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…”

Mindful Education for Anti-Racist Allies

In the “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” video series, Emmanuel Acho sits down to lead viewers through the tough conversations white folks need to be having, in order to better understand struggles with racism and social injustice. In this first video, he discusses some frequently-asked questions around rioting, privilege, and the pain and hurt that Black Americans are feeling.

“In order to stand with us, and people that look like me, you have to be educated on issues that pertain to me,” he says. 

The whole video is well worth a watch—here are just three of the understandings Acho shares to help us increase our empathy so that we can act from deeper understanding and solidarity toward racial justice

1. Riots are a last resort

To many, rioting is simply an act of senseless and destructive aggression, and the recent riots in many US cities appear to have come out of nowhere. However, it’s clearer why this has happened when we look at the long history of struggle for equity in the US.

Acho reminds us that “For years, Black people have tried peacefully protesting, going back to 1965 and before with the Selma march.” The riots that broke out in June 2020 were only one facet of this most recent wave of protests. Even after decades of primarily peaceful demonstrations, Black people still face many of the same struggles of violence, poverty, and unequal rights they have always faced in colonial nations around the world. In recognizing this, we can better understand the perspectives of people who feel rioting is the only way to demand change.  

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Buddhists and Racial Justice: A History

Protests against the killings of Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade and the police brutality and structural racism that are responsible for them have spread across the US and the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered chanting for racial justice under the banner of “Black Lives Matter.” Holding signs such as “The Buddha Opposed Racism,” and “Buddhists for Black Lives Matter,” monastic and lay American Buddhists of all lineages have joined the protests. Organizations such as the Buddhist Churches of America, the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, and Soka Gakkai International-USA have released public statements vowing to transform “deep-rooted,” and “structural” racism in the US. Teachers have shared Buddhist practices to support racial justice efforts: Theravada nuns conducted a ritual to honor Black Americans killed by the police; a Tibetan Buddhist teacher offered a Green Tara meditation for healing racism, a secular Buddhist explained how Buddhist right speech could be aligned with social justice. Showing that “waking up together in community is the deepest refuge we have,” Black Buddhists have gathered to heal through their stories of “strength and resilience.” On Twitter and Facebook, white practitioners have declared their commitment to renouncing the poison of white supremacy and ending the intense suffering caused by anti-blackness. 

But historically, many white American Buddhist converts have been resistant to acknowledging race and racial justice in and outside of their communities because they have labeled it a “political” rather than a “Buddhist” issue. Some teachers reported that white practitioners have walked out of their sangha when racism was brought up in dharma talks; others shared that they have received angry notes from retreatants that they had come to meditate, not engage in political discussion.  

I want to offer some wider context for responses coming from meditation-based convert communities in the Insight, Zen, and Tibetan lineages. These communities started in the 1960s and ‘70s, and have been predominantly populated by white, middle-class practitioners and characterized by a strong focus on individual meditation practice. 

In my recent book American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity, I traced how a small but deeply committed network of People of Color (PoC) and their white allies have made significant pragmatic and philosophical efforts to address white privilege and racism in meditation-based convert sanghas and the wider culture in which they are situated. Exploring some of their contributions gives a sense of what work has been done—and what work remains to be done—to create inclusive sanghas. In what ways have Buddhists confronted racism and white privilege in these communities? How have they interpreted racism and whiteness from a Buddhist perspective? How have majority white sanghas responded? What is needed for liberation from the dukkha [suffering] of racism?  

From “the White Space” to “Multicultural Refuges”

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The Simplicity of Discipline: Thriving Without the Baggage of Expectations

By Leo Babauta

The clients I work with almost all put incredible expectations on themselves — they have higher standards than almost anybody I know. It’s why they work with me.

It can be hard to see, but the expectations they’ve set for themselves often stand in the way of what they want the most.

It’s hard to see, because they became successful because of those expectations. It’s what got them this far.

But after a certain point, the expectations become the anchor, not the engine.

The breakthrough to the next level for many of us who perform at high levels — and actually for people of all kinds — is to let go of all expectations.

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A Meditation for Letting Thoughts Float by Like Bubbles

This practice is meant to help you become mindful of the mind as a process. Practicing awareness of the mind helps break our addiction to the contents of our  mind. When we meditate on the mind as though it is a process, as though each thought is like a bubble floating, we can experience the spaciousness of awareness. We can practice allowing each thought we have to pass without getting into the thought bubble and floating away with it. Most importantly, we practice being patient and kind with ourselves as we explore this practice. 

