Both / And: on the experience of existing as woman of color in the Triratna Buddhist movement

The world today is very different from that in which Buddhism originated and flourished…
The challenge Buddhists face today is to find ways of communicating and practising the Dharma that are truly effective in these new circumstances. The situation seems to call for renewal in the Buddhist world, faithful to the Buddha’s own teaching, yet addressing the circumstances we find ourselves in now.

Those are the words of Subhuti, excerpted from his 2012 publication, A Buddhist Manifesto: the Principles of the Triratna Buddhist Community, written at Sangharakshita’s encouragement as a way to spread the latter’s Buddhist principles “to other Buddhists worldwide.”

And.

A problem of the dharma today is that it has become so limited. It has become constricted inside of a kind of fear. We want to maintain control of it, so we resist it evolving as it always has…

…we miss the opportunity before us to liberate ourselves from the obscurations that keep us from knowing who we are, from knowing each other, from knowing that our birthright is exactly love.

Obscuring the path of liberation for us all, simply put, is race. And when I say race, I mean race and ethnicity and heritage and skin color and all of those things that we have conflated into it for hundreds of years.

Those are the words of Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a self-described Black, mixed-raced woman Zen priest, from a recent article, Your Liberation is On the Line.

***

I found this image on the website of an international retreat for women “like me” who are training for Ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order. [Source]

I am currently training for Ordination in the Triratna Buddhist tradition. After years of of studying with a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers in India, Sangharakshita, a man who was brilliant and British, insightful and white, brought his unique vision of the Dharma [= teachings of the Buddha] back to England. From there, this vision has spread throughout the so-called “Western” world and beyond.

The Buddhist movement Sangharakshita founded is the Triratna that I first encountered at the Auckland Buddhist Centre, after a decade+ of intermittent Buddhist study and practice. I may just as likely have encountered it at the San Francisco Buddhist Centre, or any of the dozens of Triratna Buddhist Centres located around the world.

I am deeply grateful for the clarity and accessibility of the Triratna teachings, and even more so for the beautiful Sangha [=spiritual community] that makes the Triratna movement so unique amongst all the other Buddhist disciplines.

And.

I struggle daily with several intersectional aspects of Triratna’s culture, as it manifests at the more-distributed-than-centralized global and local levels. The movement’s history stings of appropriation, colonialism, and patriarchy. Formal Dharma study groups and people training for ordination are separated by gender, with no formal support for people who do not identify as “male” or “female.” At my local Centre, it’s a lot easier to join a study group if you identify as a man, but many women wait months, and must make formal commitments, before being assigned to a group.

There doesn’t seem to be an accepted path to Ordination for parents of young children or people who otherwise don’t have the ability to attend retreats for long periods of time. The retreat Centres we use are not accessible for people with limited mobility, which means that many of our older Sangha members, and those who use walkers or wheelchairs, cannot attend.

There is quite an openness to the queer community. On the male side of the gender divide, that openness has bordered on (crossed into?) concerning abuses of power over the course of Triratna’s history. All but one of the authors whose work is disseminated by the publishing company associated with Triratna appear to be male, though it’s possible I’ve missed someone.

There is subtle scorn (or it simple racism?) directed at “cultural” Buddhists, a term used for those who were born into the tradition without having actively chosen to practice its teachings. The one female author I mentioned earlier also happens to be the only person of color I am aware of amongst their list of authors.

***

Triratna is my spiritual home. The more I learn about Sangharakshita’s history, the lineage of his teachings, and the beautiful and diverse people who are the embodied continuation of that lineage, the more comfortable I become with the late founder of this movement.

And.

I would like to keep my eyes wide open to the suffering that follows from the many issues I mentioned above.

***

I study, first and foremost, as I am encouraged to do, the Dharma as taught by Triratna teachers. Fortunately for all of us, there are far more recorded talks and videos from Triratna Order members of color than there are written works. I am deeply honored to be able to learn from teachers as insightful and skilled and experienced in the importance of diversity and inclusion work as Vimalasara and Viveka.

And.

To keep my cup full, I regularly seek out diverse Buddhist teachings from people who practice in traditions other than the Triratna community. There is so much amazing anti-racist work happening in the Insight Buddhist Community in North America that Buddhist of any affiliation can learn from, for instance. I share these resources in the hope that we all can benefit from — and see ourselves in — the many facets of the dazzling Dharma jewel.

***

To the extent that I have the energy — it takes a lot of emotional labor! — I am committed to actively working with my local Sangha to build a more inclusive approach to sharing the Dharma. This includes regularly engaging with my friends and teachers and Order members and fellow students in designing new ways to communicate with and learn from each other. It includes doing my best to stay engaged, even when it seems as though my concerns are being minimized or dismissed. I try to model the inclusive behavior I would like to see.

And.

I regularly slide into anger, into indignation. I skip right over “the gap” [between feeling and wanting something to be different] more often than I can keep track of. I wonder how regularly I break the precepts that pertain to kindness, generosity, and mindfulness. I am overcome with feelings of Hrī [=remorse] when I reflect on the impact of my unskillful actions. I know that my tone has many times resulted in people feeling shut down or minimised themselves. The cycle of samskara [=habitual tendencies] continues.

