: to dwell in the world, to be in contact (with the ground, with objects, with the air, with other people), and to respond.

But what we do with that intimacy internally, how we process it through our thoughts, predilections, personality, and emotions, is often a more complex event. And the kitchen is as much a place of feeling as it is a simple room in our house where cooking occurs. Our relationship to food, to eating, to nourishment, to pleasure and pain, our ideas of scarcity and abundance, of our own worthiness and our sense of responsibility to our families – all of this is present and played out here. The hearth is the heart, and the true nature of the heart cannot be hidden, at least not for long. What’s the true nature of your heart? How are you expressing it? What does the world look like to you when you’re fully in, responding to its request?

If those questions baffle you, yet at the same time you feel their power as they tug and beckon, then you are hearing their call to intimacy, to a deeper knowing of who you are and how you fit into the world around you. By allowing intimacy to deepen our experience, we create a more informed and therefore a more trustworthy response to our lives. We aren’t reacting just to our impulses and neuroses and old, broken patterns. Were relating to the world, face-to-face, in a very direct and meaningful way.’ (Finding Ourselves in the Kitchen)

The student who had been reading Gesshin’s book had also read and enjoyed her book on food, which reminded me of Dana’s lovely work, which I will lend to my student next time I see him.

Gesshin Claire Greenwood

‘In my experience, there is a lot of basic trust involved in Buddhist practice. First of all, I trust in my basic potential to wake up. This is a basic, fundamental trust that I touch in with every time I sit down on a meditation cushion. If I didn’t trust that I have capacity and basic goodness, then wouldn’t be doing any of this. Even if, as a famous teacher once said, “Zazen is good for nothing,” I still trust that it’s a good thing to do. Figure that one out. I also trust – or suspect, or hope – that my teachers and my tradition know what they’re talking about. This is a big one. The tradition of Buddhism has been around for a few thousand years, and it’s included some of the most brilliant, dedicated religious figures throughout time all getting together to study, meditate, practice, and debate these issues. So… maybe it has something useful to say, you know? Maybe my limited twenty-nine years of existence on this planet can learn something from the Buddhist practice, which people have been dedicating their entire lives to developing for more than twenty-five hundred years.’ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)

One of my students has been reading this book, and wanted to discuss a few passages from it in the group. This section, and the surrounding paragraphs, was the basis of a rich conversation this week.


‘One day Chongxin asked Zen Master Daowu, “Since I’ve come here, you’ve never taught me about essential mind.”
Daowu said, “Since you came here, I’ve never stopped giving you instruction about your essential mind.”
Chongxin said, “Where have you pointed it out?”
Daowu said, When you bring tea to me, I receive it for you. When you bring food to me, I receive it for you. When you do prostrations before me, I bow my head. Where have I not given instruction about your essential mind?”
Chongxin bowed his head for a long time.
Daowu said, “Look at it directly. If you try to think about it you’ll miss it.”
Upon hearing these words, Chongxin woke up.
Chongxin then asked Daowu, “How does one uphold it?”
Daowu said, “Live in an unfettered manner, in accord with circumstances. Give yourself over to everyday mind, for there is nothing sacred to be realized outside of this. (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I think when I first came across this story, I felt it to be a little facile. These days I find it deeper. How about you?

Paula Arai

‘There is no fixed word for “I” in the Japanese language. The nuanced complexities of navigating selves as fundamentally relational beings is evident in the fact that there are fifteen ways to say “I’ in contemporary Japanese, each one designating an aspect of the self depending on what one wants present to another person. You can indicate gender, stress social status, negotiate levels of formality, note age, or convey a combination of any of these.’ (Bringing Zen Home)  

Shohaku Okumura

‘Everyone, consciously or unconsciously, is seeking for something trustworthy, something dependable, beyond worldly affairs, from which one can’t find feel relief. This is why we suffer. In Buddhism, this is the “inception of suffering”. Even though we feel happy, there is suffering, because we want to hold on to happiness. Constantly, whatever our lifestyle may be, whether we are happy or unhappy, there is always suffering, there is always some feeling of dissatisfaction. We want to grasp something perfectly trustworthy, or completely dependable. This is the goal. This goal is not something we can get in the realm of the conscious world, nor in the realm of the unconscious world. It comes from something more than these worlds. We don’t know what it is, but we are seeking for it every day, and no matter what we achieve. In the realm of worldly affairs, we aren’t satisfied. We still seek for something . We still seek for something more than we have. This is pretty deep; no one knows what it is, but we are all seeking.’ (Living By Vow)

Henry Louis Gates Jr

‘Heated debates within the Black community, beginning as early as the first decades of the 19th century, have ranged from what names “the race” should publicly call itself (William Whipper vs. James McCune Smith) and whether or not enslaved men and women should rise in arms against their masters (Henry Highland Garnet vs. Frederick Douglass). Economic development vs. political rights? (Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Du Bois). Should freed Black people return to Africa? (Marcus Garvey vs. W.E.B. Du Bois). Should we admit publicly the pivotal role of African elites in enslaving our ancestors? (Ali Mazrui vs. Wole Soyinka).

Add to these repeated arguments over sexism, socialism and capitalism, reparations, antisemitism and homophobia. It is often surprising to students to learn that there has never been one way to “be Black” among Black Americans, nor have Black politicians, activists and scholars ever spoken with one voice or embraced one ideological or theoretical framework. Black America, that “nation in a nation,” as the Black abolitionist Martin R. Delany put it, has always been as varied and diverse as the complexions of the people who have identified, or been identified, as its members.

I found these debates so fascinating, so fundamental to a fuller understanding of Black history, that I coedited a textbook that features them, and designed Harvard’s Introduction to African American Studies course, which I teach with the historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, to acquaint students with a wide range of them in colorful and sometimes riotous detail. More recent debates over academic subjects like Kimberlé Crenshaw’s insightful theory of “intersectionality,” reparations, Black anti-Semitism, critical race theory and The 1619 Project — several of which made Mr. DeSantis’s hit list — will be included in the next edition of our textbook and will no doubt make it onto the syllabus of our introductory course.

As a consultant to the College Board as it developed its AP course in African American Studies, I suggested the inclusion of a “pro and con” debate unit at the end of its curriculum because of the inherent scholarly importance of many of the contemporary hot-button issues that conservative politicians have been seeking to censor, but also as a way to help students understand the relation between the information they find in their textbooks and efforts by politicians to say what should and what should not be taught in the classroom.

Why shouldn’t students be introduced to these debates? Any good class in Black Studies seeks to explore the widest range of thought voiced by Black and white thinkers on race and racism over the long course of our ancestors’ fight for their rights in this country. In fact, in my experience, teaching our field through these debates is a rich and nuanced pedagogical strategy, affording our students ways to create empathy across differences of opinion, to understand “diversity within difference,” and to reflect on complex topics from more than one angle. It forces them to critique stereotypes and canards about who “we are” as a people and what it means to be “authentically Black.” I am not sure which of these ideas has landed one of my own essays on the list of pieces the state of Florida found objectionable, but there it is.’ (from the New York Times)


Rice without millet from fields in the mountains, 
Yellow pickled vegetables - eat as you like.
Otherwise, leave it to east and west.
Please, fellow travelers, each of you make an effort.
Take care.