Every week we select the best articles you wouldn’t want to miss.
This week: This Precious Black Life by jigme chönying (Gampo Abbey)
“My people are suffering. Black people in America, along with First Nations people, are enduring a tremendous amount of suffering in America. We suffer because our people are routinely shot dead in interactions with police. I feel the pain and suffering of my people. Before becoming a Buddhist monk, i was born Black.
There are times for contemplation and reflection, and there are times to act. This is a time to act. We are living in times that require us to speak out and to act to put an end to suffering. We have heard the urgent call of the moment and we are responding.
From what i am told, the Buddha expressly forbid his followers from engaging in any political activities. This officially became part of the Vinaya (or code of monastic conduct). One might wonder why this might have been? Perhaps this rule was put in place to protect the sangha from getting too wrapped up and embroiled in arguments. For sure political agitation is exhausting. At the same time, the earliest group of Buddhist monks and nuns was a “mixed” group coming from all castes and backgrounds living together. Given that they lived in India (where separation by caste is still upheld today), the very fact that they were living together was in and of itself a political statement.
I’d like to share a story with you. I was once administering a standardized test to a 5th Grade class. A student raised her hand to ask about one of the test questions. There was a word used in the question that she did not know. That word was “racism”. If you’ve ever taught in a classroom you know how quickly you need to respond to questions on the spot. I told her that racism is when you assign a value to a person based on the color of their skin because you believe some people are more valuable or less valuable based on their skin color. Sounds a lot like caste doesn’t it?
Caste systems do not go in reverse, they only operate one way. I can only speak to my own experience of the caste system that operates in the country of my birth, The United States of America. The way we have been socialized has some influence on how we see ourselves and how we perceive others. We carry our biases with us wherever we go.
We all have “blindspots”. We have our habitual ways of being in the world that most times we are unaware of. This is why sangha is important. As a sangha we support one another by checking each other’s blindspots. For most of us, our unconscious biases are hidden in our blindspot. We need each other to point out these things for us. That is how we change and grow. The good news is that our blindspots offer us potential opportunities to wake up out of our slumber.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates so brilliantly points out in Between The World and Me, race came out of racism, and not the other way around; Racial categories were created to justify a system of economic exploitation. Black bodies have been policed to death ever since. Ongoing violence against Black people today arises out of this context. Racism has always been a visceral, felt experience of danger.”