Buddhism is a way of life, a philosophy, a psychology, a set of ethics, a religion, or a combination thereof. Central to the many ways Buddhism is understood is the achievement of emotional, mental, and psychological wellness. African Americans are at perpetual risk of psychological imbalance and trauma due to the social realities of racism in the United States.
In this video, the authors engage the question: What can Buddhism offer African Americans who want to be emotionally resilient in a context they cannot singlehandedly change?
Pamela Ayo Yetunde is co-editor of Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation and Freedom. Ayo is also the author of Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, U.S. Law, and Womanist Theology for Transgender Spiritual Care (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) and Objection Relations, Buddhism, and Relationality in Womanist Practical Theology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Ayo is a chaplain and pastoral counselor and is co-founder of Center of Heart (www.centeroftheheart.org) and founder of Audre: Spiritual Care for Women with Cancer.
Cheryl A. Giles is the Francis Greenwood Peabody Senior Lecturer on Pastoral Care and Counseling at HDS and a licensed clinical psychologist, who teaches courses on spiritual care, trauma and resilience for caregivers, and compassionate care of the dying. Cheryl is a core faculty member of the Buddhist Ministry Initiative and co-editor of The Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work (Wisdom Press, 2012). Her most recent book is Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Healing. J
udith Simmer-Brown is Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University and Acharya in the Shambhala lineage of Chogyam Trungpa. Currently she co-chairs the American Academy of Religion's Contemplative Studies Unit, and lectures and writes on Tibetan Buddhism, American Buddhism, women and Buddhism, and interreligious dialogue. Her books are Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism (Shambhala) and Meditation and the Classroom: Contemplative Pedagogy for Religious Studies (SUNY).
Melissa Wood Bartholomew, MDiv '15, is Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging at HDS. She is a Christ-centered minister and a racial justice and healing practitioner. Melissa is also an attorney and a mediator with nearly a decade’s experience in public interest law in the state of Washington. She facilitates workshops utilizing her framework, Healers of the Wound: Healing Racism from the Inside Out, a multidisciplinary approach to equipping people for the work of eradicating racism and healing from its effects.
My name is Charles Stang and I'm the director of the Center for the Study of world religions here at Harvard Divinity School. Welcome to this evening's event panel discussion of Black and Buddhist. What Buddhism can teach us about race, resilience, transformation and freedom. Coedited by Pamela Ayo Yetunde and my dear colleague Cheryl Giles. The series was established by my predecessor, Frank Clooney as an opportunity for the Divinity School community to gather not only to celebrate faculty publications, but more importantly, to learn from them by engaging with them both appreciatively and critically. To that end, we're very grateful for our two respondents, whose comments will kick off what I'm sure will be a very spirited and timely conversation.
We're also grateful to the many co-sponsors of this evening's event including, the Barr center for Buddhist studies, center of the heart, clouds and water Zen Center, common-ground, Dharma relief project at Tallahassee channe center, the mindful of race Institute, the New York Insight Center, shambhala publications and pietje Institute and Zen Center. That is a record number of co-sponsors for us and I'm grateful to them all. No doubt they've helped us get the word out as is evidenced by the fact that we have over 900 participants registered for this event. And that's also a record for us.
It's also no doubt a testament to these authors in this important and timely book. I'd like to send a special word of thanks to the other contributors to this book that is those authors whose essays are included in its cover. I understand some of you are joining us. Welcome. Please do announce yourselves on the Q&A function and pose questions or comments when we move to the discussion portion of the evening. We'd love to hear from you.
Permit me a brief word about the book and then its editors and our two respondents. The book's editors describe it this way-- Buddhism is a way of life, a philosophy, psychology, a set of ethics, a religion or a combination thereof. Central to the many ways Buddhism is understood is the achievement of emotional, mental, and psychological wellness. African-Americans are at perpetual risk of psychological imbalance and trauma due to the social realities of racism in the United States. The authors of this book engage the question what can Buddhism offer African-Americans who want to be emotionally resilient in a context they cannot single handedly change?
And now, brief introductions Pamela Ayu Yetunde is a chaplain and pastoral counselor, and is co-founder of the Center of the heart and founder of Audrey spiritual care for women with cancer. Her books include-- Buddhist Christian dialogue, US law and women's theology for transgender spiritual care and object relations Buddhism and relationality and womanist practical theology. Cheryl Giles is the Francis Greenwood Peabody senior lecturer on pastoral care and counseling at Harvard Divinity School and a licensed clinical psychologist. She teaches courses on spiritual, care trauma, and resilience for caregivers and compassionate care for the dying.
She's also a core member of the Buddhist ministry initiative here at FDS and co-editor of the arts of contemplative care, pioneering voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy, and pastoral work. Melissa Wood bartholemew, our first respondent, is associate dean of diversity inclusion and belonging at Harvard Divinity School. She's a Christ-centered minister and a racial justice and healing practitioner. Melissa is also an attorney and a mediator with nearly a decade's experience in public interest law in the state of Washington. She facilitates workshops utilizing her framework, healer's of the wound, healing racism from the inside out, a multidisciplinary approach to equipping people for the work of, eradicating racism and healing from its effects.
And finally, Judith Simar Brown-- distinguished professor of contemplative and religious studies at Naropa University, and a chair in the shambhala lineage of children trumper. Currently, she co-chairs the American Academy of religions contemplative studies unit and lectures and writes of Tibetan Buddhism, American Buddhism, women and Buddhism and inter-religious dialogue. Her books are the Kinney's warm breath, the feminine principle in Tibetan Buddhism and meditation in the classroom, contemplative pedagogy for religious studies.
Thank you so much for joining us here's how this event will unfold-- Iowan's Sherill will say a few words about their book. Then Melissa and Judith will offer their remarks will then give Cheryl a chance to respond, and then we'll open up a conversation among the four of them. Finally, at 6 o'clock I'm hoping we will open up the discussion for your questions and comments. Without further ado then, I and Cheryl the floor is yours.
