angel Kyodo williams

‘If you have not laid down on the floor in tears, you have not started your work in the dharma. You should be completely undone. You should come completely apart at least once, asking, Who is this person? You may be doing some really awesome meditation. You might be reading commentaries, reaching different jhanas—I don’t know. But you are not doing the work of liberation if you have not come completely undone. That’s where it begins. I have no idea where it ends.

I’m not talking only about the Buddhist path; I’m talking about the path of liberation. You can come to that as an activist. You can come to it as a yogi, or as an agnostic, or as a humanist. If you’re on the path to liberation, you have to be motivated by this fierce sense of undoing, this willingness to come completely apart, to know that everything you think you know about yourself, you inherited from someplace else. You need to take account. Be willing to face and acknowledge that much of what has come to you has been unearned and has come at great cost to others. Start balancing the books. And then: relax. Relax. Enjoy your life. Let it unfold. This is the tension of the path: the fierce, fierce undoing and the perfected ability to just be with what is.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Rev angel offered a teaching on liberation over the weekend, which I was not able to attend, but I paid for access to the recording, and I am looking forward to sitting down with it soon.

angel Kyodo williams

‘Everything I see, everything I say about liberation comes from this very dharma, the same dharma that you hold dear, these fundamental truths that give us the path to see ourselves. The only way I can sit here and not be absolutely furious, livid with every man, every white body, every straight body, is because of my path. Even when I want to be mad or hating on folks because they represent dominant paradigms, I cannot, because liberation wants nothing else but liberation for all. That’s the only reason I can speak from this place—because one day I woke up and much to my chagrin, I loved the very same people who would rather see my body lying in the street. I loved the very same people who would ignore me in my dharma center. I loved the very same people who would make me invisible. I didn’t say I liked them! But I do love them. This is not the path of “Everything is going to be neat.” This is not the path of “All the answers will make you feel good.” This is a path of complexity. And that love is not an easy burden.

I’m not here to say that you should now go and study race, or study patriarchy, or study oppression to the detriment of your practice. We need the container that our spiritual life provides. We have to find that resonant truth in ourselves that helps us to see more clearly what is happening outside. Those of us who are monastic and solely want to turn inward cannot be free. Those of us who are just activists or just wrestling with how to deal with oppression? We can’t be free either.

It’s an inside-out job—we need both paths. We need self and we desperately need other. We need to understand the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to know. We need to understand the parts that society tells us we should have shame about. We need to understand our history and our context and then live through that, live into that truth. We don’t have to know the answers. We just have to choose to live into the truth. And the truth, both universal and ever-unfolding from moment to moment, is not easy for most of us to apprehend. We want it to be clear, to be fixed. We want to have a neat, packaged answer. We want somebody to come and give us the answer, to tell us what to do, so we can abdicate our responsibility, give up our agency, and hope for the best. But you don’t get to walk a path of liberation and not be accountable. First and foremost, liberation is about choosing to be 100 percent accountable for who and how you are. And if that sounds like a really big job that you are going to be working at for the rest of your life, it is. There are other things you could be doing with your time. That’s fine—you just don’t get to say you’re walking a path of liberation.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

angel Kyodo williams

‘Something got stolen from all of us. So you have to have compassion for the voice of the heart that has been lost or obscured, whether in others or in yourself. People need spaces of their own in which they can find those stories, reclaim them. No one escaped—no one. So if you think you don’t have a story because you’re privileged, that just means you’re completely in the dark. It is only when you find your story—when you realize the way you think and how you are has been utterly conditioned—that you will understand that even if on the surface you get to do all kinds of things, in truth, you have absolutely no choices at all. You have no choice at all other than to abide in this location and uphold it and be complicit in it for fear that to disrupt it will destroy who you are. You have a right to reclaim yourself, but you have to do the work of finding out how it is that who you truly are has been obscured…

