The distinction between a “Buddhist” and a “meditator” is complicated when viewing meditation through a racial justice lens. While not all meditators identify as Buddhists, all meditators seeking to liberate themselves from suffering must acknowledge the ways in which their suffering is connected to the suffering of others. To do this, it is necessary to acknowledge structural oppression shaping the culture and context of their practice, and their own internalization of oppressive attitudes. Buddhists meditate for the liberation of all sentient life; it is this extension beyond the self that has been lost in the process of appropriating vipassana practice. To actively challenge institutional racism in meditation centers and racial conditioning in oneself is to deepen one’s understanding of suffering and the path toward its cessation. Meditating for the liberation of all sentient life is not a metaphysical concept it is also a physical act that involves the location, accessibility, cultural practices and demographic makeup of the community. When it is not held separate from the systems that isolate us from each other, meditation can be a liberatory act both spiritually and politically.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Pannavati, 59, is the first African American woman ordained in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. And she is the only African American female abbot of a monastery. (x) (more about her here)
So happy to see Pannavati recognized for her strength in practice and service. I only wish as a black woman in leadership in the sangha that she weren’t such an exception.
From a Buddhist perspective, it would be naive to expect social transformation to work without personal transformation. But the history of Buddhism shows us that the opposite is also true: although Buddha-dharma may focus on promoting individual awakening, it cannot avoid being affected by the social forces that work to keep us asleep and submissive. It is the mercy of the West that those social forces need no longer be mystified as natural and inevitable.
Responsibility by Sulak Sivaraksa
We have more than enough programs, organisations, parties, and strategies in the world for the alleviation of suffering and injustice. In fact, we place too much faith in the power of action, especially political action. Social activism tends to preoccupy itself with the external. Like the secular intellectuals, activists tend to see all malevolence as being caused by “them” — the “system” — without understanding how these negative factors also operate within ourselves. They approach global problems with the mentality of social engineering, assuming that personal virtue will result from a radical restructuring of society.
The opposite view - that radical transformation of society requires personal and spiritual change first or at least simultaneously - has been accepted by Buddhists and many other religious adherents for more than 2,500 years. Those who want to change society must understand the inner dimensions of change. It is this sense of personal transformation that religion can provide. Simply performing the outer rituals of any tradition has little value if it is not accompanied by personal transformation. Religious values are those that give voice to our spiritual depth and humanity. There are many descriptions of the religious experience, but all come back to becoming less and less selfish.
As this transformation is achieved, we also acquire a greater moral responsibility. Spiritual considerations and social change cannot be separated. Forces in our social environment, such as consumerism, with its emphasis on craving and dissatisfaction, can hinder our spiritual development. People seeking to live spiritually must be concerned with their social and physical environment. To be truly religious is not to reject society but to work for social justice and change. Religion is at the heart of social change, and social change is the essence of religion.
Thanks to George Draffan of Natural Awareness
See also http://www.sulak-sivaraksa.org/
The very idea of self-help in Buddhism is an oxymoron – relief of suffering can only come from the realisation that pleasing ourselves doesn’t bring happiness – instead we must try to work skilfully and compassionately with others, as part of interwoven systems of connectivity that bind us together. A “western Buddhism” that prioritises solipsistic focus on the individual is so great a misconception as to be unworthy of the name – or at the least the Buddhism part – as anyone who pays it more than passing attention knows. It’s also largely a media invention – many western Buddhists are serious, deeply committed practitioners. That commitment means choosing to follow a path that leads against the stream of materialism and selfishness. Of course, we don’t always manage it, but that’s why it’s called a path of practice.
Buddhism goes way beyond the confines of the personal – realising the truth of interdependence implies taking up the challenge of engaging with others in the wider world. This isn’t missionary zeal – proselytising is hardly the Buddhist way – but it does mean social action that embodies dharmic principles, and western sanghas are increasingly prioritising community involvement. As they do so, Buddhism may start to look less like some nice bit of calm and relaxation and more like a radical, uncompromising critique of the status quo.
—Ed Halliwell in "Of course the Dalai Lama’s a Marxist"