MY BOOK – Coming Fall 2014

1 - Web Version

My Book will be released this Fall 2014, by 2Leaf Press!!

Introduction by Gerald Horne

Foreword by Velina Hasu Houston

Cover Art by Kenji Chienshu Liu

Here are just a few preview comments about the book:

Fredrick Douglas Kakinami Cloyd has written a profoundly moving and thought-provoking book. He courageously challenges our neat categories of identity, going beyond broadening our understanding of mixed race to touch what is human in all of us. This book will shift readers’ perceptions and assumptions and may change many lives. Above all, Cloyd is a master story-teller who honors and respects memory.

–Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, historian and writer

This is a mature book that moves fluidly, as the mind moves, untroubled by traditional distinctions between writing considered to be academic vs. creative, memoir vs. personal essay, sure-footed in unexpected ways. This genre-bending book is not “experimental writing.” The author knows what he wants to say and he knows how he wants to say it, seeking, in his own words, “restoration and reclamation” for silenced voices and histories never erased because they have not yet been written. Dream of the Water Children demands that its reader rigorously consider the constructed nature of memory, identities, and historical narrative. And it is also an enormously kind and passionate chronicle of a son’’s long journey with his mother. To read it is to marvel, to learn, and to discover anew what surrealist poet Paul Éluard said: “There is another world, but it is in this one.”

–Patricia Mushim Ikeda
    Buddhist teacher / activist
    Oakland, California

Can be read as a ghost story, a meditation on how to disassemble the heartbreak machines; a catalog of copious tears and small comforts. This is a challenging example of personal bravery and filial love. It puts the “more” in memory.

–Leonard Rifas, Ph.D
   Communications, University of Washington

2Leaf Press Book LINK:

My Post as Guest-Blogger at Buddhist Peace Fellowship

For those who don’t know, I spent time on staff at the Rochester Zen Center in Rochester, New York in the 80s.

I began Buddhist practice in 1983 in Denver, Colorado, then decided on Zen practice and was accepted as a Staff member at Rochester Zen Center in 1986.  I left to pursue an individual path in 1988, although I continue to practice Buddhism.

My turn to Buddhism, and particularly Zen, worked for me, and continues to, after an attempt to end my life in 1982.  It was no small matter that I decided to go on a spiritual quest and this led to almost ten months of going to different teachers and religious groups, from Christian groups to New Age to Hindu to Sufi and Native American.  I found value in all, but at that time, Zen spoke to me the strongest.  I attended Buddhist-Christian Conferences in Boulder, Colorado, amongst other events.  My essential question was not about comfort or fitting in.  I needed to find the meaning of life.  I saw no point in life experience as it was, at this point.

My interest in the beginnings of a Buddhist Peace Fellowship organization while in Colorado, dovetailed my interests in social justice, anti-oppression, and my personal spiritual practice.

In retrospect, my Zen monastic period was a way to save my life and life itself.  It was a genesis for all of my traumas that I had tried to ‘let go’ of and ‘move on.’  It came crashing.  No pretty belief system would get me out.  Zen spoke to me.

I also attended retreats with various Buddhist teachers including Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tai Eido Shimano Roshi.  I attended talks and short retreats by a myriad of teachers including Seung Sahn and John Kornfield.  I read more philosophy including spiritual works by Meister Eckart, Thomas Merton, Arthur Schopenhauer, Nietzsche.  I began reading James Baldwin and Frederick Douglass, something I had never done seriously before.

For the issue of ‘stealing,’ I was asked by their editor Kenji Chienshu Liu, if I wanted to contribute to a series at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship blog.

The below post is a short reflection in the spirit of Master Dogen’s ‘Mountains and Waters Sutra.’

What is Stolen in Mappō Empire Buddhism? A Black-Pacific Meditation

Massacres, Democratic Societies, Colonization

This is a very short opinion piece on the massacre leading, so far, to 12 deaths — as of today, considered “one of the worst mass crimes in recent history” which occurred in Aurora, Colorado.

First, I want to remind readers that my perspectives are on social justice and social change and looking at history and relations of power, accumulations of dominance and resistances that create our lives.  I do not, detract from the deep sorrow and anger I feel, in various ways, about how this has occurred and the deaths and injuries and traumas that have come about.