Thank you, Charlie. So I'll begin by saying again, thank you so much for this invitation, this opportunity to connect. It's so meaningful to me to see how the seed of an idea can result in a manifestation of a gathering like this. So I'm in awe, it's sort of surreal and also, I'm grateful. I'm going to say that in 2018 there were about 30 African-American Buddhist leaders who gathered at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Just to gather to get to know each other, to know what matters to us, what we're teaching about to support one another, and to just feel at home with one another knowing that many of us are leaders in predominantly white spaces.
It was a beautiful gathering an opportunity to share be on panels. The public was invited during our last day and it was that it was dynamic and inspiring. So inspiring that I met Matt Zeppelin from an editor from Shambhala afterwards who said I saw you on the panel. Wanted to know if you'd like to write a book. It's a longer story but I'll say obviously, I said yes and I thought it would be most advantageous if it was not just authored by me, but authored by several African-American Buddhist leaders across lineages or traditions.
So we have authors who are then we have authors who are with the Soka Gakkai international, otherwise known as SGI. We have insight, in Tibetan and I hope I didn't forget any. The point is, we tried to offer to the public, to the world, a diversity of African-American Buddhist experiences. And I think we accomplished that in this book. Also, just a little more about the book in terms of who was invited, how did we go about inviting these authors. First of all, because there are many, many African-American Buddhist leaders, and because we only had so many pages that we could write, we decided to limit our invitation to those who had attended the gathering in 2018. We looked across traditions, we looked across genders, looked across age groups and also experienced and inexperienced writers. So that we could bring this diversity to you. So again, thank you and I look forward to this conversation.
Oh, I'm sorry. Lastly, I want to say this Cheryl Giles is the ultimate mentor. So Cheryl was my mentor for my postdoctoral work at Harvard Divinity School. And I ask Cheryl because she was such an awesome mentor, really, to work with me on this project she accepted. And she is a joy to collaborate with. So thank you, Cheryl.
Thank you, Ayo, for those thoughtful words. Thank you, Charlie, for the invitation and for being a host. For our book launch, I'm so excited today to be here with all of you. I also want to express my gratitude to my family and friends, my colleagues at Harvard Divinity School and to all the students at HDS who have been wonderful conversation partners for me over the past 24 years. They have been my teachers as well as conversation partners and we've learned together. I also want to give a shout out to the contributors to black and botus a deep bow to Galen Ferguson, Lamba Ratones Severna Selassie, Lama Dafwa Tachi Philips, Joelson Royce Johnson Camilo Majeed, and Ruth King.
This book would not be possible without a community effort and it was a wonderful experience to be together. Finally, my deep gratitude to Pamela Ayo Yetunde, Judith Cemre Brown, and Melissa Bartholomew, my friends and colleagues who have supported me and the practice of Finding Freedom, which is a lot of what this book is about. And as I think about it, and particularly, the chapter that I wrote nearly two years ago, this book itself has been a labor of love. But the chapter, itself my inspiration, for my chapter came from the MeToo movement when it evolved and became more public. And I learned about to write a book and just absolutely became absorbed about her story and her work, the movement she was trying to create and began to follow her.
And that's where I got the idea to write my chapter about intergenerational trauma and my own personal experience. And it was pretty agonizing writing the chapter. And I learned a lot about myself as well as how intergenerational trauma shows up in the body. In terms of the semantic kinds of trauma that takes place. I think most of you or many of you are familiar with Risa, my grandmother's hand. And if you're not, it's a good book to take a look at. A really, really outstanding book that really helped me tremendously.
Also, another book that helped me tremendously was mindful of race, Ruth King about how to be in a community and stay in a community. And there were others, but along the way working on this project is trying to write this book. That in itself, was a kind of journey a kind of path a kind of spiritual practice if you will. And most of my thoughts in my writing, and my focus my consciousness was really taken up with race. The whole question of race and spiritual practice and systemic change during the course of this time.
And if we're all aware now that we're in a period of the pandemic. But if you think back two years ago you might not remember two years ago, seems like so much has happened in two years. So many black men have been killed due to violence, police violence and women also. The numbers of people who have been incarcerated are still pretty high. Black and brown bodies. The number of black and brown bodies who experience health care disparities, as well as economic disparities and housing insecurity and all those things, those numbers are still there. And I can go on and on and on.
But the good news is that the Black Lives Matter and all of those who have been involved in that and that. And all of you, and all of us who are trying to show up in small ways are still here doing this. And that gives me hope. It gives me hope things were feel like. They're worse than they were two years ago. But in reality, things are just changing and evolving. And so a lot of what we hope to talk about today or how are we able to sustain our practice to sort of stay in the movement and show up and be ready to really help others become resilient, as well as continue to work on our own practice.
So thank you all for being here this evening. I know you could be doing other things and I'm looking forward to a lively conversation. Thank you.
I want to thank Cheryl, and Ayo for inviting me to participate in this conversation. This is truly a high honor. I've only been out once. And it was on the day she first began her postdoc with Cheryl a couple of years ago. It was an orientation, and I had just returned to HDS as a racial justice fellow. We were sitting at the table for a couple of students who were black women. And I remember the space she created in her interaction with me and the other women. I don't remember the particulars of what we talked about, but I remember the feeling of joy and laughter we had just all met but we were deeply engaged like black women do. We allow ourselves to connect and create that space for intimacy that can manifest in an instant.
And Cheryl, was my professor when I was a student at HDS. 0 She created space for the learners to engage as teachers and marveled at decolonize and anti-oppressive approach and cultivated intimacy and gave you access to her heart. She brought hot water and tea each class. And her radical hospitality and love extended beyond the classroom and consistently affirmed me whenever I was blessed to be in her presence. And I have deep gratitude for her. Four years of labor and advocacy and activism as a student and a professor at Harvard Divinity School, has paved the way for black students and professors and helped to lay the groundwork for the position that I currently hold. So I am extremely grateful to both of these women.
And I share all of this as important context because it matters who the editors are. They are the midwives, they are women whose Buddhist practices helped them to create the spaciousness that allows those around them to breathe and to love. This book emerged from their openness and commitment to healing black people through love. It was about the intimacy of black suffering and resilience. We have been afforded access to the interior and exterior lives of eight Black people who are free enough to share their intimate stories for our instruction.
