Meditating on Whiteness 

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Right now, there are ongoing protests in the streets, ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white policeman. The protests are about a world more than the tragedy of that particular killing. They’re about centuries of violence against black and brown bodies, hearts, and minds.

As long as America postpones justice, we will have these recurrences of violence, riots, and protest over and over again. Thus we must ask ourselves: what will end racial violence and oppression?

Anti-black racism is the core wound of American culture. As William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” I saw images of a protest in Tampa, Florida, last week; one young African-American boy was carrying a sign that said, “Stop killing us.” A friend in D.C. related the story of President Trump employing the National Guard in order to shoot tear gas and flash grenades into a crowd of peaceful protestors—so that he could clear the way to pose for a photo in front of a church. This friend told me, “We have to be in the streets to save our lives.” 

The trauma of racial suffering just keeps going. It is time to learn to listen deeply and respond wisely.

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When the Dalai Lama Drops an Album

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is many things: Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tibetan spiritual leader, beloved popular culture figure, and now—as of July 6, 2020—record producer. At the age of 85, the Dalai Lama has come out with his debut album, titled Inner World. Fusing music with Buddhist chants, His Holiness uses his resounding voice as an instrument, reciting traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayers and presenting teachings on issues close to his heart. The first track, “One of My Favorite Prayers,” opens with the soothing sounds of a bamboo flute while the Dalai Lama recites a prayer composed by Shantideva, the 8th-century Indian Buddhist philosopher of the historic Nalanda University: “As long as space endures / And as long as living beings remain / Until then may I too remain / To dispel miseries of the world.” But why did one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders decide to embrace the music industry to disseminate his message of peace?

Inner World is the product of collaboration with musicians Junelle Kunin and Abe Kunin, a husband-wife duo from New Zealand. Several years ago, Junelle had suggested an album of mantras and conversations with the Dalai Lama. His office turned down the idea, but in 2015, during an audience with the Dalai Lama in India, she again pitched the idea, in a letter she handed to one of his assistants. This time, His Holiness accepted.

When asked why he agreed to make the album, the Tibetan spiritual leader told Junelle that music has “the potential to help people in a way that I can’t” and that it has the ability “to transcend our differences. It can return us to our true nature of good-heartedness.”

The album, which took five years to produce, contains eleven tracks. In seven of them the Dalai Lama chants sacred mantras of several important buddhas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, including that of Manjushri, bodhisattva of wisdom; Menlha, the Tibetan name for the Medicine Buddha; Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; and Tara, a Buddhist deity and female counterpart to Avalokiteshvara. In a track titled “Compassion,” widely released online last month, His Holiness recites the six-syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, one of the most well- known Tibetan Buddhist prayers. 

What’s striking about Inner World is that it blends musical genre and Buddhist teachings. In the track “Ama-la” [mother] that features Bengali sitar player Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar, the Dalai Lama states, “the real teacher of compassion in every human being’s life is our mother” and in another track titled “Humanity” he says “…too much emphasis on self-centred attitude and too much emphasis on we and them are the basis of killing, exploitation or injustices.” In the seventh track, “Wisdom,” His Holiness pays homage to Manjushri in Tibetan and chants the mantra of transcendent wisdom in Sanskrit, while a slow guitar weaves a mellow tune alongside saxophone and bass.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Uighurs Face Forced Sterilization

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

Uighur People Face Forced Sterilization 

The Uighur people, ethnic Muslims who live in China’s far west region of Xinjiang, have faced discrimination, forced internment in re-education camps, and other state-sanctioned violence in recent years. Now, more information is coming to light about Chinese government-led efforts to systematically curb its Uighur population. According to the Associated Press (AP), Chinese authorities are using “draconian measures” to curb birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities. These measures include pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices (IUDs), sterilization, and even abortion. While individual people had spoken out about forced birth control, interviews and data taken from an AP investigation of government statistics, state documents, and interviews with 30 ex-internment camp detainees, family members, and a former detention camp instructor, show that forced sterilization practices are much more widespread than previously understood. Some experts are now calling China’s attempt to stifle Uighur birth rates a form of “demographic genocide.” 

New Online Initiative Launches “Pay What You Can” Mindfulness Classes for Kids and Parents 

A new online mindfulness resource hopes to help families cope with the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the distress around recent acts of police brutality in the US. Founded by mindfulness teachers, psychologists, and educators, Inner Kids Collaborative offers daily mindfulness lessons on Zoom for children, tweens, and teens, as well as for their parents, caregivers, and educators, on an entirely “pay what you can” basis. “I think it’s important for people to know that this project is ‘pay what you can afford,’” co-founder and mindfulness teacher Susan Kaiser Greenland told Tricycle in an email. “If you can’t afford anything, you can email us and we’ll send you the link to get in for free. We’re a new nonprofit and providing affordable classes is important to us, especially during the pandemic when so many families are going stir-crazy.” 