This piece is very short and meant to be evocative, provocative.  I never speak of final conclusions and opinions that close off things and ideas.  I do not speak from a psychologized, or Christian or Muslim moral perspective, where “Good versus Evil” and “Crazy versus Sane” binaries rule.  I do NOT start there, nor do I begin there.  Those moralities and structures of dividing individuals, societies, dreams, and ideas, are not something I care to participate in.  Nor do I think they lead to social change or social justice.  Moral and Psychologized binaries always —ALWAYS– lead to more incarceration and more killing, more death sentences, more self-superior kinds of ways of dealing with the complexities of our lives.

Revenge and Roman gladiator coliseum mentalities still rule much of public emotion and reasons for setting up our “civilized” laws in a now globalizing colonizing mentality.  Disciplining and punishing (yes, I mean to evoke Michel Foucault’s famous book on the matter of internalizing violent structures through prison architecture).

In popular imagination, especially in the US, we have been culturally self-taught to believe that emotions are emotions and there are the sick and the unsick, the civilized and the uncivilized, the cruel and the nice, the crazy and the sane, the good and the bad.  We deal with it through the idea of either redemption and rehabilitation, and/or punishment or a combination.  Sequestering and putting to death.  Our creativity is gone.  What rules are the moralities we think are deep and real and true, and the moralities and spiritiualities and psychologies that we think we know and maintain and protect so dearly, even at the cost of arguments and fights at the dinner table and the ex-communication from groups, of friends and family-members that we love.

Let’s face it, modern civilization suffers from the “being right and good” syndrome.  Since we supposedly know these things, or can rely on “experts,” we make EASY EASY conclusions.  This means we don’t have to think.  We have lost the necessity for complex thinking.  Simple-mindedness is often valorized in US societies.  Being “Real” is often how this is languaged.

People want answers.

To have answers, means that any answer, any answer, will lead to further questions and further answers. I do not believe that things have “finished.”  Nor do I believe that the massacre that occurred “began” within James Holmes, the violent accused shooter at the movie theater in Aurora, or only within the shooters who killed at the 1999 Columbine High School spree in Colorado, or within the killer in Norway at the campsite approximately one year ago.  Yes these rampage killers are the carriers and shooters.

I have been just as saddened, in addition to the shooting and the deaths, at hearing the news reports and talk shows and reading the various articles across the board, in the US and in English language mostly everywhere, on how so many people around the world have begun to think alike on subjects such as death and life.

The same tired reactions and words and phrases and platitudes and moralities have circulated.  The same things I heard just after Columbine shootings and just after other mass rampage shootings, are being publicized and circulate.  We listen to the moralities of Left and Right politicians.  We listen to the church leaders and Hollywood personalities and song stars and talk show hosts.

It’s saddening.

People who shoot come from each one of us.  As we go shopping and care or not care for our own children and friends, as we say or not say things everyday, as we care and don’t care about certain people, we isolate.  In isolation, we accumulate cruelties that circulate.

Picking oneself up by the bootstraps–as an individual–is a norm nowadays.  Being normal, we do not question how it looks and how we perform these things.  In short, we are responsible for the violences that occur in societies.

We want the already-cruel, legalistic, bureacratic, psychologized, condescending, moral institutions to take care of “those people” so we can continue with our lives, as if our lives were rich and meaningful.  We try, but often we are fooling ourselves.  And further, we forget that we are fooling ourselves, convinced of our sureness, our goodness, our moralities.

The more thoughtful and intelligent people and thinkers and artists, have warned that our societies are in a deepening and darkening place.  It is not “normal” or “natural” or a product of “God.”  It is because each of us are not putting enough of our intelligence and creativity and strength into the complexities and changes required to take care of ourselves.  Almost everything these days, are in the hands of institutions.  When this happens, our own thinking is constricted, assimilated, and quite unresponsive to what is required.

People nowadays talk of being “smart” but who speaks of being “wise?”  Wisdom is something people don’t even understand anymore, from where I stand.  Compassion is seen only as something sentimental and kind and somewhat condescending.  Ooooh….you poor thing.   For those people like James Holmes and other people such as the Aum Shinrikyo Religious leader in Japan, who led the group to kill in the Japanese subways, we are not supposed to have compassion for “them.”

