Generosity and Opening to Other Perspectives

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Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
July 9, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Open to all Online on Friday Evening
July 10, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together Thich Nhat Hanh’s version of the five mindfulness trainings. We will focus our discussion on the second training, True Happiness, in which Thay expands the concept of not stealing to include generosity and social justice:

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and stop contributing to climate change.

When I really sit with the training on True Happiness, I realize that the most important way I can practice generosity is by giving something very subtle that can’t easily be named or measured. I think it could be called power, space, or even voice. I want to help create space for marginalized perspectives, both in society at large and in my own mind.

In order to shed my blinders to their truths, I have to recognize them in the first place. To open my heart and mind to folks who come from different perspectives, I have to accept that I my good intentions are not enough. I need to listen with deep compassion, openness, and non-attachment to views so that I can really hear what people from non-dominant communities are saying.

In How to Love, Thich Nhat Hanh writes,

To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen.

Listening, especially deep listening, isn’t always easy. Sometimes when I try to understand the point of view of communities to which I do not belong, I begin to feel defensive. I’ve been trying to sit with that discomfort, to sit with the pain I hear, and know that I may be a part of the cause. Compassion for myself, as well as others, can help me stay centered rather than becoming overwhelmed and shutting down. It also helps me to own it rather than projecting my guilt and regret onto others.

As part of my effort to better understand, I have been reading about the experience of individuals from non-dominant populations. I have chosen some excerpts and included them below.

I look forward to discussing the Second Training, True Happiness, Thursday and Friday evenings after our meditation periods.

  •  What is alive for you when you read this training at this moment in time?
  • What is important for you to give to others?
  • What helps you practice generosity, and what can get in the way?

Warm wishes,

From Waking up to Racism by bell hooks
Often white people share the assumption that simply following a spiritual path means that they have let go of racism: coming out of radical movements—civil rights, war resistance—in the sixties and seventies and going on to form Buddhist communities, they often see themselves as liberal and marginalized, proudly identifying with the oppressed. They are so attached to the image of themselves as nonracists that they refuse to see their own racism or the ways in which Buddhist communities may reflect racial hierarchies.

From Gender and Sexuality: From “Other” to Others by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara,
Consider for a moment: How welcoming are you to people of different sexual orientations and gender identities? How welcoming is your Buddhist community?.. Often, without realizing it, our noisy minds automatically go to old, broken, and mistaken ideas—inherited views of the “right way” for the “other” to look, to love, to express, to be. And so we let our facial expressions, our body language, and our rules give notice to anyone “different” that they are not really welcome, that they are not really a part of our communities, our families, and our lives.

From Healing the Broken Body of the Sangha, Ruth King 
But over the years, participating in dharma programs mostly attended and led by white people, I often felt my heart quake and stomach tighten after hearing teachers and yogis speak from a lack of awareness of themselves as racial beings. I didn’t hear blatant racist comments with intent to harm. Rather, there was a more subtle obliviousness to whiteness as a collective and its privilege and impact, and an assumption that we were all the same or wanted to be. In those moments, despite my best efforts, I was reminded of race and of being invisible and would spin into a hurricane of anger, confusion, and despair, asking myself: Why did you come? What did you expect? Are you delusional? Why do you need your experience to be acknowledged here? Why don’t you wake up and stop kidding yourself?

From Brown Body, White Sangha by Atia Sattar
In my dealings with American Buddhist centers, unfortunately I have yet to feel interrelationship in a mixed-race group of fellow practitioners. Instead, I’ve continued to encounter people’s preference for “race blindness.” And nowhere does it feel more hurtful than in well-intentioned white sanghas presently striving for diversity and inclusion. For instance, when I am told my presence is gladdening in a predominantly white sangha, I feel a weight placed on my shoulders. My being in the room cannot and does not simply signify my desire to learn and hold space together. Instead, I am perceived as a representative and ambassador for people of color, with my words serving as lessons on how people of color think and feel.

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