Healing artist Christobel helped me to understand that when black people write instructions for healing it's scripture. This book is sacred ancestral scripture deciphered for from our ancestors. And scripture that reveals a path to liberation and freedom. The ancestors call for us to heal and liberate, reverberates throughout these narratives through whispers and through less subtle pronouncements. The cry is prominent in Cheryl's narrative which incorporates a reminder from our enslaved ancestors, our African ancestors, that we have the capacity to take flight and find refuge from racial and all forms of violence and pain and grief in the Buddhist practices.
She describes an early experience of daily sitting and walking meditation and shares, quote, "as I sat on the cushion, my thoughts gradually settled. I was wrapped in a warm silence that brought me to tears, releasing a deep well of pain." The practices of breathing sitting silence walking identifying benefactors all create a path to well-- the deep wells of pain in us black folk that some have never accessed and that some have never emerged from. The ancestors are here to guide us to and from the well.
As Sheryl describes, she begins her benefactor practice with the ancestors. She says I begin by recalling my black enslaved ancestors as a field of unconditional loving care resistance in models of liberation. And I dwell in their presence. This text allows us to linger in the call of the ancestors. It is a call heard and profoundly felt through La Mirage dombra of trauma, where he describes his deep intimate engagements with our enslaved ancestors who appear during ceremonies and remind him to keep his joy and to cry and to mourn.
And about mourning he says mourning is my attempt to acknowledge broken heartedness. Accepted an offer and space to be in my experience so it may do its work of teaching me and passing through. He says, I'm learning how to let myself be with my hurts whenever it comes up, even if it means I have to stop everything that I'm doing and support this experience to meditation, breath work, movement or even tears. As I and Cheryl has so beautifully outlined in instruction, Buddhism is a quote way of life, a philosophy, of psychology, a set of ethics, a religion or a combination thereof that can offer black people a path to liberating their minds, and cultivating a shield a protective shield against trauma.
They outline the system of mental wellness known as the noble eightfold path, which as a research, research has shown to support spiritual resilience against oppression and trauma. The eight part system includes right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort right mindfulness and right concentration. Is 8-fold commitment to writing this mirrors the prayer I heard from many of my elders growing up in the black church, who would preface their petitions with gratitude to God for waking them up clothed in their right mind.
Our ancestors traveled this path the right relationship with their breath in all living beings, and they may not have been explicitly Buddhists, but it mirrors their way, their right way of being and doing and surviving while enslaved. This book reminds us of their way and it is accessible, even to those who do not claim to be Buddhist. As a follower of Christ committed to cultivating Christ consciousness, these practices and intentions mimic my own as they come from the same consciousness of love. That's what scripture scrolls, living sacred texts do. They breathe and they transform over time through us, adjusting to the particularities of those in need.
Our ancestors are calling us back to their ancient ways so that we can heal and live free. This text will get us through our lingering historical grief. It can guide us to the world of pain and ensure that we have a sturdy ladder to climb our way out, emerged rooted in a greater awareness of who we are, who we came here to be, and what we came here to do in love, and community, with our ancestors and each other, and with the capacity to live right.
Wonderful, Melissa. What beautiful words. But what beautiful words and I'm so delighted to be here. I want to celebrate my dear friends, Cheryl, and Pamela, Ayo Yetunde for editing this remarkable book. I've known them for some time. I'm so delighted, Cheryl, and Ayo, that you invited me to be part of this wonderful event today. And I'm very moved by the book. And if people haven't bought it yet, I highly recommend that you buy it. If there's a link in the chat box, it tells you how to do that. And today is the actual birth of the book. It's true there are midwives have brought forth a beautiful book today.
This landmark book invites all of us-- white, brown and black into an intimate and tender Afrocentric Buddhist world, sharing personal narratives from the journey to freedom in the Dharma. Envisioned during the landmark, Dharma teachers of black African descent gatherings at Union Theological Seminary in 2018 and Spirit Rock in 2019. This book generously shares a range of personal experiences of being black and Buddhist in America. From Matari a Gallon Ferguson's luminous forward, to Cheryl and Ayo's excellent introduction and heartfelt dedication at the end, these black Dharma teachers share that they discovered meditation healed nervous systems lacerated by violence and oppression. And helped them learn, to love and care for themselves in a world that does not love them.
First, a remark about my personal location. I have come to realize that in the 50 years since I began my Dharma training, I had been blind to exactly how the Dharma has been adapted to American culture. Let me explain. I have been lucky enough to be trained by remarkable and renowned Asian teachers. Primarily, Shinra Suzuki Roshi, and Trillium Trumpery. And to practice for decades in a tightly knit established songa that has taken the teachings to heart in daily life. I have worked in the lettuce fields at Green Gulch, set 30 day retreats at Shambhala Mountain Center. Taught for decades at Buddhist inspired Naropa University, awakened in the early dawn at Tassajara, and led large group retreats at tooling in Vermont.
I and others thought we were faithfully practicing what we had been taught. But I've come to see that we white, middle class, mostly baby boomers, translated these teachings through filters of privilege. Middle class, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity to morph the authentic teachings into a kind of waspy tribalism, tinged with Jubu energy dressed up with arrogance and xenophobia. When our shambhala community realized that few people of color were joining, us at first, we couldn't imagine why.
We tried to welcome black and brown people into our community gatherings and practice sessions, not realizing how our self-absorption, social norms, authority structures, and communication styles othered them, objectified them and belittled them. We didn't realize how our polite queries were actually microaggressions, or how our assumptions created structural racism. I have come to understand that this is what Ellen Johnson calls the luxury of obliviousness, which is none other than unacknowledged privilege solidified into white supremacy.
