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Solidarity and Indra’s Net

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Tibetan Mandala of Indra's Net, from

Today I’m thinking about Indra’s Net, mutuality, interconnection, and solidarity.

It all got started from something I posted on my personal Facebook page this morning, after digesting yesterday’s news that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed on the same day that the DREAM Act was defeated.

I posted this:

So gays and lesbians now have the right to fight and kill but not to love and marry… I’m confused. Should we celebrate?

In a short amount of time, there were 27 comments following that status post. Into the mix, I had included a comment from Nichola Torbett, a friend who used to work at Tikkun and now runs Seminary of the Streets. Of everything I’ve seen over the past day, I thought Nichola’s observation was the most insightful, as well as poignant. She noted that it’s not a coincidence that the DREAM Act failed to pass on the same day the Senate repealed DADT and wrote:

Ultimately, the repeal of DADT is far less disruptive to the status quo and the dominant worldview that must be maintained in order for inequality to continue. It’s much easier and clearly self-serving to let more people join the armed corps who secure and maintain compliance with American dominance than it is to start allowing chinks in who has access to the spoils of that dominance.

Wow, talk about speaking truth to power. That, I thought, really got to the heart of the matter.

However, almost none of the other commenters seemed to be on the same page. Some people thought that it was important to celebrate this step toward equal rights for LGBT people, that every step is important. Others minimized the connection between the two issues, noting that there are so many variables involved in Congressional procedures that it’s impossible to draw a parallel like that. Some referred to the very long struggle that Blacks went through (and are still going through) for civil rights.

While the commenters were respectful and I agreed with a lot of what they said, I also felt like I detected a whiff of impatience and disdain for what Nichola and I were pointing towards… a kind of “don’t be negative… let’s be grateful for what we’ve got” tone.

I realize that I’m conflating two issues here so it may be difficult to see where this is going. First, there’s the issue of gays in the military and how exactly this repeal is related to progress toward the goal of equality. I’m actually not so charged up about that… I truly do feel confused about what to think about it, just as I said in the original Facebook post. It’s kind of like the “good news, bad news” Taoist parable.

But the second issue has to do with how connected we are to each others’ struggles, and this is the one that I am feeling more passionate about. These two issues — DADT and the DREAM Act are tied together, for the reasons that Nichola so eloquently stated. Even if they have taken different legislative paths to come to yesterday’s conclusion, there is a link here. When I learned yesterday that the DREAM Act had died, I felt unable to be in any kind of celebratory mood over the DADT repeal.

I can’t really put it any better than Martin Luther King, Jr., once did — “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

The DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act,  has been winding its way through Congress since 2001 and has been defeated and re-worked several times to address concerns. The bill itself was pretty simple. It would have provided qualifying undocumented youth for a way to be eligible for a 6-year long conditional path to citizenship that would have required completion of a college degree or two years of military service. It would have changed for the better the lives of thousands of young people who, through no fault of their own, came to this country without documentation. Now, at the mercy of the virulently anti-immigrant tone of this country, the bill went down in flames, to quote Fox News.

So what’s the Buddhist link here? Joanna Macy describes Indra’s Net like this:

In that vision of reality from the Hua Yen scriptures of Buddhism, the jewel at each node of the net reflects all the others — sarvasattva, all beings — and catches its own reflection in them too, back and forth, in an ongoing display of our interconnectedness.

We as gays and lesbians are not separate from immigrants to this country, are not separate from the unemployed and working poor, are not separate from the disabled… and so on and so forth. (And even though it feels obvious to me, I might as well say it here — we as Buddhists are not separate from Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Buddhists.)

A number of years ago, I became familiar with the work of Jobs for Justice and was really impressed by one of their practices. Members of this labor organizing group make this pledge:

During the next year, I will be there at least five times for someone else’s fight, as well as my own. If enough of us are there, we’ll all start winning.

How much are we there for each other? How much have I, as a lesbian woman, shown up for the struggles that my immigrant neighbors face? And vice versa? What does solidarity really mean to us, as Buddhists, as human beings?

