Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Color is Zen?

The concept of diversity, especially in today's era of political correctness and false sense of triumph, is so vast and so complex.

There is a lot of buzz around San Francisco Zen Center and in the Zen world at large about a blog post talking about some of Zen Center's 50th Anniversary celebrations.  Sistah Vegan's, Breeze Harper, shares some of her feelings and observations as a black woman attending an event attended by mostly white people (make sure to read the comments after, extremely thoughtful and pointed).  Nathan and Dangerous Harvest also had some thoughts about class and race discrimination in Zen sanghas.  Finally, since hearing the dharma talk by Tova Green in which Harper's blog was mentioned, many of us Zen students are feeling a little more courageous to talk about diversity and institutional discrimination.

For me, the first question is not how do we make a sangha diverse but why don't people feel welcome? And we have to really be honest, really want to answer the question even if it is something we have been complicit in, even if it challenges our ideas of how good we are, how much we know, etc.  It means we have to go way back, all the way back, to how Zen first started (and what happens when traditions jump country borders) and how people of different races and ethnicities got to the US, were they here first? get here by force? come looking for a better life? And then make our way all the way to the present and see how structures have been built by forces of coercion, hate, and exploitation and the longer they go unfixed the more compact the layers get.  Like the roots of plants that can't get through nutrient depleted compact soil, the roots that connect us all cannot get through layers of compacted ignorance.

I don't know what will happen in our discussion group here at Green Gulch, I can already see the challenges.  Everything from people to dominating conversation with ideas that are confused or off topic to ancient twisted anger and karma coming up in reaction to the term "white privilege."  I like what Breeze said in one of her comments after meeting with Zen Center abbot Steve Stucky and recommending a book that talks about what it, "means to build a Buddhism practice/site/sangha ontop of structural whiteness... I was also suggesting that “white privilege” as a word and to train the sangha about may not be as useful as using terms such as structural whiteness/structural racism. I Feel like “white privilege” is still focused on ‘individuals’ and not on structures, institutions, and systems. Not saying it’s a ‘bad’ term to use, but I think it doesn’t always get to the root of the issue."  

The answer will always be in the roots.  The roots underneath the constructions of ourselves that we create and show to the world falsely thinking they are real.  The roots are in the place you can "hear the utterance of the soul."

New Orleans, LA, Tree of Life

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