This book makes a powerful contribution to correcting many of these distortions and restoring much of what my Tibetan teacher likely envisioned for a full-bodied Dharma. When Sabinas Selassie wonders why we white American Buddhists haven't interrogated how in Orientalism has affected our adoption of an Asian tradition, she has hit the nail on the head. Well, at Naropa University we have constantly reflected on Orientalism as one of the reasons students might want to study at a Buddhist school. We have learned that colonialism is inextricably tied to racism. I appreciate Selassie's honesty when she confesses that her current relationship to Buddhism is not separate from how the orient was formed in the Western imagination.
Me too. I cannot keep a clean relationship with my practice tradition and lineage without daily questioning this. Thank you for your clarity, Sabina. May these perspectives bring greater vitality, authenticity and power to Dharma in the West. Now, back to this wonderful book. Cheryl, and Ayo, and their contributors have hospitably welcomed us into their intimately subjective experience as Black Buddhists in America. With their pain, their vulnerability and their discovered strength and resilience.
While their voices are diverse, common themes emerge that ever deepen as we hear their narratives of loss and strength. My role is to listen deeply. They show us that the legacy of enslavement, violence, deprivation, and exclusion lives on for African-Americans as intergenerational trauma that shows up on every level of experience. This trauma centers on being utterly deprived of consent. What Loma Rod Owens describes as quote, "creation of a context that does not privilege one's deepest desire to return home and inhabit one's own agency and body."
This triggers this embodiment and a profound loss of grounding and identity, accompanied by terror, despair, hopelessness and disconnection. Ahmadabad Turchin Phillips speaks of this as the amputated self, severed from aspects of identity experienced as mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical dislocation, bringing isolation, meaninglessness, loneliness and depression. This means never belonging anywhere. Ayo speaks of this as becoming invisibilized Selassie confides that this racism taught her to turn away from herself.
This alienated identity has made acknowledging trauma essential to the path of healing. First, knowing what trauma feels like starts the journey. Cheryl Giles reflects, "Understanding the meaning of freedom requires grappling with the dangerous memory of slavery where black bodies were destroyed." Owens speaks of how reliving trauma means a sudden changing of the tracks mid-journey making it hard to know how things feel. Trauma is trans-historical, carrying from generation to generation.
The Middle Passage was the name given to the historic transatlantic slave trade. Owens says to be black is to relive the Middle Passage every day. Giles describes her mother's childhood trauma of sexual abuse and how that carried through her life and the life of her entire family. Giles remarks that her own experience of "feeling invisible, broken and unworthy, were parts of my experience of being repeated from a history of intergenerational trauma." How have these interlocutors healed the amputated self?
Generally speaking, two factors have been most important. The first is reclaiming embodied experience. Johnson describes his journey of letting go of living only from the neck up. Owen's ayahuasca experiences required purging both body and mind, bringing a literal experience of energetic chains around his head and legs, accompanied by powerful grief.
Embodiment unleashes the experience of grief as well as of joy. Learning that morning is a practice, has brought wholeness and rehabilitation of his body. He writes, "We come back home into our bodies we begin to do the work. And that's really where I come from." The second support for reanimating the amputated self has been community. Each of our authors has found support from the beloved community.
For Yetunde, it has been the people of color sanghas, discovering that if they can sit together, they can stand together. Phillips describes pilgrimage practices that have nurtured his sense of wholeness and belonging, especially, witnessing with others the stately gate of a gigantic bull elephant in Thailand. Johnson describes living in a community, inauspicious cloud temple, and his songa service at a nearby prison. Many of the contributors described the importance of Buddhist practice in reclaiming the fullness of their identity. For several, this is how they became Buddhist in the first place.
For Selassie, sitting practice helped her turn back toward her Blackness embrace every part of herself especially, "A direct relationship with our sensory experience for the sake of freedom and joy." Giles discovered in her first retreat that she, "Was no longer afraid of the passing noise in my head and welcome the silence as a refuge." Eventually, benefactor compassion practice helped her assemble a field of loving support on her behalf. Johnson describes how zen practice, "Helped me to be a black man who can also live more economists with the threat of police brutality and still care for myself deeply."
Camilla Majid learned from her Buddhist mother to turn toward the heartaches of life and welcome them, because they show that we are still hopeful enough to get sad and worried. She learned to express gratitude towards sorrow and grief as gateways to spiritual depth. When Ruth King first heard Dharma teachings, she could quote "Feel my entire body ringing like a sweet vibrating bell. Everything in me was screaming, yes." She felt she knew who she was for the first time. And she knew that understanding the nature of mind was her ticket to freedom.
Now, she describes mindfulness as, "The technology for shifting from being ensnarled by suffering, to being curious about it. " Still, several asked whether Buddhist practice supported a kind of spiritual bypassing of their Blackness and trauma recovery. Owens finds that even with the traditional three year retreat behind him, ayahuasca ceremonies helped him to do something, "Normal practice in Buddhism had helped me to do." He continues, "I want my Blackness to be supported by my Dharma practice. Not erased by it."
Selassie wonders if Western Buddhism's Orientalism and colonialism, has created an unhealthy mix. "Was my turning toward Buddhism a turning away from Blackness she asks." As she found her way forward, she found that she first needed to turn toward Blackness and then Buddhism, "Helped me embrace what I had rejected and eventually embrace every part of myself." She rejoices that she encountered a deep self-love awaiting her.
Phillips has no such doubts about the impact of the Dharma. A veteran of two three year retreats, he has found that realization of non-duality heralds a full reintegration of all aspects of himself. He references the discovery that the liberated mind has no color at all. This is an element of his healing honoring, "A colorless liberated heart and mind, just as much as our fully embodied beautiful, black, brown and white bodies and healing the trauma of our lack of safety. And lack of significance."
Healing requires joining the relative and absolute dimensions of our realization in everyday life, he says. And as he proclaims, the promise of Dharma is universal liberation for all. While Dharma practice has been healing and profound for many of the contributors, Buddhist communities themselves may have not been so healing. Most of these authors have found special solace in people of color sanghas. Yetunde describes her eventual discovery of the power of practicing with other practitioners of color after many years in white communities, especially because, "Space can be made for the recognition and expression of the sorrow of living and races societies."