We’ve got a ways, to go, I think… and we can change it all in a heartbeat as well.


Today, I also came across these two quotes (from Twitter) from Lt. Dan Choi:

We must deport the fear-mongering and bigoted mindsets of undeserved privilege #DreamAct

‎”Our dreams and realities are inextricably linked. I support the DREAM Act because the American promise is for ALL.”

I think Lt. Choi’s words are a perfect end to this post; he exemplifies exactly what I’m trying to describe… here is an Asian American gay man who was kicked out of the military under the DADT law, speaking out for the rights of immigrants. He gets my vote for bodhisattva of the day.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

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.

10 responses »

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Solidarity and Indra’s Net « The Jizo Chronicles --

  2. dear Maia…
    i’m sorry if my FB post had that “whiff of impatience and disdain for what Nichola and [you] were pointing towards… a kind of ‘don’t be negative… let’s be grateful for what we’ve got’ tone.”
    i did not at all intend it that way. i was simply wanting more of a balance in more peace and social justice activists. i heard that folks have been working some 15 years in the effort to repeal DADT. just because it somehow feeds the military and just because the DREAM Act did not pass, does not taint the success of repealing DADT.
    i think if we allow ourselves to value our successes (and those of kindred peace-and-justice advocates), it can help fuel everyone’s ongoing efforts. admiration, celebration, gratitude, and congratulation (in addition to meditation) can all help feed & energize, inspire & comfort us along the peaceful, toilful way.
    Metta & Blessings to you, Nichola, and all your readers. –annie

    • Hi Annie,

      Thank you for your comment. As I wrote in the post, I had the ‘feeling’ that I ‘detected a whiff…’ but I understand that could be my perception and not how it was intended. Thanks for clarifying that. Even though your comment was not in that vein, it does seem to be true that a fair number of progressive liberals with good intentions don’t make the links between issues like this and get tunnel-vision around their own particular cause… and that’s what I was speaking to. I noticed that there seemed to be lots of folks who knew about the DADT vote on Saturday, but not that many who heard the news about the DREAM Act of even knew what it was. That’s where we need to educate ourselves.

      Thanks for being a wonderful ally in this struggle for justice and peace…

  3. Beautifully written, Maia. You’ve helped me to articulate the feelings floating around in me that I couldn’t quite seem to put any clarity to. And I love the Jobs for Justice pledge: to be there for somebody else’s fight. Ah, there I am back again at my One Precept: We really are all in this together.
    Thank you!!

  4. Thank you, Maia. This is very important. I will think about that “be there five times for someone else’s fight.” My current fight is to end civilization as we know it. I think you might understand.

  5. This is very excellent! I’m right there with you. Actually, it’s not even easy for me to feel thrilled or joyful about anything that helps the military. I support the soldiers as humans just like me who are trying their best, and often are in the military because they don’t have a lot of options, or because they feel it’s the best way to give back to the nation. But that’s about the end of my support when it comes to the military.

    The way I see the DADT decision, and perhaps this is how some in the GLBTQ community see it, is that our history shows a pattern of integration in the military (a conservative, fairly self serving step) that then helps spawn a larger movement for rights and integration of the same groups that once were completely shunned.

    It’s quite ironic, tough, that undocumented folks are regularly recruited to fight in the military, and sometimes are given a path to citizenship as a result of such service.

    Just shows how linked together these issues are.

  6. I agree absolutely with what you say. But I notice that even within the small world of my own mind, progress tends to be piecemeal rather than whole cloth; even what I thought to have learned today may come back to haunt me in the same old dreadful costume tomorrow. If that’s the only way I can get it, I will settle for the change I can make today and work toward the change I need to make tomorrow. Thanks for these thoughts.

  7. Just came across another blog post, by a regular guest contributor on Womanist Musings, that speaks to this impatience toward those of us who don’t seem to be able to show enough unqualified gratitude for “progress” and “victories”:

    When Will Gay People Be Happy?