In this way, we ourselves are divided within ourselves.  We can learn a bit from some of the writings of Buddhism, where compassion is not compassion without the sword that cuts through bullshit and delusion.  It is strength.  And Wisdom is a cold and calculating “Rationality” that views itself “higher” in the presumed hierarchy of human experience than compassion and kindness and that it is an “opposite” quality – and therefore sometimes “in the way” of “true” wisdom.  Being “irrational” is the same as being insane, for many people, or a lower and “feminine”way that is unwanted.  This is left over from the Victorian era and mass colonization, the destruction of the feminine and the enshrining of SEXISM into our moral structures.  It keeps things rational and therefore these things are artificially separated into separate compartments.  In Buddhism, this must be seen through.  Wisdom is not wisdom without compassion.  Compassion is not compassion without wisdom.

The hierarchies that we perform in our lives are lived out in how we foreground something or background something, how we ignore some things while prioritizing others, how we know some things and how we perform with this unknowing. If contradictory things arise simultaneously, or are complex in any way, we may label it “confused” or “ambiguous” and therefore unwanted.  We “kill” an other.

First we must assume/presume, create that “other” that must be squashed and put away or looked-down upon.  Whether it be communities, people, beliefs or ideas, or ways of living and thinking, the civilized first-world nations and now almost every nation, has their own ways of doing this game of dominance and oppression.  To ourselves within us, to each other, and to that other.

Massacres and rampages are certain forms of the outcome of this, in a sociological angle.  No matter how we “understand” James Holmes, we still do not understand or accept what we have become and how, not James Holmes and the other monsters that WE CREATE through ignorance and uncaring, sentimentality and cold rationality, self-created moralities.

Massacres and rampages will continue because we as a society, ignore their causes.  The causes are not located in the individual that perpetrates, so that institutions can make money and gain credibility through scientific study, therapies and incarceration and death machines.  The society that created that person or persons who perpetrated, is us.  There are a myriad of causes and conditions we must deal with.

The violences we do, come also as ripples from the violence of our nation-state.  War and genocide built this nation, as much as resistance to dominance.  How we face up to uneasy complexities of nation and individual, various shades of history within us, is a big question. We must face how we have internalized the nation.  Americans feel that nationalism is what others do, but never acknowledge it within their own selves and lives and the structures of cultural realities.

And still, there are those who are deeply Christian, even if they are not religious at all, or even believe in religion.

I speak of how so many think that humanity is “inherently” evil, or bad.  Originally all humans are like this, according to that one snippet of Christianity.  Psychologically, a person usually internalized this from the structures (moralities and behaviors) of our cultures.  Colonization, first of this land in the US, and globally, has spread this kind of internalized oppression and made it normal.  Even the “good” things we do are meant to destroy good because in a deep deep place, there is that thought that we are “no-good” and we “always mess things up” and that the world is dark.  This is reinforced by modern socio-economic systems that delay and thwart our dreams, keep us slaves to the machine of money-making and money-spending.  We have to pay for WATER!!!  But hardly anyone is protesting on a mass scale.  Paying for water is not a “natural outgrowth of history or God.” Or we know this, but tell ourselves that it is futile to resist,  like it’s some act outside of human power and human privilege and the power of those that make the rules of violence. This his how we are responsible for giving the worst kinds of power and isolation and killing, their dominance in society.

There are many who are sensitive, very sensitive to what I’m saying.  Some act out. It cannot be suppressed for too long.

Yes there is danger.  But it doesn’t happen by itself.  Rampage killers are created by our society.  We must take care. If they are monsters, so are we.  We are intimately linked to what is happening.

Things can change.  But there needs to be further energy to make those changes.  But I’m afraid that there are so many people who are purposefully or by proxy–sadists, that social change will be slow in coming.  By this, I mean that there are so many people who divide the world into victim and perpetrator, and that there is joy in seeing someone put to sleep or put away into prison so they feel safe….not understanding that these are lives. The subconscious internalized colonization operates: I love it that they are in prison!  I love it that they have been put to death! Or… I don’t like it but they deserved to be tortured.  Some people won’t learn without violence.  What goes around comes around.  All the platitudes of our democracy.