She continues, "Simultaneously space should be made for the cultivation of joy." These people of color sanghas helped contribute to a post-colonial Buddhism, including reintegrating Asian Buddhist teachings that white sanghas may have omitted. In this way, people of color sanghas can contribute to the authentic transmission of Buddhism for diverse people of the future.
One final personal note. One of the most enriching aspects of this book has been the power of what Johnson calls, the way seeking mind story, or the intimate journey into the heart of Dharma. In my Tibetan tradition, these moments of direct awakening and transmission are called rock meets bone moments. There are many such rock meets bone moments in these accounts. Reading them, I could feel my own original journey of meeting the Dharma again for the very first time. Thank you for these abundant gifts and I celebrate with you the launch of a very important book for today and for tomorrow in American Buddhism. Thank you.
Thank you both. Wow, that's a lot to digest. Let me just say a few words about Finding Freedom. The title itself, it's pretty lofty in some ways. Race finding, what Buddhism can tell us about race resilience transformation and freedom. And if you think about that too long, you'll think that this is unattainable. But during the course of writing this book and collaborating with the contributors, we almost became a little song in and of itself. And I've learned so much some of the things that I've learned. And I think of Buddhism as a spiritual practice. An affricate that's sustainable, that if you continue to practice, continued to be mindful, continue to choosing the eight-fold path, those things are helpful to eliminate suffering.
But the thing that really strikes me the most is this is a daily practice. And I can recall when earlier in the year when I we had a conversation. I was in conversation with students at HDS about racism and white privilege, how to eradicate racism, how to deal with Black Lives Matter, how to show up for those kinds of things. Some people thought that remark that the practice of Buddhism was too much, that it just was a lot of work. And yes, life is a lot of work. And I guess what I'm thinking about here is that everything that we do is a lot of work. In terms of really living, or being able to sustain a spiritual practice, it takes some courage and vulnerability.
And courage and vulnerability in the sense that we don't know at all. We are still studying, we still practicing. It's one of the things that I love about Buddhism. I tell people this all the time. And I had a conversation today with my nephew, who started practicing six months ago on his own. Not because of me, but because the things that I've said. And so he's been reading took my heart, and taking notes and reading tons of things. And I can't feed him things fast enough. But it's about helping us in our daily life.
And there's no freedom doesn't happen. You know, I've been thinking a lot about John Lewis, who said do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic, our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get a good trouble, necessary trouble. And so we're working on this. And this is our legacy black and brown people, this is our legacy. This is this is our work in the world. And as we show up, the text of freedom is showing up every day.
And I think about my ancestors and all those folks who had been enslaved and all those folks who've been out of work and also worked at low wage jobs and been discriminated against, and made to be invisible and without dignity that showing up every day is really important. And that's what we've done. That's what we try to do. And in my community, and my benefactors, and the community and people that support me. And most certainly, I've gotten a lot of support from the contributors of the book. All those folks and some of my folks some of my colleagues at HDS, and my friends have really helped me stay on the path, have given me a lot of strength and have pointed out insights to me.
For example, most people who know me well know that public speaking is not my Forte. I am really very, very, very introverted. And so showing up is really a challenge. And that's what we do in terms of race, resulting, transformation of freedom. We show up, we try to show up with the support of other people, helping us to see just a little bit. And for me, my understanding of Buddhism and in terms of enlightenment, enlightenment is not way out there to me. Enlightenment is these small windows of light where people help us to show us a way to think about things.
A friend of mine said, you have to remember this is your young child part. It's saying, oh, I can't do this. I can't do this. You can't do this. You're not a little kid anymore who's afraid that she might be abandoned or she might be lost. And other people that have said little tweaks here and there. And so the practice of freedom is showing up every day. And we learn to do that through mindfulness moment by moment. And these are some of the tools that we hope that people who read the book, particularly, people in black and brown communities, begin to take from some of the stories that are in this book. That we can make it, we can get through this without self loathing without depression without anxiety.
There are ways for us to manage this so that we can really rest in a place of equanimity. Not getting too high, not too low but just in a place where we feel OK about where we are in life. These tools, these skills, we developed over 2,600 years ago. And they've served many, many people across all those centuries. And they're present for us today. This is an offering. They're there for anyone who wants to try to reach out and to understand and begin to work with them.
One of the wonderful things that I've learned it really takes you out of your head. It shows you've got to think about your thoughts and work with your thoughts. And most of the trauma that we're working on intergenerational trauma, is really about in the body trauma that's in the body that really shuts us down. That really we know enough from neuroscience that once we get triggered, it's fight or flight, or freeze and we're gone. And we're totally unavailable to ourselves and to others when we're in that place. So you know there's a lot of resources here. And I'm hopeful that these are sustainable practices that can lead us to freedom and to transformation.
I want to take the opportunity before we lose it to say thank you to everybody who is on this call today. Everyone who is on this call and has paid attention, has seen something that we don't see that often, which is a confession. You've confessed. You've confessed. Confession is part of the body stuff away. There's no shame, no guilt in confessing. Your confession was beautiful and also inspiring. And I want to thank you for I just want to recognize that Judith.
Also I want to say that I really appreciate you that your recognition of all of the authors and what they offered. And I'm wondering just out loud if there's a relationship between your confession, and your ability to recognize this pain, the suffering without attempting to explain it for others, without the impulse to deny it. Is there a connection between confession and the ability to see something in people for who they are? And so I put that question out there. I kind of think that there is a connection. I thank you for it.
Oh, last thing. Judith, thank you for your well wishes. You said that this book is like the Dharma itself. Good in the beginning, middle, and end, and then for the future. And I hope it is. I hope it does serve people in the future. I think it will because I hope what we're seeing. And sometimes, people say well, nothing's really changed. But many things have changed and what we have seen is a change with the willingness of African descent the people in the United States to explore a variety of belief systems. That doesn't mean that they lose what they started with, but to be able to say I'm a black Hindu, I'm a Black Muslim as people have been saying for decades now. I'm a black Christian, I'm African-American, I'm also interfaith, I'm also a black atheist.
