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Harmony of Difference and Sameness

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Enso by Kazuaki Tanahashi

The spiritual source shines clear in the light;

the branching streams flow on in the dark.

Grasping at things is surely delusion;

according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

This verse, from the Sandokai, is one that I find very helpful in perceiving and holding matters of diversity, something that I believe encompasses “race,” ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, and more. The verse cautions us against the “everything is one, so just get over it” mentality, while at the same time reminding us that we are more than our differences, that there is something that connects us all.

Over the past month, there has been a healthy stream of posts on the topic of race and ethnicity in American Buddhism. Justin Whitaker does a good job of summing up many of the threads of the discussion on this post.

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve had a category all ready to go called “Harmony and Difference.” I haven’t used it until now because, honestly, I’ve felt a bit wary about doing so.

Even though I like to think of myself as a white person who is fairly well-versed in the dynamic of white privilege and racism, I have stepped into some big piles of poo over the past few years with both white people and people of color, and with friends and co-workers at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Many times during that stretch, I felt like I couldn’t open my mouth without saying something that hurt or offended someone else, and without being hurt back. These were painful episodes that in some ways still do not feel fully resolved. And perhaps never will be.

Those experiences have given me a more intimate glimpse into the destructive legacy of racism in America and how it affects people of African, Asian, and Latino/a descent as well as white people (listen to Tim Wise’s eloquent words on this). Getting into some of those situations and conversations felt like ripping the scab off a deep wound, one that has been festering for centuries.

So I have felt less convinced than I used to be about the healing potential of these conversations–and I feel very cautious about getting into those dialogues online. It’s hard enough in person, where at least we have each others’ emotions and body language to tune into and guide us. In that regard, I deeply appreciate the honesty in Nathan’s post here, and for his reminder that it’s a privilege to even have a choice about dealing or not dealing with this issue… people of color have to live with the realities of racism every day of their lives.

Yet at the same time, I know deep in my heart that these conversations and relationships across differences are absolutely necessary if we are to fully embody the dharma in this country and in our own lives. And the only times that I have experienced honest and healing conversations about race have been in settings that were held in a container of contemplative practice, most notably a gathering organized by stone circles at the Garrison Institute in 2005.

So I’d like to add a few more resources to this effort that I’ve found helpful. And I want to re-commit myself to being part of this dialogue.

• Directing the Mind Towards Practices in Diversity by Larry Yang, Vipassana teacher based in the San Francisco Bay Area

• Dharma, Color, and Culture — book by Hilda Ryumon Gutiérrez Baldoquín

• The Spring 2007 issue of Turning Wheel was dedicated to the theme “Building Alliances to Address Racism.” Sadly, the archived articles from that issue appear to no longer be on the BPF website, but I found a couple of them here:

What Would You Do? (responding as an ally) by Sheridan Adams

Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies by Paul Kivel

The Shambhala community’s website has a fantastic collection of diversity resources. This is probably the most comprehensive resource list that I’m aware of coming from a Buddhist community.

• In addition to the above Buddhist-based resources, I love this collection of writing from the late Erica Sherover Marcuse. See especially “Liberation Theory: A Working Framework.”

“Let’s Build a U.S. For All of Us” is an initiative that aspires to constructively address issues of racism and build toward a more inclusive society… more good resources on this website.

Please feel free to share more resources in the comments, as well as your own reflections of working with diversity in your sangha.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

4 responses »

  1. thanks for sharing your thoughts and these resources!

  2. Just found this site — — it includes a fantastic downloadable e-book on white people and people of color talking about how we can ‘fix’ racism. It packs a lot into relatively few words — I’m impressed.

  3. It’s an evil that Jung called ‘the persistence of Difference’- humans will persist on seeking out differences just to destroy or subjugate each other

  4. Pingback: Jizo Celebrates His/Her First Birthday « The Jizo Chronicles

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