When dharma teachers try to tell me that this work is not the dharma, I say they’re confusing the true dharma with the dharma they’ve made small. Even the notion that the dharma is somehow limited to the historical Buddha’s teachings says a lot about the work they’ve been doing and their understanding of what this is. The dharma—understanding, peering into the nature of reality—is not specific to Buddhism. The dharma is truth. And the only choice we really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth or to live in ignorance. There are no other choices. You have to actively engage. How did I come to be? How do I think of myself? How did I get what I have? (I don’t mean your degrees.) Where did I come from? What land are we on? If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. All of us, in some way, have profited from our wrong knowing.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

I have quoted from this talk before, and, having been steered back to it by reverend angel’s newsletter, I will be sharing another part of it soon.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘When the journey of finding home takes ancestral homelessness into account, we begin to understand the need for sanctuary in a new way. The hunger for home is deeply layered. When seeking a vision of being healed, multi-generational displacement motivates within some of us a desire for our indigenous lands of origin, or to create sanctuary or shared community with those of similar ancestral origin, places where we can enter life fully without fear. We need places to breathe and heal our disconnection from the earth. Our spiritual journey requires us, first of all, to understand the pain and loss of our ancestral identity and to experience the extent to which we have wandered. This loss of our homes is in our bones and begs to be acknowledged, not merely transcended.’ (Sanctuary)

This is a repost, and if you would like to read my commentary on these words, please click the almost invisible link.

Joy Brennan

‘The Yogacara understanding of mind as subjective and objective both accounts for and counters the invisibility of whiteness. Yogacara, unlike earlier schools of Buddhist thought, uses the term “mind” to refer both to the subjective aspect of awareness (the part of the mind that does the thinking and feeling) and to its objects, whether they are internal (like a thought or feeling) or external (like a material thing or another person’s voice). For example, the mind that becomes aware of a feeling of anger, or the mind that perceives a loved one’s voice, is not distinct from that feeling or that voice. Here, the nondistinctness means that the subjective and objective aspects of awareness share a set of causal conditions, rather than arising due to entirely separate sets of causal conditions. Subjective awareness and its objects are therefore co-constructed, or brought into being together, in relationship to one another.

However, Yogacara teaches that the ordinary person does not know that these two aspects of awareness are co-constructed. Rather, we commonly take it that the subjective aspect of awareness and its objects are distinct and arise from different sets of conditions. Yogacara uses the term “constructed” to refer to both aspects of awareness when taken as distinct from one another. And this term is meant to be a corrective to how they appear—they appear as natural, fixed, distinct features of experience, when in fact they have been constructed to appear that way and are two aspects of a single experience. Our lack of understanding of this point, according to Yogacara thought, is also the nature of delusion…

Many nonwhite writers and thinkers have identified the delusive belief white people share that while nonwhite people have a race and see reality based on their experiences as racialized people, white people are free of such “distorting” influences. White people commonly take their own perceptions to reflect reality and nonwhite people’s perceptions to be filtered by their specific experiences. In this way, white experience is taken by white people as a human norm, while the experiences of nonwhite people are taken as distinctive, nonnormative, and even distorted. But if the Yogacara school is right that all ordinary people’s experiences include subjective and objective aspects that are mutually and fully shaped by conditions—which include the past experiences and actions of white people as a collective—then white experience, too, must be shaped in this way. The call for white people to understand how whiteness as an identity construct came about and how it shapes our own experiences is a call to overcome this false subject–object divide and to see the workings of the mind for what they are…

Finally, the Yogacara school emphasizes both the intersubjective aspects of experience and the collective aspects of karmic conditioning, two points that cut against white individualism. Intersubjectivity refers to the fact that through shared language and shared conceptual constructions—or ways of dividing up the world of experience—beings actually share structures of consciousness. In this way of thinking, my mind is not in fact mine alone and awareness is not a private affair. And because the subjective and objective aspects of experience are mutually conditioned, intersubjectivity entails interobjectivity. We share an object world—a world of shared institutions, social practices and ideals, norms, and references—not because they are natural and fixed features of reality, but because they are shaped by the same shared conditioning forces that shape our subjective experiences. Collective karma refers to karmic conditioning that is shared by a group of beings. The fact of collective karma follows from the intersubjective nature of experience and the inter-objective nature of our worlds. Shared karmic conditioning is nothing other than the fact that important features of both our subjective awareness and the objects it encounters arise from the same set of conditions.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Joy spent time at City Center while I was there; I knew she was in academia, and enjoyed this very dense unpacking of Yogacara and whiteness – I learned more about Yogacara from this article than I have previously.