And to be able to say it and claim it, and have no shame about it-- I think we're seeing more of that. And so this book will serve those young people who like myself, and probably other black people who said now, what is this book about, right. Let me go read it. Let me go read it in secret. I read om secret. Let me be, oh, I'm moved by this. Who else is reading this? Where can I find those people? I hope this book will serve in those folks. Melissa, you said something that I'm going to be saying for probably the next several days because you hearken me back to my upbringing as a black person. To be in your right mind, right.
Speaking your right mind is a value a desire and aspiration that comes out of the black experience of being gaslighted, right. This is a new term. But the fact is, black folks in America have been gaslighted since before we even got here. And I think that's been most evident these last four plus five years of consistent daily gaslighting about a variety of things. Perhaps all of us can find some inspiration in this book to recognize the danger of gaslighting. Being gaslit, and also engaging in it. And then also to find which I think we all need to find again, the deliciousness of truth. And what is true, to be able to tell the truth be able to identify the truth and to protect truth telling. I hope the book will serve that. Thank you.
I would love to respond to Ayo's question about confession and seeing. Because yes, we learn in Buddhism that we have things that stand in the way of clear seeing. And without confession, we'll never clear those obstacles away. So I think that I think you're really right on about the combination of confession. And I think the thing that I've learned-- so I'm in the process of constantly unfolding my learning, is that my friends, my black and brown friends have shown me that if I can see the obstacles, if I can see the luxury of obliviousness in myself, I can learn to shut up and listen and learn.
And I have learned much more about really opening to the wisdom, to the pain, to the bravery, to the beauty of the black experience in our sanghas, white and otherwise. And I am so deeply moved by what I have learned from my sangha friends of color, about their strength, their bravery, their clarity and their unbelievable patience with the kind of thickness that white privilege can bring into a relationship. So I feel that this journey of learning to recognize and shut up and listen, is a good thing. A good thing.
And I also have felt for myself-- you were talking about how this book is about the practice that you, as a black Buddhist have. I feel that your book is a book for the practice I have as a white Buddhist to wake up to my privilege over and over again through the generosity of these personal stories and the great wisdom that comes through. So I feel that this is a crucial cornerstone of practice for every white Buddhist as well. I wouldn't want to say that it's only part of the practice for black Buddhists. So thank you so much.
And I would just like to share how my intimate experience reading each story, each narrative. How closely I felt to the stories of each author and how I felt seen and heard, even as one who identifies as a Christ-centered practitioner, I felt this connectedness, intuitiveness in the practices and the experiences. And what I appreciate about the practices and the eightfold way, Ayo, the right mindedness operationalizes how to get to that right mindedness, and how to maintain that right mindedness.
Oftentimes, we can talk broadly about principles and ways. But these eight this eight-fold mechanism and all the practices and steps, give us this tangible practice that some of us need. And I just felt such joy and deep appreciation and connectedness through each story and affirmed to each story, even as one outside of the faith. And was excited by the fact that, regardless of what your place is what your positionality is, what your claim of faith, or no faith as a black person. You can find your way in through the story, and through the practice, through the pain, and through the joint of resilience.
So I'm just excited about what this is going to offer for our community. It's a path of liberation and I see it as a roadmap to help break the cycle. I think Munmorah talked about the cultural cycle of a culture drama to break that cycle. I'm excited about what it's going to give to our community in particular. / And I just felt this intimacy that this was our story, and our expression of joy, our expression of grief and our expression of the way forward. So I am deeply grateful to both of you and to all the offers what you shared and for your intimacy, and your vulnerability and your generosity.
Thank you all. Are we ready to move to the Q&A? This is one for Cheryl, and Ayo. I'm paraphrasing somewhat. But I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind saying something about how you each came to Buddhism?
Sure. I'll start if it's OK. I'll say that I grew up in the United Methodist church. I consider myself an interfaith Buddhist practitioner because I still hold to Christian ethical principles. And that's the foundation of my life. And there was an incident in church that really shook my doubts about things that I've been taught all of my life. So I stopped going to church. Didn't go to church in college. Went back to church actually in my 30s, went to Glide Memorial Methodist church in San Francisco.
So to tell you that I'm in the Bay Area means that there's going to be more than likely a positive encounter with Buddhism. So anyway, 2001 September 11th, the bombing of the World Trade Center occurred and I was at an airport at the time of the bombing. And was surrounded by anxiety and fear and confusion.
When I got home, I was still have that anxiety, fear, and confusion. I had absorbed, internalized it. And I was turning 40 in October. And so had planned this Party, and I told my friends don't bring me a gift. There's no thing that's going to help me feel better. We had already we being the United States, had announced that we were going to retaliate. So we were going to war we didn't know who struck us, but we were going to war and that just raised my level of anxiety. So I said, if you're going to bring me something for my birthday, bring me peace of mind because that's what I need. And a friend who gave me a touching piece. I take that hot.
So I also received that book just before I was accepted into the zen hospice project as a volunteer. I knew nothing about zen, knew nothing about Buddhism. But I want to be a hospice volunteer. So happen to have this book touching piece, by this Vietnamese Zen Buddhist priest, this practice of zen in hospice. And that was such a powerful combination for me because it allowed me to face my fear of death and die in a very positive and transformative way. That was my introduction to Buddhism.
So I grew up Catholic in Connecticut. And eventually, I went to Boston College and then went to Harvard Divinity School. And I went to Harvard Divinity School. I entered Harvard Divinity School to become an ordained priest. Now, during that time in the 70s there was an active ordination Women's Conference for people this is Carter Haywood and a number of women were quote on quote, irregularly ordained in the Episcopal Church. That was the word that they use when they first were ordained. And I thought, OK. I can do this too.
And there was a movement that also included Catholic women. So I thought I was going to become a priest and work in a community like Roxbury. That's what I thought after I-- so I went to Harvard Divinity School. I thought this is going to happen. It never did happen. It never opened up. And following graduating from Divinity School, I went on to Boston College and was a chaplain there for another 10 years.