All the sadism passing as superior morality.  All the violence.

Prisons and mental institutions and hospitals and psychiatrists’ offices.  These four things seem to be the ONLY THINGS many people think of, that will take care of society.

I say, each one of us do.  It is a painful request and a painful process to undertake.  Listen to ourselves, we are not easy and we don’t agree.  This is precise place where we must start.  Others cannot be convinced.  So what do we do?

‘The World’ – ‘maps’ – the Issues : Post-‘somethings’ & Mindfulness

Many of the world’s issues come from ignorance.  Indeed, that is what the Buddha was to have said according to the Buddhist religious doctrines.  The self, the world, suffers due to ignorance.  The self, itself, is also the world because of it being ‘one’ (interconnected realities).  In this sense, I would like to link this perspective on social change and social justice, with postcolonial and post-structural frames of mind and action.  The structures through which we find ourselves living, are largely followed and we navigate in some way, shape or form, through the maze.  We resist, we dominate, we proclaim, we reflect, we pause, we run, we build, we destroy.  Every moment is like this.

I feel that we must pay attention more, to what we discard and ignore.  In a more intense way, I would like to put forward that our laziness in our middle-class wanna-be (or are) ways of living and goal-setting, we oftentimes don’t have the capacity to realize we set ourselves in boxes.  Furthermore, the boxes can be realized, seen, and felt, and that we can step to places outside of a certain box, into other boxes eternally.  There lies the significance of thinking and imagining with a certain intent.

In most first-world, wealthier countries, we have been taught through our schooling and through contact with the world, that there is a truth of things and that we can access.  Usually, however, we don’t realize that these ‘truths’ are political.  No matter how lofty in principle, this truth that we attempt to access or ignore, interrupts and disrupts life and we beg to struggle with how it acts upon us and through us, against us and with us.  So for social justice and social change matters, it may be helpful to look at the mechanics of box-making, or to put it in other words, to look at our our processes of making truths and certainties and categories, identities and structures that cohere together and seem real and isolated and true.  If not, we just re-create the issues.

To make it more complex, I feel that as we begin to want to ‘deconstruct’ and to understand how deconstruction may work in the world, we must confront the fact that there is no ‘outside.’  Many spiritual people approach the world through the idea of ‘transcendence.’  Indeed, the enlightenment project of the western world in the colonial period, has continued to emphasize this mode of expansion and conquering and overrunning as the modus operandi of capitalism and globalization.  I, for one, love contact with difference.  However, not all of whatever we contact, is pleasurable, desirable, and/or necessary.  But in normal US American, European and Japanese worlds, touring and co-opting others’ ways and other countries is a given.  It is a privilege.  It has never entered our mind that the locals do not want us there.

Our assumption of eternal identities and histories, and of ethnically and racially categorized nations and cultures, is in fact, a dangerous and very limited way of living and seeing and judging.  Cultures are not static. Cultures move and change and grow and adapt.  There are some that move faster than others.  Movement, is not always positive.  In the first world, movement and change is a hidden tactic of domination.  As this kind of thinking dominates, then actions such as displacement and destruction are normalized.  It is ‘normal’ to move and change.  We say things like ‘get over it, it’s time.’  Or we get tired of a certain place and we move and say ‘it’s time for a change.’  Just for the fun of it.  When we were infants, we did not say these things.  We have learned to say and think these things in particular cultures.  Then we assume it’s ‘human’ and ‘good’ and ‘natural.’  Just because something is familiar and forceful in our lives, does not mean it is good or having to do with human nature.  Just because many or even most people think and do it, doesn’t mean it is ‘human nature’ and therefore ‘good.’

The map of the world that we live in today, is politically structured through centuries of violence and subjugation.  All of the strongest nations were built through some form of slavery and exploitation, marginalization and destruction of pre-existing cultures and peoples.  There is no ‘prettiness’ about it.  Our beautiful buildings and cultures and things are, in fact, based on blood and fire and mutilation, tears and grief and the labor of others.  The people who enjoy the fruits of the most beautiful things on our planet have done the most exploiting.

