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.
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.
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 Center, or any of the dozens of Triratna Buddhist Centers 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.
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 Center, due to the availability of teachers, it’s a lot easier to join a study group if you identify as a man, while 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 Centers 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 is 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. “They’re doing it wrong; we’re doing it the right way, as the Buddha intended” is the not-so-subtle subtext.
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.
I would like to keep my eyes wide open to the suffering that follows from the many issues I mentioned above, many of which stem from the culture he created.
I study, first and foremost, as I am encouraged to do, the Dharma as formulated by Sangharakshita and 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, skilled, and experienced in the importance of diversity and inclusion work as Vimalasara and Viveka.
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.
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 minimized 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.
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.
Thousands of people in Philadelphia continue to protest racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd. Crowds in Center City stretched from the steps of the Art Museum and past the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. https://t.co/LlmPCHjz7Qpic.twitter.com/6YJT2DvCW7
Intersectionality. Privilege. Divisive binary thinking. What each of us can control and what we can’t.
Emotional labor… which is what it takes for people of color to educate others about the sources of racism, tools for anti-racism, and how to be a good ally (spoiler: there are many ways!).
That often-invisible spectrum that ranges from being comfortable to feeling uncomfortable to being unsafe to being physically harmed to being killed.
How I can effectively support people in making connections between the things they care about and the things they don’t usually choose to look at, especially when there is agency involved… without becoming jaded, judgmental, or unsafe myself.
During a video call with my family earlier today, I learned that my parents had just received delivery of 10 pounds of duck. Turns out that after reading an article explaining that small farms and food processors are suffering because they’ve lost the bulk of their restaurant business thanks to the coronavirus situation, my dad immediately called his favorite duck purveyor and placed an order. For… an awful lot of duck for just him and Mom! I’m sad I’m too far away to help them eat the massive batch of Chinese marinade duck wings that will soon be bubbling on the stove 😦
My parents are also donating generously to a fund that’s providing support to their musician friends whose gigs and concerts — their livelihoods! — have been cancelled.
These are both excellent illustrations of interdependence, and how those of us who still have income and/or assets right now can pitch in to support those less fortunate.
Here’s a great video from Hadassah Damien, the “punk big sister of financial real talk,” waxing poetic on the limitations of the belief that we can ever be truly financially independent, with some great suggestions for what we can do to acknowledge our interdependence, particularly when it comes to supporting small businesses and fellow humans during times of crisis:
Independence and freedom only matter if I have people to be independent with and be around and get weird and smart and BE with.
I’m fully with Hadassah that the FIRE movement often takes on a very self-centered flavor. It’s a fascinating dynamic to observe, and I’ll confess it takes a lot of work for me to remember to be generous — because I can be! — when the fight-or-flight system gets triggered.
I also believe that this more selfish, believe-in-the-myth-of-independence view is more a function of the way many people currently practice FIRE, rather than what the founders of the movement intended, or practice(d) it themselves.
As an example of what I’m talking about, the latest blog post from Vicki Robin (who wrote Your Money Or Your Life — the book that sparked the FIRE movement – along with the late Joe Dominguez) asks some very juicy questions, acknowledges the dark side of FIRE, and reveals her own values, which in my view are very much aligned with Hadassah’s.
Here’s hoping that more and more people can get onboard with the benefits of financial INTERDEPENDENCE, and thanks to Vicki and Hadassah for all you do to steward this important shift! ❤
If you’ve ever been tempted to use a sliding scale for your business or organization, I highly recommend checking out the very useful resources Hadassah has compiled! Better yet, sign up for her newsletter for a regular dose of “nerdery and hustlerdom” (eg awesome money tips, ideas for hacking capitalism, and ways to hustle).
We went to see Julia Jacklin again last week. Afterward Scott remarked that there’s no way to write about something you appreciate without also reducing it and I know exactly what he means; what to do, though, when you want to share?
Without further reducing her work, I offer these:
(For the record, unlike the two songs I recently posted that do resonate strongly for mepersonally, these two songs seem to fit the times more than they fit me, if that makes sense?)
It’s been four and a half years since my last proper road trip. “Proper” as in just me and my car, plus the bare necessities required to cook and sleep wherever I happened to find myself. Most importantly, aside from one scheduled speaking gig, I had no agenda on that trip, no end date or even a route to stick to. I was on the road for nearly four weeks.
That much time on the road would have felt like nothing to my 20s self, who spent months-at-a-time traveling. I never have that much time off work at a stretch these days, but I’m not sure the time would make a difference anyway; we cut our four-day New Year’s road trip short to come home early, not because we don’t love the Far North, but because we love being home even more.
Last week, when I’d rather have been anywhere other than moving Home from one house to another in seemingly-endless short drives, I happened upon two videos that brought that big road trip energy back in a major way:
I love how they each evoke so differently that sense of a road trip’s freedom and independence and vulnerability and power and space to contemplate and just be. I also love the contrast of Maggie’s 20-something urgency compared to Sarah’s 30-something reflective mellow. I’m probably projecting. Nevertheless… yay for women taking to the road alone, may this tradition persist. One of these days I’ll get back out there.