    Also loving the “five times for someone else’s fight.”

    I find it interesting, and am reflecting, on why the strength of my feelings and passions about the two issues you point out (the “good news, bad news” of DADT, and the connection between DADT and the DREAM Act) seem to be in reverse proportion. I feel like it’s obvious to me, and what I would call my friend circle, that the two issues are connected, roughly along the lines of what Nichola said.

    What feels much more raw and pressing to me is how to work past (or work with) the part of identity politics that says, Because certain (often high-profile) members of this marginalized group have been working toward X Goal for a long time, X Goal is what is good for the marginalized group. annie, this is basically exactly what I hear you saying in your comment (“i heard that folks have been working some 15 years in the effort to repeal DADT.”), and I appreciate you bringing it up, because I think it cuts to the heart of a very thorny and painful side of Rainbow Coalition -type identity politics.

    Basically, when certain members of a historically marginalized group work long and hard toward becoming more powerful members of the ruling, oppressor class (and/or one of its arms, like the military), I think that is dangerous and counterproductive to liberation.

    Like nathan said, many people feel pressured to join the military because of institutional racism and classism (i.e. having few other options for survival in the formal and informal economies). I’m not here to blame individuals for signing up.

    But I would like to hold our solidarity work to higher standards than blind adherence to supposed representatives of identity groups. If you actually agree with these people’s arguments and analysis for pushing to repeal DADT, fine — we can talk about reasons. But to claim that their convictions alone should earn them agreement and support is extremely silencing and toxic, in my view.

    It’s complicated, right, because many of us believe that the people most impacted in a particular struggle should be the ones leading the resistance. Men should not be telling feminist anti-sexual-violence organizers how to run their shit; white people should not be filling all the leadership roles in police brutality work; straight folks should not commandeer queer liberation struggles.

    But you don’t have to look very hard (obviously!) to find liberal and radical queer folks who feel queasy about the DADT “success.” Especially in its current context of growing neoliberalism and the defanging of previous, politically superior queer liberation fights. So even though folks at the helm of DADT work deserve respect for fighting for what they believe in, and for fighting for equality and justice in some respect, they can’t presume to speak for all “gay and lesbian people,” or some sort of monolithic “queer movement.” Their work (and all of our work) should be evaluated based on merits and political impacts, not on identity categories. That approach is patronizing and, in my view, super harmful.

    But, like I said, this stuff feels raw to me right now, and that’s partly because I’m wrestling with it, and don’t have easy answers, especially in practice.

    Thanks again for offering this space for reflection, and for your honesty and clarity on this stuff.

  8. Also, this is just a minor detail so feel free to ignore, but what do you think Lt. Choi means by “the American promise is for all”?

    I was genuinely surprised that you endorsed an appeal to (what I read as) the “American dream.” Personally (and loosely, I guess) I understand the American promise to be a mythically meritocratic, ever-expanding middle class. And the reality of American “success” (the “spoils” that Nichola mentions) to be grounded in economic imperialism, domestic exploitation of workers, and US interventionism abroad (making this country a necessary destination for poor emigrants who can’t eke out a living in their home countries). But maybe I am misunderstanding, and anyway I’m curious what your thoughts are.


    • Hey Katie,

      Great question. “The American Dream” is one of the vast, vague concepts, kind of like “freedom,” that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. “Freedom” got co-opted to mean “shopping” and “consumer choice” post-9/11 with GW Bush.

      The way I think of it — and I can’t know if Lt. Choi meant it this way but I’m guessing maybe so — is that it means having equal access to things like education and health care, as well as an equal opportunity to grow and evolve in all ways, be that financially, professionally, spiritually, etc. But of course everything you’re saying is also true, and I appreciate your deeper analysis of the concept. “The American Dream” is problematic in the bigger sense when viewed in the context of imperialism, corporate globalization, militarism, and more.

      Thank you for your precision around this… I appreciate your presence here in the comments section!


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