Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

At Fort Sill, a Prayer That History Would Not Repeat Itself

In the following letter, scholar and Soto Zen priest Duncan Ryuken Williams recounts the events of July 20, 2019, when 25 Buddhist priests and lay leaders joined over 400 demonstrators in Oklahoma to protest the transfer of immigrant children to the Fort Sill Army Base, once the site of a Japanese internment camp. Shortly after the Trump administration’s June announcement that it planned to use Fort Sill to house 1,400 undocumented and unaccompanied migrant children, Williams joined a demonstration at the base organized by the immigrant-youth led advocacy group United We Dream and the Japanese American activist organization Tsuru for Solidarity. Planning for the next stage of action, Williams called on Buddhist leaders to come together and hold a remembrance ceremony paralleling a historic funeral service performed by 90 Buddhist priests at Fort Sill in 1942 for the people who died in internment camps (which Williams wrote about in his book American Sutra). He asked people who could not attend to show their support by sending paper cranes. The Buddhist leaders answered the call, and sangha members sent over 4,000 paper cranes. A week later, the White House announced that it was halting plans to transfer the 1,400 children to the former internment camp. In his letter, Williams expresses his gratitude to supporters and reflects on the power of “Buddhist free speech” to change the course of history. 

“We should study how kind and compassionate words . . . have the power to turn the destiny of the nation.” Zen master Dogen (1200-1253), from his Bodaisatta Shishobo

Multi-layered Buddhist robes are not usually worn in 102 degree heat or advisable for marching down a two-lane highway in front of a US Army base, but it felt perfectly fitting to wear them despite such conditions on July 20, 2019 in Lawton, Oklahoma. On this day, a group of 25 Buddhist priests and lay leaders donned their robes and marched with nearly 400 other protestors—including members of a Japanese American organization, Tsuru for Solidarity, that had invited us—toward a fence in front of the Bentley Gate at the Fort Sill Army Base.

We Buddhists walked the highway hoping not to get arrested before we could fulfill our responsibility to the day’s direct action. We planned to chant a Buddhist sutra as close to that fence as possible—a fence that was the site of two shootings of Japanese immigrants by US Army guards at the World War II Fort Sill Internment Camp, and a fence that was also slated to demarcate the confinement site of up to 1,400 asylum-seeking children from Central America, who have been separated from their families. 

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: What Americans (Don’t) Know About Dharma

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

Most Americans Don’t Know Much (Or Anything) About Buddhism, Poll Shows

More than half of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center said they know little to nothing  about Buddhism, according to a new report. Of the people asked what they knew about various religions, 38 percent responded “not much” and 20 percent answered “nothing at all.” Only 6 percent said they knew “a lot,” and 36 percent said they knew “some.” The survey also included a brief quiz, on which only 18 percent of respondents correctly answered the question Which of the following is one of Buddhism’s four “noble truths”? [Answers: the truth of suffering (18%, correct), the truth that every living being has an immortal soul (22%), the truth that the Buddha was perfect and free from sin (5%), the truth of monotheism (1%), and not sure (52%).] And 20 percent answered “The Mahayana Sutras” as the text “most closely associated with the Hindu tradition,” beating the correct answer, “Vedas,” at 15 percent. 

Related: Buddhism For Beginners 

Bhikkhu Bodhi Addresses the United Nations on Climate Change

On the International Day of Vesak held in Vietnam in May of this year, Buddhist teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi gave a speech to the United Nations, suggesting that Buddhist teachings provide indispensable insight into the psychological craving that is at the root of the widespread reluctance to take the climate disaster seriously. “We know what lies behind climate change; the causes have been determined with scientific precision,” he said in his speech, a video of which was posted online in late July. “The Buddha’s diagnosis would take us a step deeper and show what underlies the climate crisis at the most basic level are distortions at the base of the human mind: the interplay of craving and ignorance, greed and delusion.” In September, Bhikkhu Bodhi, the founder of the Buddhist Global Relief charity, will join other climate activists at the New York Insight Meditation Center for “Right Action in the Anthropocene: A Buddhist Response to Global Warming,” a two-day event of meditation and lectures that will explore the causes and conditions of climate change, as well as the ways we can move forwardly collectively.

Related: A Call to Conscience and Climate Change Is a Moral Issue by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Why We Yell and Scream

The other day I was talking with a friend about the sexual abuse in my former spiritual community, and she said that she didn’t think so-and-so was doing any favors for those trying to make their voices heard because so-and-so was going on and on and, in effect, ranting. My friend said she thought people would be able to hear so-and-so better if she toned it down and spoke more selectively and in a less inflammatory way, instead of getting people’s backs up and making them feel attacked.

I said that I thought everyone has to express these horrifying things in their own ways, which may not necessarily be completely diplomatic or “nice.” I said that so-and-so had gone through periods of being suicidal, of many years of therapy, of dropping out of her Ph.D. program because she couldn’t focus, and, like most of us, losing many of her friends who feared that associating with her would be a blot on their need to appear loyal to the offending organization. I reminded my friend about how crazy-making all of this can be, when someone is finally trying to understand their own abuse.

Later on, as I thought back on this conversation, I began to wonder why so-and-so was perceived to be yelling and screaming (figuratively, through her writing), and why so many of us, no matter how we present our stories, are accused of being angry whiners, disrupters, unhappy people, aggressive “feminazis,” revenge seekers, complainers, man-haters, and on and on. And, aside from all that, I wanted to try to express why we do yell and scream and why, yes, we absolutely have the right to do so.