Europe, the United States, China, Japan, the Middle Eastern and Eurasian regions, the African continent, and Latin American regions, are fraught with tensions of memory and displacement.  Many people around the world think that this is because brown people are ‘by nature’ more violent or troubled or poor.  However, more and more people have begun to wake up to the historical roots of our maps.  They are fictitious and based on violence.  Anyone who has visited Latin America, the Middle East, Transcaucasia and Eastern Europe, China and the African continent, and who have studied and have spoken with elders and the young, will understand the tension and troubles that are the present.   These tensions and troubles are from the domination of foreign and local links that have visited them through history.

We have asked for peace and yet peace seems far.  There cannot be peace unless our maps begin to dislodge themselves from the intention of maps and map-making.  Linked with control and boundaries, isolation and manage-ability, coercion and exploitation, these maps are just continual reminders of the fictions that the most dominant elites of the world, want us to proceed from.  It is no wonder that others want to violently destroy the figures drawn on these maps and the separations and hierarchies forced upon them.  Our imagination of ourselves and the world are castles of ignorance.

For us to move into new realms of cooperation, compassion, wisdom, ethical actions of difference, new forms of education based on the ignorance-eradicating processes in continual modes (because life continues and so must its processes), where will we begin the path toward it?  In what ways?  Of course there are many who are already doing the work toward this.  There is no one way or one action.  Indeed, ideology is a huge problem.  Not everything is an ideology.  Some have claimed that ‘freedom’ is an ideology.  If this is the case, then we know our road ahead will be clashes of ideologies.  If we do not think in terms of warfare and universalizing ideology as some natural force, where can each of us begin the work.  First we must understand that we must do individual transformation.  But this cannot be something that we rest on.  We must do our work in communities and movements.

The map of our minds, the map of our communities, and the map of the world, must shift.  We’ve gotten ourselves here–from our ancestors to the present.  We can move out of it.  How long will we live in exile from ourselves, each other?  That is what colonialism and nation-states have done for us.  Some of it has been good and necessary.  The processes, however, of mutilating our pasts and our communities, have been unnecessary.  What forms of self-governance must we construct?  Painstaking it may be, but what are the choices?  What are you living for?

Thoughts on Zen and Intellect

In middle-class dominated thinking in the first-world nations, ‘Liberation’ is meant to mean an escape from things, people, situations.  It is a ‘transcendence’ state-of-mind-or-place.’  It is a worldview where there are the ugly world and situation, and the place beyond.  If we think about how the US worldviews are formed, and what has gone into it to form ‘freedom,’ then we must take this definition of ‘liberation’ into account.  It is, from the start, a world of two things, divided in half. One is the ugly real, the other is the ‘free-from….” state-of-mind or place or situation.  What does that liberated space look like? Sound like? Taste like?

Above :  Calligraphy character ‘Nyo’  meaning ‘suchness, likeness, things as they are.’

So escapism is thought to be ‘bad’ and ‘unrealistic.’  Yet most Americans from the United States, chase happiness and joy and fun and success.  Perhaps without even knowing what these things mean and what they do to us and each other, we continue to do them.  Maybe it’s more like mimicking, pretending, following what everyone else is doing.  So we can become a famous basketball star, or a movie star, or make oodles of cash as a lawyer or a computer software engineer.  Or perhaps we invent something.  Mimicking and going along is easier than, perhaps, thinking and reflecting on what has happened and how we have gotten to where we are.  Mimicking is also easier when there is exclusion and marginalization that goes on being that way and is supported by the way policies, laws, and money flows in support of those ideas while being different may create a loss of being supported by them.  Non-thinking, then, becomes a survival tool in a country such as the United States.  Escapism becomes easier and perhaps necessary when all the pain of covering our enlightened selves up with cultural assumptions and legacies, buries us.  Does partying, addictions, drugs, alcohol, depression, physical illness, mental illness, begin out of thin air?  Are individuals solely responsible for being this or that?  What of history?  And if we question liberation, and what this means, in this contexts of the other questions, what does liberation mean?  Are there other definitions? practices? and cultural norms related to liberation?  For instance, liberation is not a goal, but a way of life.  Am I constantly escaping?  No.  Because my thoughts of liberation are based on history, justice, and other ideals that do not match the predominant notion of liberation.  Liberation is an act that requires GOING INTO, not escaping, in my worldview.  This is decidedly Zen.  With Zen teachers, often when we have some sort of pain in mind or body that comes up, we were admonished to go there into the pain and become it.   We had to trust the Buddha’s enlightened view on the world – that is was ‘impermanent.’

