Looking Deeply at Privilege and Non-self

Looking Deeply at Privilege and Non-self

Discussion date: Thu, May 04, 2017 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Joaquin Carral will be offering our program this Thursday. Joaquin is originally from Mexico, is a member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, and is a medical doctor now practicing in Connecticut. Tonight’s topic arose in a Dharma sharing group we were recently both part of at Blue Cliff monastery. Joaquin’s reflections on privilege and non-self are below:

Knowing that I am an immigrant to this country and that I grew up in a developing country, most people would not think of me as growing up with privilege, but I did. The gated community that I lived in gave me the freedom to have a house without a lock. Our neighborhood contained two dozen houses with families and friends from the same socioeconomic background. I went to private schools and my medical education was paid by my father. My family helped me with money so that I could come to the US, study in a worry free environment, and take the required tests so that I could continue my medical education. In moving to the US as a physician, one could say I went from privilege in one society to privilege in another. However, this is only partly true.

Over the 8 years that I have lived in the US, I have been exploring my sense of identity and belonging. In some ways it is easy for me to feel connected to my many privileged Sangha siblings. And in other ways it is easy for me to identify with the illegal immigrant patients from Latin-America that I see daily. This created a nice place for me to take a look at my privileged background and slowly start to understand it.

When we think of privilege, there are many mental formations that come to our mind. Sometimes I tell myself that I did not have privilege, other times I feel guilty and angry at the disparities in the world, and other times I feel compassion for myself and others and a sense of openness.Tara Brach writes in Lion’s Roar:

We’ve got to love ourselves and each other though this. If white people are going to have the courage and honesty to look at where we’re holding on to dominance or enjoying our privilege, we also have to find a way to forgive ourselves

It seems to me that one of the safest places to explore this is in our Beloved Community. The Sangha can give us the place of refuge to make sure that we do this with compassion for ourselves and for others. We did not choose where to grow up, but we can choose to take a deep look at its roots and start to transform the situation.

Looking deeply at privilege opens the door to looking at non-self. We can use this door to see that we are only made of non-self elements. My upbringing is made of the causes and conditions of my ancestors, my country, the world and the entire universe. My achievements were possible because of all the people that have helped me, the schools that I attended, and the family friends that opened doors for me. When I forget that all that I have has been given to me by others I tend to feel isolated in this world, not connected to others. I am not a self-made-man. I am one with the universe. Therefore my aspiration is to give back to the world. In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh explains non-self in this way:

Impermanence is the same as non-self. Since phenomena are impermanent, they do not possess a permanent identity.Non-self is also emptiness. Emptiness of what? Empty of a permanent self. Non-self means also interbeing. Because everything is made of everything else, nothing can be by itself alone. Non-self is also interpenetration, because everything contains everything else. Non-self is also interdependence, because this is made of that. Each thing depends on all other things to be. That is interdependence. Nothing can be by itself alone. It has to inter-be with all other things. That is non-self.

Joaquin suggests we begin our Dharma sharing with these questions: When I heard that we will be talking about privilege, what was my response? Was attraction or aversion part of it? Did a sense of guilt or powerlessness arise? Did I feel relieved or affirmed? What else? Was my response different than it might have been in the past?

You are invited to join us.

This week is also the first Thursday of the month, and, as is our tradition, we will offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

in: Articles, Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, May 04, 2017


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