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Quote of the Week: Dr. Margarita Loinaz

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Margarita Loinaz/Photo by Kathrin Miller

In a previous “Quote of the Week,” I mentioned the under-representation of Latino/a teachers at the recent Buddhist Teachers’ Conference, and I highlighted the work of Rev. Ryumon HG Baldoquin. Today I want to share the words of another gifted Latina dharma practitioner, Margarita Loinaz.

Margarita was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the U.S. when she was 19. She took refuge with Kalu Rinpoche in the 1970s and studied Tibetan Buddhism. Later, Vipassana became her primary practice. In 1999, she helped to lead the first retreat for People of Color at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Margarita is a physician and has provided health care for the homeless in San Francisco through the Tom Waddell Clinic. She has also taught mindfulness to medical students at the University of California San Francisco.

This quote comes from an interview with Margarita that appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of Turning Wheel magazine. (And a special thanks to Kathrin Miller who shared her beautiful photo of Margarita, taken in 1995, for this post.)

As a physician, I’ve thought a lot about why we suffer. I believe that the biggest source of human suffering is how we treat each other. Yet since I’ve started working on diversity issues in the Buddhist community, I realize how a preference for transcendence can create an ongoing aversion to looking deeply at the ways in which we hurt each other.

On the first day of the opening retreat at Spirit Rock, a number of Mexican and Guatemalan laborers were working outside of the meditation hall. We could hear them talking, and the teachers were trying to figure out who spoke Spanish so that someone could ask them to be quiet. I felt caught in a knot. I appreciated the gift of being able to sit, yet the workers outside seemed like the “other” and part of my heart was outside too. During a walking period, I went out and spoke with a couple of them. I explained that this was a silent retreat. They immediately understood, and spoke in whispers after that. Having made that connection, I was able to go back to sitting and now I was only aware of the sound of the pick as it intermittently hit rock on the ground. As the sound came, I was aware that “I” was hearing. When it was silent, the “I” also disappeared. Now it was present, now it was gone, coming in and out of existence. I was seeing both sides, and in that moment, I realized I had no preference.

There are so many traps in the practice, just as there are in society. A preference for the absolute, unconditioned state can be one of the major obstacles to dealing with racism. As long as we have that preference, we are chasing after some kind of ideal state. At the same time, it is the insight I get from practice that is showing me the traps! And so I continue to be dedicated to my practice.

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.

3 responses »

  1. This is just what I needed to hear . . . and see. (What an incredible photograph.) Thank you, Maia, for sharing this! I think I’d like to try to get in touch with Margarita . . . do you know whether she’s still in San Francisco?

    • Katie, when I was doing a bit of online research for this post, I couldn’t find any current information on Margaret, other than the link to her bio on the East Bay Meditation Center website (included in this post in the first paragraph — click on Margaret’s name). So you may want to ask the folks at EBMC if they have a way to get in touch with her.


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