[Marisela Gomez will be offering our program on Thursday evening. Marisela practices with the Baltimore and Beyond: Mindfulness Community. She is also a community activist, author, public health professional, and physician. Of Afro-Latina ancestry, she has spent more than 20 years in Baltimore involved in social justice activism and community building/health research and practice. She is the author of Race, Class, Power, and Organizing in East Baltimore. Marisela regularly blogs about mindfulness and justice on Huffington Post. ]
Dear Still Water Friends,
Meeting the Dharma is a joy and a privilege. The teachings suggest that to come in contact with the teachings means we have had sufficient conditions to bring us to the path of no birth and no death. Our practice of the teachings build trust in the teachings. We slowly begin to change the ways we act, speak, and think. We see things differently and experience life differently. Mindfulness brings us joy. This direct experience motivates us to take time to continue to listen to the teachings and practice with them and with others on the path. I feel privileged to have sufficient conditions to practice.
There are many conditions that support finding the practice
The teachings tell us there are two conditions necessary to practice: truthfulness and open awareness/observation. These are accessible to everyone and therefore everyone has the opportunity to practice. Several conditions support or increase the likelihood of accessing and spreading the practice. They are not necessary though they increase the likelihood of accessing, maintaining, and benefiting others from our practice. These conditions include a long life, attractiveness of the body, a reputable family, wealth/reputation, honest/credible speech, power/influence over others, feeling of self-worth/confidence, physical and mental stamina.
Why are these conditions favorable?
They are favorable not because of some innate value but because of societal perceptions and prejudices. For example, someone who is perceived as ‘attractive’ is more likely to be listened to. Racial discrimination supports this social conditioning and affects who makes us comfortable and who we respect as ‘good’ practitioners. In the West, attractiveness is usually attributed to Eurocentric features. The privilege of whiteness also often co-occurs with other favorable conditions such as wealth, better health, longer life-expectancy, greater power and influence, and self confidence.
Poverty: an obstacle to practice
In the US, we have racialized poverty. Poverty statistics released in September 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the highest poverty rates exist for African Americans (22%) and Hispanic Americans (19.4%). Asian Americans have a poverty rate of 10.1% and White, not Hispanic, Americans have a rate of 8.8%.
In contrast to the beneficial condition of wealth, poverty is considered in the teachings as a hindrance to the practice. The Sixth realization (of The Eight Realizations of Great Beings) “is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and activity. When practicing generosity, Bodhisattvas consider everyone – friends and enemies alike – to be equal. They do not condemn anyone’s past wrongdoing, nor do they hate those who are presently causing harm.”
I live and work in places of great poverty and experience how difficult it is for poor and low income people to find time to participate in Sangha, go on retreats, or have time to listen to Dharma talks. Higher education moved me out of poverty and like many others in the West, my first exposure to Buddhist teachings came through higher education. Those living in poverty who have less access to higher education are less likely to be exposed to the Dharma. Many in poverty are worried about secure shelter, gainful and non-discriminating employment, and equitable education. Poverty results in greater stigmatization and discrimination, less self-confidence and power, lower life expectancy and diminished health.
Poverty, however, does not always have to be an unfavorable condition for practice. In Thailand, for example, children of poor farmers diligently practice the Dharma and sometimes become renown teachers. Many obstacles can provide many doors into the Dharma.
Sharing the practice with ‘others’
How do we as people who have sufficient conditions to practice the Dharma support conditions for those currently and historically unable to access and share the practice? Can we begin to notice who is missing from our practice circles. Can our Sanghas be more inclusive, reaching out to marginalized groups and inviting them in. How do we prepare ourselves to better understand and be more supportive of those who are different from us?
I believe that when we are supported and content inside we create the spaciousness we need to to turn toward, rather than away from, those who are different from us. Are we creating this spaciousness inside? How do we help each other practice with self-love to cultivate ‘otherly’-love? (’Otherly’-love being the love that breaks through hate and stigmatization and reaches out to people who have been deemed unworthy of love.) Are we content or always looking for something else? Are we spiritually poor?
I am looking forward to delving into these questions together, to build our Beloved Community together.
In solidarity, with peace,