***

I try to remember that all things arise based on conditions. I work to include in my compassion all the people who “aren’t racist” but who do not yet fully understand their privilege or the impact of their behavior on others less privileged… which I do not believe is their fault; rather, I see it as a function of their own conditioning.

And.

I say the name of George Floyd aloud, and remind us about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, lest we carry on with our Dharma activities as if this moment of great suffering were not happening. Yes, all beings experience suffering. And we need to be clear that suffering is happening in a very specific way — murder, often at the hands of police! — for Black people right now. And that this suffering is related to the suffering of Māori at the hands of the NZ police, and the suffering of indigenous people around the world. And that this suffering is related to the climate crisis. And that our liberation is tied up in the liberation of Black people in the US, whether we choose to look at those connections or not.

***

This represents what is most alive in me today; tomorrow, I might say something completely different. May we all stay open to the possibility of holding multiple perspectives at once. That is, after all, the promise of liberation — of Enlightenment! — that inspires my practice.

Focus on Five – a system for practicing a more balanced, contented life

You’ve probably seen at least one version of this advice floating around the internet:

3hobbies

“Three Hobbies” has always bothered me, for two reasons.

The first is that for those of us running our own businesses, the distinction between a hobby and a business is super important. If you want to write off your business expenses on your tax return, for instance, you’d better make sure the tax authorities don’t deem your business a hobby! (I’m not going to cover this in any more detail here, but do check out the link above for more details on the critical difference between a hobby and a business.)

The second issue is that “Three Hobbies” is INCOMPLETE, almost to the point of irresponsibility, when it comes to business owners. We know how common burnout, anxiety, and depression are among entrepreneurs. While running businesses, we might also be exercising and creating obsessively… all while totally disconnected from other human beings, or a sense of connection to what is driving all this activity in the first place.

And so I’m trying on a slightly different system for cultivating — as in, actually practicing — a balanced life. Continue reading “Focus on Five – a system for practicing a more balanced, contented life”

4 questions that will lead you to work you’ll love (or: How I ended up at Xero)

Don’t want to read my whole TL;DR story? No worries, here are my four critical questions I recommend to anyone looking for work you’ll love:

  1. What’s the ultimate impact you want to have?
  2. What industry do you want to be a part of?
  3. What type of work you want to do?
  4. What kind of people you want to work with, in what kind of environment?

Read on if you want to hear how I worked through these before landing my job at Xero. Better yet, get your own dream job (or freelance work that you’ll love) by answering these questions for yourself!

***

After happily working for myself for over four years, some nagging voices started bugging me. “You’re not using all your gifts,” they said. And, “where is your team? Why do you insist on working alone?” And there was a lot of, “there’s something much bigger waiting for you, but you have to look for it.”

I knew I was ready for something different. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted a full-time job where someone else would be responsible for hustling my paycheck, and I could focus on doing My Work. But other voices tried to justify the status quo: “The way things are now, you can go hiking or surfing whenever you want!” Or, “what about your weird sleeping patterns? You’ll never be able to work regular hours.” Or the worst, “do you really want to commute over an hour a day EACH WAY from gorgeous Bolinas to an office in San Francisco?!” Continue reading “4 questions that will lead you to work you’ll love (or: How I ended up at Xero)”

Designing a career: an adventure with Mair Dundon

(c) Mair Dundon http://www.quietaction.com

Creating a work life that makes sense and pays well is a task that most of us spend a majority of our lives focused on… Instead of having a single path, we design a WorkLife that can change and grow right along with us – a constantly renewing resource that is fueled by our life experience and the insights we’ve taken the time to gather and share. I picture us as a community of practice – supporting each other in designing our WorkLife with focus and creativity.

Being particularly susceptible to such things (and in a moment of having forgotten my New Year’s resolution, Do Less), I signed up to do this “Career Hackathon” workshop with my friend Brenda. Which meant that I spent the entirety of a gorgeous afternoon yesterday in a windowless, brightly-lit room, a design firm’s office on Market between Powell and Montgomery Stations.

Five of us made a valiant effort to keep up with our facilitator Mair’s instructions, frantically filling out a series of worksheets, marking them up, talking to one another, and doing it all over again. I was the only one in the room without a UX/UI design background, and I enjoyed going with the flow and imagining that the words “agile” and “lean” (as in “lean business,” not “lean in”) and “iterate” and “builds (as a plural noun)” were part of my everyday parlance. I was expecting this; I had signed up for a Career Hackathon, after all!

Even if you DO know what those words mean, here’s my translation of the workshop title: How To Design Your Perfect Career by Forcing Yourself to Consider All the Possibilities That Normally Freak You Out and Learning That Most of Your Assumptions are Untrue Once You Actually Start Talking To People Around You… While Also Getting Called Out On Your Shit And Frequently Being Told You’re Awesome By Very Interesting People Who Are Also Awesome. Continue reading “Designing a career: an adventure with Mair Dundon”