I’ve been casually studying Eastern spirituality (various forms of Daoism and Buddhism) over the last twenty-five years, but it’s only within the last ten years have I been actually practicing some form of it regularly. However, over the last few years, the Eastern spirituality community here in America as a whole has left me with a feeling of disappointment and a bit of disillusionment, but I didn’t have the language to understand my own inner struggles until now.
I’ve written a very long, detailed personal journal about my path over the last year, but I don’t have the courage and the time to express publicly with absolute precision how I feel right now. But I do have to say something, so what I’ll give you is the Rated-G “Cliffs Notes” version of my story.
Ever since the electoral college system (and the various robots responsible) granted Trump domain over our land in November of 2016, it resulted in the most explosive emboldening of bigotry that’s been waiting to happen since our first Black president took office. Immediately, racial and gender minorities all over the country were being harassed and taunted by straight white people not even twenty four hours after the election. It was all over the news and social media. After eight years of having to put up with a Black man in office, it was “their” time once again.
And right then and there, my spiritual practice had shifted. It had to shift because barely anyone in any of the Eastern spiritual practice communities I belonged to spoke about these injustices. The reason for the virtual silence in these groups was simple, frank, and clear. They were all mostly straight white men and women, and they didn’t have to worry about tripping and falling over a pile of discrimination on the way to yoga class. Nor did they have to put up with any of the normalized, daily micro-aggressions that all marginalized people perpetually go through.
That’s when I realized that I, a marginalized brown person that calls America “home,” must engage in the type of spirituality that includes teachings in social-political justice for all marginalized people, and being mindful of the fact that we’re practicing on stolen land. The language of suffering (and liberation from it) absolutely has to include these issues. Anything short of this simply isn’t “spirituality” to me. How can there be liberation for anyone if you’re okay with, or ignorant of, institutionalized discrimination? At some point, spirituality and politics must intersect here in America.
In short, one of the biggest reasons why I left most of the Eastern spiritual communities that I belonged to was because I simply couldn’t find anyone who could truly understand where I was coming from, and what my human experience is like here in this world. I was tired of the ignorance and attempted gaslighting, and was willing to drop them all. And I did. I became a “spiritual ronin,” a practitioner with no master, and I was fine with that.
On the other side of the coin, I could not find a community of activists who approached things from an Eastern philosophical point of view. Much of the activism I’ve been witnessing engaged in unyielding duality, the sort of practice that got humanity, at least this country, into trouble in the first place: “we versus they.”
After having studied and practiced the endeavor of non-duality for several years, there’s no possible way for me to go back into that way of thinking without falling back into the cycle of personal suffering that I’ve been trying to liberate myself from for a very long time.
There had to be somewhere in between, but not in the middle and certainly not neutral. There had to be people out there who were woke and awakened; people from whom I could finally learn.
That’s when I found this amazing book called “Radical Dharma.”
In short (as far as I’ve gathered early on), it approaches Buddhism from an activist’s point of view, and activism from a Buddhist’s point of view. I first encountered this book when something on social media triggered me to look up the following words on Google search: “Buddhism, racism, activism.” Several clicks later I found the book. It was co-written by Zen teacher Rev. angel Kyodo williams, one of the first Black women to ever been transmitted the Dharma; Lama Rod Owens, a Dharma teacher from the Kagyu Tibetan Buddhism tradition; and renown teacher and Black feminist Jasmine Syedullah PhD. I added all of them on social media only to find that some of my more “aware” white friends have already added them too (I love you guys).
This book sternly, unapologetically, yet compassionately brings to awareness everything that has recently been in my mind, and has provided me with language to accompany the torrent of emotions boiling within me over the past few years. I just started this book, and already, it has absolutely blown my mind. I’ve only recently begun the first chapter of the book, but I can’t express how elated I was to have found this.
There are some amazing excerpts that I could share, but I’ll only share this from the introduction by Rev. angel Kyodo williams:
By the grace of many Eastern traditions, teachers, and ancestors, white Western dharma communities have at their disposal profoundly liberating teachings and practices that have the power to sever at their very root the destructive behaviors and thought processes that we inherit by way of our birth into human bodies. But we have largely refused to turn the great light of this collective wisdom of mind, body, and spirit onto the systems that bestow unearned privilege, position, and profit. In so doing, we diminish the precious truths we have chosen to steward.
We must take a stand.
Upon reading this, I felt my heart flutter and my body tremble, and I had to fight back my tears. This is what I needed to find. This is what I needed to hear. This book and these teachers are who I need right now. Teachers who understand what it’s like. People who understand suffering from both desire and institutional, normalized oppression epically more than me. I still have a long way to go before I’m done with this book, but so far, I’m beyond grateful for these amazing people. I know they’ve been around for some time, but I’m quite new to Buddhism, so I’m elated to have found them.
Radical Dharma is insurgence rooted in love, and all that love of self and others implies. It takes self-liberation to its necessary end by moving beyond personal transformation to transcend dominant social norms and deliver us into collective freedom.
— Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei
And that’s where I begin. There’s a whole lot more that I can unpack in this post, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I’m restarting my studies of Buddhism from absolute scratch, this time with a community who holistically includes both personal and social suffering, and I’m completely overwhelmed with excitement.
Just so you know, I’m not at all resentful towards anyone in my former spiritual communities. I appreciate them, respect them, and am grateful for them. But for now I can only really learn from those who can jump into the familiar darkness with me because they know the way out.
A special note to my white friends and colleagues whom I still talk to, learn from, and/or cultivate with: this isn’t about you, and I love you with all my heart. Because you understand.