Zen practice revolves around disciplined actions designed to realize the multiple ways in which we keep ourselves from understanding our enlightened state.  This ‘enlightenment’ that Zen speaks of, is often equated with ‘heaven’ in the predominantly Anglo and white-dominated countries.  There has been no deconstruction of their own histories in relation to worldview and politics, history and the creation of self.  As I have mentioned earlier, mindfulness practice needs to include historical and political study within a focus on power relations and how ideas and dominant societies have been formed.  Without this, the interior practice alone may make an interesting anomaly in identity and self, but render it ineffective for social change.  And is social change something that Zennists and Buddhists want or understand? Presently, I think Buddhism and Zen in general, suffers from the individualisms within the contexts of dominant first-world nations that make up the majority of practitioners in the Western nations.  It refuses, still, to look at its history which is largely unfathomable.   I remember Masao Abe, a pre-eminent philosopher which expounds on Zen and Western philosophy, asked his audience in a talk  some time ago, which went something like this:  “Imagine an eyeball that still works, floating in space by itself.  It sees everything.  It travels, it can see all angles unhindered by anything.  What is the one thing it cannot see?”

Seeing, really seeing, takes understanding in time, of time.  Time and space, being related, then can see different positions, actions, effects, causes and configurations, that make up any moment of the present.  This, I feel, has been in the Buddhist scriptures as an aspect of enlightenment.  But enlightenment, under the system of progress and evolution, has become a goal to reach.  In that life of reaching goals, we quickly use that as a point of domination against those that ‘haven’t gotten it yet.’  What signs do we have to tell ourselves we are closer to enlightenement?   Usually they are materialistic, or based on a metaphysical feeling, or sets of assumptions.  This too, I’m afraid, is not enlightenment at all.

But we must trust in our judgements too.  Pure spaces do not exist.  The Buddha, like other leaders, died of poisoning, according to the Buddhist records.  He did not escape being accidentally poisoned.  He lived with suffering as well.  At this juncture,  then, the intellectual aspect of our ‘knowing’ must be questioned.  Some stupid people have labelled Zen as ‘anti-intellectual.’  Nothing could be further from any truth than that.  However, since the United States is primarily an anti-intellectual country, where movie stars are asked for their opinions on world issues in favor of, or perhaps equal to a university professor who may have spent their whole lives on that subject, Zen seems to act as a further intensity towards feeding anti-intellectual energy and furthers acts of refusing to face history.  ‘History and my life must mean something else.  It can’t mean the suffering I have seen and felt so far. I need to get there without thinking about it.  I need heaven.’

Post-structural and post-colonial thought, brings complexity and ethics to the question of being in our own prisons that were made in the past.  Our assumptions of history, the human being, emotions, the body, etc. are divisions and categories that may limit creativity and keep the imagination in prisons.  New ideas are not necessarily creative.  They can be new forms of the old things.  How, then, must we read, interpret, think, feel, create?  I say, first we must grapple with that which is unknown, unfathomable, and not reach-able by the known ways.  This is what the old Zen masters meant when they retorted:  If you want to catch the Tiger’s cub, you must enter the Tiger’s cave.

Whiteness, Buddhism and History

White Buddhism is a term that has been used to name the domination of Buddhist practices and ideas through the practices and perspectives of mainstream white American/Europeans, explicitly and implicitly denying and demoting other perspectives.  It has largely become this way due to the predominantly white European and American people interested in non-Christian spiritual practices taking it up and carrying the translation of Buddhism from Asia to the so-called ‘West.’

When confronted with this issue, of course many teachers and practitioners were uncomfortable while a minority of white teachers embraced the possibility of a Buddhist practice that were not based on the white interpretations of Asian Buddhism(s).  It must be mentioned that not all white people and people who pass for white,  believe or practice the same things.  Some resist.  The term ‘whiteness’ is used in cultural studies, sociology, and anthropology, to mean a whole series of worldviews and systems put into place from the legacy of colonialism and white supremacies that have become normal in order to create liberal nation-states.  Since the world is mapped in our minds as self in nations, with their parallel ethnic markers–this groups versus that group etc.,  most of us are entrenched with a normal way of looking at things and desiring things and ways of living in the world that are increasingly, but never totally–‘white.’  For anyone to truly understand whiteness and grapple with what it is, I think there is one term-thing-situation-history-perspective-reality, that people must be willing to visit.  That is: colonialism and its legacy in the way we structure reality including our interior selves and constructions of identity–any identity.