Inner Kids offers two classes each week in Spanish, in partnership with Mexico-based mindfulness organization AtentaMente, and also hosts a weekly class for caregivers of children with autism. “I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful to be part of this fantastic collaborative of volunteer teachers, all of whom are working their hearts out to bring this project to life,” Greenland said. To register, check out Inner Kids’ schedule here

Bodhgaya Hotels Ban Chinese Travelers 

Hotels in Bodhgaya, India, the site where the Buddha realized enlightenment, have announced that they will no longer accommodate pilgrims of Chinese nationality, amid rising tensions at the Indo-Chinese border, according to reporting by the New Indian Express. The Bodh Gaya Hotel Association and the Bodh Gaya Restaurant Association decided to also ban Chinese citizens from restaurants, according to the report. Sudama Kumar, General Secretary of Bodh Gaya Hotel Association, told the New Indian Express that the decision was made as an action of desh-hit—the Hindi term for patriotism. “Nation first thereafter anything,” he said. 

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Yellow Insomnia

Tricycle is offering free access to select articles during this uncertain time.

I wrote “Yellow Insomnia” during my own relapse of sleeplessness shortly after the murder of George Floyd. Written for two voices, the poem meditates on shared suffering and shared mission, particularly through the lens of Asian and Black solidarity. While writing, I kept hearing poet Randall Horton’s voice in my head. His friendship and mentorship always meant a great deal to me, and I’m honored to collaborate with him on this audio poem as an act of allyship. 

While mixing the audio, I sought to “braid” our voices with the sound of fire, which invokes both collective ritual and the intimacy of the fireside, to create an immersive memoriam that kindles a sense of rebirth. 

As a Nichiren Buddhist who practices side by side with BIPOC and LGBTQIA Buddhists in the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) community, my focus is on building bridges of dialogue in society, which entails standing up for others and cultivating the courage to live as one of the demon daughters who appear in the Lotus Sutra as protectors who have taken a vow to shield and guard the dignity of human life. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda states that “unless we can perceive our fellow human beings and feel their sufferings as our own, we will never be free of conflict and war. In other words, a transformation within our own lives is important.”

Yellow Insomnia
by Monica Ong

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More than “Little Dakinis”: Growing Up Shambhala

Emily Temple’s debut novel, The Lightness, is set in a summer camp for “bad girls” high in the mountains at a “pan-spiritual contemplative community” known as the Levitation Center. The teenage girls meditate, practice archery, and contemplatively arrange flowers. But for the runaway-protagonist, Olivia, and her friends, their focus that summer is learning to levitate, and the dreamy 20-something gardener they think can teach them. This training in the supernatural, however, is advanced, and their pursuit leads them down a dangerous and complex path in this coming-of-age story. 

With references to “inherent goodness,” abusive teachers, and unreliable authorities, it’s hard not to think of Shambhala Buddhism and the revelations of the past few years that have led its leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, stepping down. Temple grew up practicing in the Shambhala community, and her experience shapes The Lightness, published by HarperCollins in June. 

In the following interview, Tricycle talks with Temple, who also is an editor living in Brooklyn, and Maya Rook, a historian and former member of Shambhala. They discuss the new book as well as growing up in the tradition and spending their summers at the Karme Choling retreat center in rural Vermont, where their parents received teachings from Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. 

I was doing a good amount of reporting two years ago when Project Sunshine started releasing reports on abuse in Shambhala. It was hard to not think about the abuse and power dynamics while reading The Lightness. And at the time, we didn’t hear a whole lot from women in Shambhala—we heard from teachers and lawyers and spokespeople. I realize your book is fiction, but it’s also a great opportunity to talk about abuses of power from a woman’s perspective and how this book fits into the time that we’re living in. 

Emily Temple (ET): I started writing it before any of the reports of the Sakyong’s abuse and misconduct came out, but as has become more and more clear to me in my life, this has been a part of the Shambhala community as well as almost every community in which there’s a hierarchy and men are in power. I remember as a kid thinking that Buddhism in general, and Shambhala in particular, was better than other religions and systems. Part of the writing of this book was dealing with the fact that I’m finding this not to be true. I still think Shambhala is “more right” than other systems, especially on a metaphysical level. But I was very disappointed to realize that these same hierarchies and abuses of power were happening in this world that I loved so much and felt so safe in as a child.

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