Mindfulness and Racial Justice

Mindfulness and Racial Justice

Discussion date: Thu, Jul 02, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland Community Online on Thursday Evening, July 2, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to All Online on Friday Evening, July 3, 7:00 to 8:45pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

On June 19th, Thay Phap Dung, a senior monastic Dharma teacher, posted on the Plum Village website some reflections on Racial Justice entitled “Engaging Together for Change: An Invitation.” In the first paragraph of the 3,000-word article Phap Dung noted that “racial justice and systemic inequalities” are intimately interconnected with other monumental challenges, including the pandemic, the climate and ecological crises, poverty, and the “imbalance of power and militarization of our world.” Underlying all these challenges is a “fundamental human crisis, the spiritual crisis.” I understand this crisis as having to do with how we perceive ourselves, others, and the world we are part of.

Many of us were attracted to Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) because he clearly delineated a way of being in the world that combined the cultivation of inner stillness with an aspiration to relieve suffering and nourish love in ourselves and all beings. He wrote in Peace is Every Step:

When I was in Vietnam, so many of our villages were being bombed. Along with my monastic brothers and sisters, I had to decide what to do. Should we continue to practice in our monasteries, or should we leave the meditation halls in order to help the people who were suffering under the bombs? After careful reflection, we decided to do both—to go out and help people and to do so in mindfulness. We called it engaged Buddhism. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?

We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help.

I am grateful that Phap Dung, in dialogue with many monastic and lay practitioners, has offered guidance that may help mindfulness practitioners clarify “what to do and what not to do to be of help.”
Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will read together three of the article’s 11 sections:
  • Lotus in a Sea of Fire
  • Action and Non-action
  • Steadfast Non-Dualism is Non-Violence and Compassion.

Our Dharma sharing will focus on how these words help us to better respond to the challenges of our lives. The text of these three sections is below. Also below is an excerpt from Love in Action, which may illuminate Thay’s and Phap Dung’s use of the term “non-action.”

You are invited to join us.

Many blessing,

Mitchell Ratner

From Engaging Together for Change: An Invitation
by Thay Phap Dung, June, 2020

Lotus in a Sea of Fire
When Thay was confronted with the devastation of war, he took refuge in the insight of eleventh century Vietnamese Zen Master Ngo An, who reminds us that:

The jade burned on the mountain retains its natural color,

The lotus, blooming in the furnace, does not lose its freshness.

We aspire to be the bright jade and the lotus, which retain their essence and deepest values when tested in the fire of adversity. The mind of love remains intact. We aspire not to lose sight of anyone’s humanity and to be aware not to water seeds of vengeance, fanaticism, or self-righteousness. Whatever that jade or lotus is for us, that deep innate knowing or gut feeling, we are determined not to lose our mind of love and compassion, no matter what temptation burns within our furnace.

Action and Non-action
The question is not whether we act or don’t act, but how we act—both as individuals and as a collective—from the quality of our being. Thay once said, “Sometimes you don’t do anything, but you do a lot. And sometimes you do a lot, but you don’t do anything; it doesn’t help.” Our actions should be genuine expressions of our love, care, and awakening. With our insight and the “eye of signlessness,” we can maintain the spirit of true action of “non-action,” doing what needs to be done with freedom and peace, without grasping for an outcome. We act from a place of being, of stillness, of peace. As Thay has said, “The means and the end are one. You cannot remove the means from the end, and you cannot remove the end from the means. Our way of being has to be the peace we are working for.”

It is helpful to examine our actions using these lenses from our Order of Interbeing tradition: skillfulness, appropriateness, timeliness, openness (non-attachment to views), and to base our actions on our real insight and experiences. Without these elements, even dharmic actions with good intentions, can be toxic and cause harm and more suffering. Whether our practice is the practice of action or non-action, if we don’t include these considerations, we risk going against the true path.

Steadfast Non-Dualism is Non-Violence and Compassion
As we engage, challenge, and demand change, justice, and collective awakening, we must be diligent in maintaining a non-dualistic view and approach, whatever the circumstances and whomever the “perpetrators” we think we are contending. There is a need to transform and remedy the systems, symbols, and structures of injustice and to engage in constructive dialogue with those who harbor ignorance and hate in their hearts in support of such systems. It is also essential to initiate and implement, beyond just talk, the necessary corrective legislation to bring systemic change. There is a moment in time where discernment is needed as well as clarity, courage, and compassion to call out what is acceptable and what is no longer tolerable, and demand transformation. But as practitioners, we are encouraged to be vigilant about not being the tempted fish and biting the bait of dualism; and resist the divisive hook “that if you are not with us, then you are one of them, or you are against us.” We must maintain our heart of compassion and non-discrimination—even in the torrent of our radical actions, even at the risk of feeling excluded from this historic moment. Who is our enemy, and where is their home? As trailblazers on the awakened path, we shall be careful not to be fooled by the signs of outer appearances and achievements or to let others be the masters and governors of our fate.

At this moment, to stand up and speak out for racial justice and against racism is essential, just as it is for gender, class, and climate justice. We must also have the courage, patience, and openness of mind to look deeply into the root causes of social injustice, and listen deeply to those who are suffering, learning how we are each contributing, individually and collectively. At the same time, let us not be too quick to make hostile assumptions about those who, for whatever reason, are silent or less vocal about making proclamations.

The Practice of Non-Action is Essential
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Love in Action : Writings on Nonviolent Social Change

Thinking is at the base of everything. It is important for us to put an eye of awareness into each of our thoughts. Without a correct understanding of a situation or a person, our thoughts can be misleading and create confusion, despair, anger, or hatred. Our most important task is to develop correct insight. If we see deeply into the nature of interbeing, that all things “inter-are,” we will stop blaming, arguing, and killing, and we will become friends with everyone.

These are the three domains of action—body, speech, and mind. In addition, there is non-action, which is often more important than action. Without our doing anything, things can sometimes go more smoothly just because of our peaceful presence. In a small boat when a storm comes, if one person remains solid and calm, others will not panic, and the boat is more likely to stay afloat. In many circumstances, non-action, can help a lot. A tree merely breathes, waves its leaves and branches, and tries to stay fresh. But if the tree were not there, we could not be here. The tree’s non-action is fundamental to our well-being. If we can learn to live the way a tree does—staying fresh and solid, peaceful and calm,—even if we do not do many things, others will benefit from our non-action, our presence. We can also practice non-action in the domain of speech. Words can create understanding and mutual acceptance, or they can cause others to suffer. Sometimes it is best not to say anything. This is a book on nonviolent social action, but we must also discuss nonviolent non-action. If we really want to help the world, the practice of non-action is essential.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jul 02, 2020


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