Whiteness is not ‘evil’ or ‘good.’  Also, it is not embodied in white bodies while ‘non-white’ being embodied in non-white.  It is more complex.  This is because ‘whiteness’ is a set of assumptions and views and positioning tactics, not about the color of skin. Some people of color may be more white than a white person and a white person may be very not-white.  It is about making certain ideas privileged, while others automatically or systematically get demoted or marginalized–over and over and over.  Even through the most kind and thoughtful mechanisms, the same results occur.  The same values show up.  This is because it is reinforced.

Histories and their political constructions of struggle and victory and how ideas become dominant and therefore oppressive, must be part of Buddhist training if we are to talk of mindfulness.  But I rarely encounter anything like this in Buddhist circles.  Occasionally, yes.  I was lucky to be at the Rochester Zen Center in the 1980s where sometimes, social issues and the struggle of cultures were addressed in talks given by teachers.  But the usual things would happen at most of the centers I know of, as well as reading Buddhist books written by teachers in the West.  It is often filled with the reconciling of social issues with meditative (and therefore individualistic and ‘interior’) practices. It has never been about be-friending people-of-color, talking about the issues.  And on another level, we must look at assimilation and how becoming middle-class has assimilated all people toward the idea of acquiring things (including ‘good ideas’) as a part of the self in order to reach enlightenment (becoming parallel with reaching heaven or God, escaping trauma).  So in this way,the struggle for racial/ethnic liberatory possibility in Buddhist practice, is either individualized and retreated into interiors by meditation or as usual, becomes the job of the one person-of-color at the western Buddhist centers – to ‘take care of the diversity issue.’  This is very white.

Advocacy. Does that have a place in Buddhist practice?  In the West, social activism is about missionary work  (making others come into your belief-system and practices for the better) and doing things for the downtrodden through ‘giving.’  The dominant does not change, but needed work  in feeding, housing and empowering the downtrodden.  But this isn’t social change.  In this way, Buddhist centers often do the same things as the traditionally Christian ways of working in society has taught.  And these are truly important, so that is not my point.  The point is, this links whiteness with Buddhism, limiting what ‘compassion’ and ‘mindfulness’ are – and in particularly Christianized and individualized and condescending ways.  What other ways can we work? Of course I am generalizing.  I want to put out there, that to historically and politically look at and into things; to really study dependent origination — the doctrine of Buddhism in which everything exists because of everything else and not by themselves–is for me, one of the most important actions that we must do for social change.  Shall it just be relegated to Engaged Buddhism?  So if there is engaged Buddhism, what are the other Buddhists doing?

Historical and political constructions of self through struggles of dominance and destruction, violence and victory, defeat, disempowerment;  the way we govern ourselves and others is fraught with violence which was done in history. And most often this life of ‘normal’  is not recognized as either violence or history. In the same way, Buddhist practice as it is focused on the interior mechanisms of self in relation to emptiness, or compassion or wisdom, has a history in violence as well.  It is not personal violence that I am talking about, but a social violence.  This is also not about inclusion.  Everything cannot be included. However, everything must be accounted to–including those that are not present before us–Our ancestors, those that toiled for us in the past and who have done so without you knowing.  And those on the other side of the street, or the neighborhood, town, or the other city or across the continent or oceans, those that have passed on recently — they must be here in order to account for our lives.  Our lives includes our spiritual practice.  Privileged lives usually come from the exploitation that created that suffering in the past and in the present (real estate deals that displace poor people from homes and raking in profits for it, as one of trillions of examples).  Meditating it away is not a solution but unfortunately and ignorantly, this is done everyday at the Buddhist centers.  Let us bring whiteness into the light of colonized minds.  We must come down from our little mountains.  It must begin without the judgement of ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ or ‘scary.’  It can be faced.  With this, we can practice de-colonizing the world we live in and continue to create.