My life just kind of went on about and I kind of really became more disenchanted with Catholicism, mostly around the theology that seemed to me to be a lot of man-made intended words of Theology sort of written discourse that really the bedrock of Christianity, and the life of the church. That you have decades and decades of all these books written by popes and other folks to kind of lead the Catholic church. But it was far away from the actual teachings I felt of Jesus.
So I became disenchanted with that and really was kind of on my own path working and having a difficult time actually, if you want to think about it being a chaplain. And so I stayed in that place, went on to do some other things. And by 1990, my mother died she had type 2 diabetes and didn't care for herself well. So she died and she died very young. Younger than you would imagine.
So at that point, I was bereft. And I took it really, really hard. I thought I was abandoned again. And I also felt like the world had opened up and I kind of got swallowed up by it. So friends of mine, several of them who are the co-founders of our bodies ourselves, health book collective said, hey, listen one of the things you might think about doing is going on a meditation retreat. And so that was my first retreat at Insight Meditation center in Barre mass.
And it was-- I think at the time, it was the people of color retreat that I went to. Was seven days. I had not had seven days of silence before. And during the course of that those seven days, I really struggled with the silence. My mind was going crazy. I thought I was crazy. Just the thoughts that were going. Shopping was everything. And we tell people now this will happen. That sort of monkey mind when you first start to really look at your thoughts and allow your-- thoughts are always there. When we're talking, we don't we're not paying attention. But what's required sometimes, they just kind of overwhelm us.
So I had that experience. I went downstairs to the basement of Insight Meditation center to the main building and just start to huddle. And I did that for about 15 or 20 minutes. And finally got myself together and then kind of rejoined the retreat for the rest of the week. But that was my introduction to Buddhism. The talks really, I felt an opening there after I was able to have this intense release around how painful that experience was for me. And I continued to stay with Insight Meditation center for a while IMS, Insight tradition and Buddhism for several years until I met William Miller, about 19 I guess it was 2020 or something. Anyway, about 11, 12 years ago. And so I've been a student of Willa in natatorium fellowship for a while.
And the last couple of years two or three years, maybe a little more about three years, I've had this deep kind of painful feeling that I'm really not in the right place at the congregation that Sunday is mostly almost all entirely white and lovely people. But I felt I've been feeling a sense of really being called home. I'm not sure where home is. I've always struggled to kind of find home. And so that's kind of where I am now. And I'm not a member really, I'm not an active member of national government fellowship. And I'm not sure where I am right now.
But I have a sense of confidence and trust that it's going to be. OK.
OK, thank you. I'm going to try to combine a few questions here. There's a number of questions having to do with intersectionality and whether the book addresses what it means to be black, queer, and Buddhist. And so I'm kind of distilling that theme from a number of questions. So I'm afraid it's open-ended but if you would like to speak to that theme, I invite you to do so.
I'm not even sure if I know how to answer that question because I think the intersectional queerness piece is so much part of the book, that it's not so explicit. So for example, if I may, I think over half of the contributors considered themselves to be part of the LGBTQ community and referenced that in different places. So if the real answer is-- is it present in the book, yes. Are you welcome in the practices? Absolutely. If you want to know more from an academic point of view, there's a lot written about being queer and being Buddhist from an academic point of view. But this book is filled with narratives and I think that if you are queer, or in the LGBTQ community, however you identify yourself, you may find yourself in this book.
Thank you. If no one else wants to respond to that, I'll ask another question. This is one that just came in. Are you aware of Buddhism reaching Africa? Could there be a three way conversation between African, African-American, and Asian Buddhists?
Yes. So I want to say that I love that question because the Buddhism is all over the place. I just participated in an event that was organized by a woman of color in South Africa who is also part of the village Tichnor Han tradition. I can't remember Buddhism across traditions and something else and I can't remember the name of it. But she had people from the United States, from Europe, from Africa talking about our experiences, identities, nationalities and Buddhism.
Also in I think second or third week in February, we haven't landed on the exact date, there is going to be a black Buddhist writers conference. The black and Buddhist sponsored by Shambhala publications hosted by the week network. And we're going to have folks from all over the world participating in this summit. So yes, all kinds of combinations of conversations can and I think need to take place. We've been in so many ways divided. The pandemic has made it difficult for us to connect in person, but technology has made it so much easier.
So yes. And we need to have conversations because-- let me just end with this. Just because we are African-American Buddhist practitioners, doesn't mean that we are somehow more sensitive to the concerns Asian-Americans have around the appropriation of Buddhism. And so in the spirit of solidarity and understanding in our own confessions, we need to have these conversations I hope we will have.
Yeah. If I could just add something which is that-- again, I'm going to give credit to the Black Lives Matter. But there is a sense of fierce urgency. And it's now, it's not in the future. And one of the things that I find really inspiring and hopeful, is the ability to think about Buddhism across traditions, Buddhism across intermittent Buddhism, black . Buddhism and so it's almost as if the barriers that were there before, the artificial barriers have been taken down in a way. And these conversations have been really, really instructive and supportive. And really, I find encouraging in terms of how people think about the Dharma and practice and how to show up and really how to show up, be courageous and be a leader in terms of the leadership we need now in the world.
This is going to be a difficult question. But I want to ask it. I want to pose it to you all because I think you've probably handled before. The question is, can you speak about-- and I'm just going to read the question as it is. How can you speak about clinging attachments, identifying with the group versus transcending race, limitations, attachments or anything that would separate or divide people?
Right. That's the rope, right. That's one of the ropes. So we enter, we imitate, I'm speaking from African-American experience. We entered soundness, having had the experience of living in the United States be specific to this context. We've been shaped by culture and cultures. and then we enter and potentially enter into this community where we're told to let go of everything. That might be the take away. Or there's no self or you're focused on things that cause you suffering. So don't focus on it.
And so there's this dissonance perhaps. How does this promote freedom and liberation, if I leave this and I convince myself that I live in a colorblind society where there's no history of slavery, Jim Crow and police brutality? So I think it makes sense to accept that dissonance. And also as we grow into practice and accept our lives as they are to say, what is it that we contribute to Buddhism that Buddhism is not about? Or ancient teachings were not about, right. And I hope that this book is a contribution to understanding what Buddhism can be for African-American people.