So here it is: We yell and scream because the person who molested, raped, or harassed us was our husband, or uncle, or priest, or guru, or boss, or neighbor, or date. They violated our bodies and our trust in humanity (to whatever degree we still had any), and we were shamed and confused by the way they made it seem as if the abuse was partly (or entirely) our fault. So we could never tell anyone, because we weren’t clear about it ourselves. No one ever told us that these things, these behaviors, are flat-out wrong, often even illegal, and that no one has the right to violate another human being in these ways, no matter what. We got the message that no one wanted to know, no one would believe us, and that telling would be worse than our long, confused silence. In our cultural paradigm, we had no context for recognizing the wrongness of these behaviors. They were minimized even in our own minds.

On top of that, our society has had very little meaningful language for these pervasive, almost normalized violations. The misogyny is so old and deep that women who dare to speak out risk vilification, or denial, or some other crazy-making response (ergo laws that say if it’s your husband it’s not rape; ergo our Sunday school teachers telling the girls never to tease a boy or touch his knee [this was my experience as a teenager] because we would be asking for it because he wouldn’t be able to control himself and it would be our fault; and on and on.) And, beyond belief, there are whole societies and sub-societies that still believe this insanity. They believe that boys are natural predators and girls are prey, and therefore girls need to be constantly watchful, never walk alone at night or in unsafe areas, never dress provocatively, never leave our drinks on the counter when we go to the restroom, never “lead a boy on,” you name it. Boys, on the other hand, can do almost anything and have it excused as being part of their bestial, predatory nature. And if something happens to us as girls in this poisonous environment, the first thing that’s examined is what we did that let it happen. (I call this the “short skirt” question.)

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A Timely and Important Book “Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism”

Guest Post By Joanne Clark

Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, by Tahlia Newland, is the story of Rigpa students coming to terms with disclosures of Sogyal Lakar’s abuses over decades, as revealed in the letter from eight senior ex-students in July 2017. This is the story of renegade students, students who refuse to participate in a religious institution that condones abuse—and the courage, wisdom, self-reflection, compassion and robust spirit of inquiry that shines through this book reminds me again and again that Buddha himself was a renegade, founding a religion outside of institutions, royal pomp, ceremony, and political power. This is a book that Rigpa management, Sogyal Lakar and the Tibetan Buddhist community need to read and ponder, as the insights it contains are pertinent to all who care about the authentic transmission of Buddhism to the West.

This is also the story of Rigpa’s tragic failure as a religious institution to protect students from harm and Sogyal’s failure to abide by even the most basic ethical boundaries of the Dharma. We learn how both Rigpa and Sogyal have failed to adequately address the present concerns of this group of long-time, now ex-students, many of whom are survivors of Sogyal’s abuse, suffering from severe trauma and seeking validation. We learn also how they have demeaned, attacked and dismissed this group, many of whom devoted long years of their lives working for Rigpa.

The story begins shortly before the publication of the letter, at the moment when Newland first discovers that Sogyal has been hitting students for decades. We follow her personal, painful process of coming to terms with this and then, with the letter published, the story becomes much bigger, becoming the story of many—of the “What Now?” group– ex-Rigpa students forming communities of blogs and Facebook groups under the leadership of Newland and others in order to find support and move forward in meaningful ways.

This is not a story of gripe sessions, not about angry ex-students, though certainly some have had their periods of anger and there is plenty to be angry about. This is an account of students making meaning out of trauma and abuse, students working to hold a perpetrator to full account and understand the beliefs, manipulations and deceptions that held them hostage, that allowed such abuses to occur. And it is a true story. As one commenter, quoted in the book, stated:

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A Transgender Buddhist Trailblazer 20+ Years Later

Buddhist teacher and practitioner Caitriona Reed came out as a “woman of transgender experience” in her article “Coming Out Whole,” published in Inquiring Mind in 1998. Back then, public knowledge of transgender people wasn’t particularly informed or accurate. In her article, Caitriona articulated complex theories of gender and indicated a need to dissolve the gender binary, ideas that wouldn’t enter the public discourse until decades later. Since then, conversations about gender identity have become more mainstream, though trans communities continue to struggle for acceptance. 

Caitriona Reed, a Zen Buddhist, received authority to teach from Thich Nhat Hanh in 1992. She co-founded the Manzanita Village Retreat Center in southern California to focus on Vipassana meditation and Zen practice as ways of promoting sustainable ecologies, nonviolence, and social justice. 

In the following interview, Tricycle follows up with Caitriona to discuss how things have changed, or stayed the same, since her coming out over two decades ago.

What responses did you get when Inquiring Mind published your article?
For the most part, the response I got from my peers was extraordinarily generous and open—even congratulatory. I remember at a teacher meeting shortly after, [Theravadan teacher] Jack Kornfield quipped that I was probably the only person there not in drag, the only one not putting on a contrived front. Among Buddhists—Asian Buddhists, Theravadan monks, Tibetan teachers—the response was just extraordinary.

Of course, I was aware of some people with reservations, but they were polite. Among my own students, a few were confounded, but this was 22-plus years ago, so times were different. I remember one student said, “I’m disappointed that you’ve transitioned because in terms of male-female balance, you were one of the most integrated men I’d ever met. I’m disappointed because I enjoyed that.”

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