1. Find a way to sit that feels good and grounded. Adjust your posture so that your spine is erect without being rigid or stiff. Allow the rest of the body to be relaxed around the upright spine, maybe resting your hands in your lap or on your legs. Allow your eyes to gently close if you haven’t done so already. Bring full attention to the physical sensations of your sitting. Allow the breath to be natural. 

2. Begin with a body scan. Scan from the crown of your head, all the way down to your toes, and as you scan through your body try to find any places where you are holding tension. See if you can soften and relax those areas, because you’ve probably been holding it for long enough. Begin at the crown of your head, making your way down, feeling every sensation and softening your forehead, the little muscles around your eyes, your jaw, and your tongue. Continue to scan down while relaxing your neck and shoulders. Continue down your body while feeling the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen. See if you can soften your belly, with each inhale and exhale softening it a little bit more. Make your way down the rest of your body, all the way down to your toes. 

3. Feel where your body is supported. Next, see if you can feel into the places where your body makes contact, whether it’s with the ground, a chair, a couch, or whatever you’re sitting on. See if you can feel the sensations of your body being supported, the pressure and weight of your solidity, and all of the sensations that make up the experience of gravity in your body. 

4. Bring your full attention to the present time and experience. Acknowledge the full range of what’s happening in this moment: Thinking is happening, hearing is happening, and seeing is happening (even if your eyes are closed). Tasting, smelling, physical sensations, and emotional sensations are all present. Allow all the experiences to be as they are, and redirect your attention to the sensation of your breath. Let your other senses fall to the background as you bring your awareness of the breath to the foreground. 

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A Balanced Pursuit of Justice

Water, earth, fire, air. The Buddha taught these four classical elements to his followers as a foundation for mindfulness practice and a reminder of the interconnectedness of all beings. But if you list these four elements to a room of twenty-somethings, you’re more likely to prompt a recitation of the opening sequence of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. 

Avatar first premiered on Nickelodeon in 2005, and was added to Netflix in May—much to the delight of a generation of lifelong fans. The show’s popularity is evidenced by its record-breaking streak on Netflix’s “Top 10” most-watched list. Despite originally being targeted at a younger audience, the Emmy award-winning television series quickly attained cultish popularity among teenagers and adults for its unique blend of whimsy and wisdom. The New Yorker described it—in a review written a decade and a half after Avatar’s release—as “politically resonant” and “emotionally sophisticated.” Drawing inspiration from Buddhism and other Asian religions, Avatar also explores the thorny question of how to act on one’s spirituality and ethical convictions in situations that are not clear-cut. 

 The world of Avatar is one of magic, mysticism, martial arts, and made-up animals. But the youthful antics and flying bison are presented against a troubling backdrop. Set in an Asiatic world split into four nations, the series begins in the midst of an imperialist war launched by the Fire Nation against the nations of the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads. Throughout the show, benders from each nation, who can manipulate one of the corresponding elements of water, earth, fire, or air, must decide whether they will use their abilities to fight against, or for, tyrannical forces. The bending styles and traditions of the nations borrow heavily from various Eastern traditions, histories, and religions, with the Air Nation in particular resembling aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. 

The series follows 12-year-old Aang, a peaceful airbender and the next reincarnation of the Avatar, who has the unique ability to control all four elements and is responsible for restoring balance to the world. Aang was brought up by monks in the Southern Air Temple, where all airbenders don robes of saffron orange and yellow, shave their heads, and live a vegetarian lifestyle based on principles of nonviolence. The names of Aang’s mentor, Gyatso, and Aang’s (future) airbender son, Tenzin, are nods to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. 

Like the Dalai Lama, the Avatar is thought to be reincarnated over many lifetimes. As a young child, Aang selected four relics from among thousands of toys, thereby confirming his identity as the reincarnation of the Avatar—a process resembling the one used to identify the Dalai Lama. Years later, upon learning his identity as the Avatar, Aang rejects his immense responsibility to the world and flees the temple. Aang’s struggle to accept his role as the Avatar recalls the debate among Buddhists over the extent to which monastics and practitioners should engage in worldly matters.  

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