I had a conversation with the editors about whether the title of the subtitle of the book should be. What Buddhism can teach us about race resilience transformation freedom, or what being black can teach us about Buddhism, right. So again, back to the truth and being in our right mind-- in the United States, in a culture of injustice, police brutality, gloat-- I would say fear of the black person, right, or dangerous people. That Buddhism should not be taught in a way that attempts to convince us that our reality is not real.
As I put it to someone the other day, there's a teaching that says consider all phenomena as a dream. So that's nice, but when you've been living a nightmare, to try to convince someone otherwise is doing violence to them.
I'd love to say something about this because there's been such a tendency-- and I find it in my own voice community and in many others to use some kind of absolute truth to say that if you feel suffering from structural racism, then you are obviously not. You don't understand the Dharma. But my understanding of the Dharma is the relative truth our everyday life experience is extreme it's taken very seriously by the Buddha. The Buddha didn't discount suffering. His suffering was the working basis of things.
And earlier today, I was in a session for the American Academy of religion, talking about Howard Thurman. And Howard Thurman was in graduate school. He was being persuaded by his mentor to don't go into those race things, that will drag you down and mean that you can't make the kind of contributions that you could make because you have such an incredible intellect. And Howard Thurmond's realization that the race issue is the spiritual issue. And it feels to me that in American Buddhism until we embrace racism as the spiritual issue of our time, that there is a real misunderstanding of absolute and relative truth.
So that's where the word spiritual by passing comes from is when people use the absolute to somehow erase any sense of the importance of daily life. And the lived experience of living in a violent and racist society. That's fundamentally a misunderstanding of the Dharma.
I would just say that my experience through each of the narratives was that the practices helped each one to live into their Blackness. And to transform the pain of racism in the way that there is no kind of competition. So I my own personal experience of liberation through the reading, I experienced greater transcendence and liberation. And one author talked about the work of the practices helping I think to make you colorless on the inside, which is different than being colorblind. Colorless on the inside means there's nothing in the way of you connecting to your true self.
So the practices helped to clear away the insides of anything gets in the way. But my experience was I did practice helped me lean into the experience of Blackness in a way that's generative, and powerful and liberating.
We probably have time for at least one more question. I'm going to pair two questions, feel free to answer either or both of them. One participant asks, I'm wondering if the authors can speak to what predominantly white sanghas are doing that makes them unwelcoming to black and brown people? And the second question is what role do white Buddhists have in this conversation? Is it to step aside and work on our own anti-racism, or to support bipac Buddhists and assist in creating opportunities for practice?
Yes. All of you when a person, regardless of who they are comes to sangha, and says I have suffering that I want to work on it I want to transform. And we are committed to that. We want to know what the suffering is, and we might want to know something about the causes. And then we might want to put our heads together and say, how can we support this person, regardless of what the suffering is? What happens, however, sometimes, is that the white people in the South, have not done their work. And so they get triggered when a person of color, African-American mohapi says that my suffering is related to living in a racist society. Oh shit. Trigger, because I'm part of that. Or I've denied my part of it I'm not confessing anything, right. I haven't done my work.
And so be it supporting people of color in the sangha, be it doing your own work to recognize your own privilege, the ways that you've benefited from living in a racist society, all that work. This is the work that we're all doing. We're also doing our work people of color. We're doing our work as well. Letting go, talking about letting go. What do we need to let go of? We need to let go of the belief that we are inferior, right. We need to let go of the fear that if we speak truth to power, that we're going to be punished. Maybe we will. But maybe practices like these can help us be resilient in the face of the things that we weren't strong enough to face before.
This is what I have found in a practice like I taught it earlier about being afraid of death and dying. Now, I'm not. Now, I can be a hospice chaplain, right. Now, I can attend to my aged mother in a way that I don't think I could have years ago. We all have work to do. A lot of it is around race because of where we live. And let's do it.
If I could just add something to that, I think the good news is that there's much more awareness than there was a few years ago. And more conversation partners. And I think Judith, you mentioned that about your colleagues and your friends that people of color were your friends, and other people that helped you to sort of have the insight that you didn't have before. And so those resources are there for all of us. And hopefully, people will again, reach out to have the courage to really ask those questions and not feel ashamed by not knowing, or feeling like they should know and should be able to sort of figure out what they need to do to manage this.
When I imagine myself in a white body, which is what I need to do for this question, about what is it about white sanghas it's unwelcoming right. So I'm imagining myself in a white body. And someone of color comes in. What they will probably see is they can't see you. That's the first thing. Like we can't see each other as individuals. We don't know your story, we don't know each other's voices, we don't know your habits we don't know anything. What we see from an object relations point of view that happens to be one of my areas of study, right. From an object relations point of view, what we see are objects, representations. White people represent what we see in society. Black people represent what you see in society, right.
So in order to get past the objectification of one another, we need to relate to one another. And in that relating to one another, the object the objectification breaks down, we become subjects for one another, we become-- some would say we begin to make each other in that relationship. So to be the stoic white person-- let me put this way, to have white stoicism permeate the environment, replicates the feeling of indifference that many people of color feel in the United States as relates to white people. It just doesn't feel good to receive this indifference, what feels like indifference.
So be hospitable. In the old ways, going back to being in your right mind, be hospitable. Say hello, thank you for coming, glad you're here, let's take some time to get to know each other. When would be a good time for you?
It's a wonderful place to end, Ayo. I want to say to Ayo, and Cheryl-- thank you for riding this book. Thank you for editing this book, thank you for gathering the other witnesses between these covers. And thank you for sharing with us this evening. Melissa, Judith, thank you so much for your responses, for helping us engage this important work.
And lastly, those of you who are joining us-- we still have hundreds on the line, thank you so much for joining us. If you're interested in events at the center, sign up for our mailing list and you'll see programming much like this and many other things. One more event this year next week, and then, of course, a full slate in the spring semester. Good night everyone. Thank you once again. It's been a pleasure and an honor to have you.