angel Kyodo williams

‘Anyone who has insisted on liberation so that they may know joy and love represents for the rest of us the possibility, the promise that the dharma puts before us and says, yes, liberation is possible even for you. Liberation is possible even for you.’ (from her website)

To which I will add that if you are a person of colour, reading this early enough on Saturday, Rev angel is offering ‘the Black SIT‘ for Juneteenth.

Duncan Ryuken Williams

‘Our liberation is actually not about transcending or distancing ourselves from trauma or pain and suffering, but it is to acknowledge how we can transform ourselves, our communities, our nation, our world, from all that pain.’ (from the New York Times)

This is from a report about the ceremony held on May 4th as a memorial for the victims of racial violence. I suspect that many people I know were tuning in; it’s hard to tell with the masks, but I might have met some of those in attendance. I recommend clicking on the link at least to look at the gorgeous photos. The words and the sentiments are also beautiful; we can all ask ourselves how we can contribute to this transformation.

Ruth King

‘At the core of racial suffering is denial about our belonging—that is, our kinship and our membership in each other’s lives. The separation inherent in the entrenched patterns of racial suffering is not just a division of the races. The consciousness—or unconsciousness—that supports racial suffering cuts people out of our hearts, then has us try to live as if “cutting” does not hurt. We have come to accept this dismemberment as normal and move about our lives in search of spiritual freedom and contentment, as if we are not bleeding from the wounds of separation. It’s as if we were orphans in search of our family, not realizing that they are “the other”—the ones we despise, don’t see, or think we know. We have convinced ourselves that we can live with missing body parts—with some folks and without others—and still be whole, happy, and peaceful. But the reality is that we live in a state of pervasive unsatisfactoriness and confusion, not able to see or touch a deep sense of belonging, nor put language to it. We work harder at belonging because we only make use of a fraction of our wholeness and overcompensate with what remains: righteousness or avoidance that masks fear. We waste energy that our communities need to heal and transform. In these moments of dismemberment, we have forgotten that all of our parts matter.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘Multiplicity in oneness does not mean that preferences, opinions, likes, dislikes, or even hate cease to be present. Everything is here. Challenges arise when we cling to one extreme among multiplicities, unwilling to acknowledge the presence of difference. It isn’t always necessary to engage that difference, but giving it an “inner bow” allows us to experience the whole landscape of oneness. By not acknowledging difference, we unwittingly exaggerate the difference until it screams to be acknowledged.’ (The Way of Tenderness)

Unwilling to acknowledge the presence of difference seems to encapsulate many of the sufferings in the US right now.

Chenxing Han

Here are some shifts I’d like to see in the future of American Buddhism:

From hubris to humility: fixating less on expertise and celebrity and focusing more on an honest acknowledgement of our blind spots in order to examine the ways we (intentionally or otherwise) harm others through our actions, speech, and thoughts.

From assumptions to curiosity: suspending our stereotypes to make room for questions and deep listening.

From narrowness to diversity: getting outside our limited experiences and viewpoints to meet and learn from those who are, too often, after- thoughts in our Buddhist circles.

From enclaves to interconnections: moving past our tendency to stick with those who are similar to us (and to alienate those who aren’t) so as to build communities that honor differences and cultivate empathy.

From two Buddhisms to intersectional Buddhism: because why constrain ourselves to simplistic dualities when a vast kaleidoscope of possibilities remain unexplored before us? (from Lion’s Roar)

I appreciate these points very much. I sometimes feel that some sanghas have not tried to re-imagine themselves in decades, and I trust that this generation of Buddhist teachers, and the next, will be doing their best on this front.