An All Inclusive Heart – Dissolving the Walls of Oppression

Let me respectfully remind you.
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to Awaken.
Awaken. Take heed. Do not squander your life.

“When did you first realize that you were going to die? How old were you?” Chozen Roshi asks during a Sunday Dharma Talk.

4, 7, 8, 12, 13, 25, 60, still awakening to this reality.

It appears that for most of us, our own death is not something we are born with the awareness of. Our instincts propel us toward life, our heart’s search for meaning. Can you remember your first encounter with death or your first contemplation of it?

Yet these encounters with death often become passing memories as the vigor and stresses of life re-emerge and fill our awareness. And so, we find ourselves as we age, maturing and deepening our understanding of loss. But how many of us live moment to moment with the awareness of our impending death?

Is it a privilege not to have to think about death? Is it a privilege to be born into a world and culture that values your life and protects it in seamless and hidden ways?

Nick Cannon’s Poem Black Lives Matter

When I say Black Lives matter
That don’t mean yours don’t
When we say Black lives matter
That don’t mean your kids won’t
They will… They gonna say it with us, because they get us.
When I say Black lives matter that don’t mean yours don’t
When I say Black lives matter
Don’t mean white folks can’t get on the boat
So it’s like when I say save the whales
That don’t mean the other fish can’t float
It just means that the whales are endangered
Just like my species
It don’t matter who’s doing the killing
As long as we end up extinct, see
This Is the thesis in these secret meetings
They having about me and the rest of my community
They say well when they shooting each other
They don’t care about unity
Well brutally Let me be the one to say, they right!
But there ain’t no such thing as black on black violence
It’s crime against you and me!
Intolerance of people
See Gentrification and Genocide
It’s the Same thing in my eyes
So we gotta reprogram these social lies
And take back our streets
And we gonna keep screaming, fighting, marching and cussing
Until we abolish injustice
And our internal royalty is realized and reached
That’s why I’m out here now
Practicing what I preach
So all you tweeting at me with all that Social chatter
When they kill me
Make sure they put on my tombstone
Damn Right
Black Lives Matter

When did you first realize that you have a racial identity? Were you born with this awareness or is it something that you awoke to? Has it been gradual or was there a defining moment? Is your racial identity something that you are aware of moment to moment?

For the month of February, the Buddha rests lying down in the Lion’s Posture on our altars at Great Vow and Heart of Wisdom – as we remember and honor the Buddha’s Pari-Nirvana. A reminder that our time will pass, that this life, with its stories, colors, social issues, emotional waves, friendships, careers, past-times, intimate relationships, quarrels, resentments, pains and loves, will vanish, is vanishing. We are constantly being let go of by the moment. If our minds and hearts are open to the present, we can experience this complete relinquishment, as a new moment rises to awareness.

Call it impermanence. Call it vanishing. Call it magical display. Call it dream. Call it play. Resting in this truth is where freedom is found. Where hearts are transformed. Where minds are purified.

Awareness of this groundless ground is where we can begin the contemplation of race. Many of us in the Sangha, both at Great Vow and Heart of Wisdom, are embarking on a 6-month journey into the story of race in our country. We are looking at the narrative we have received through media, education and family, our personal narrative shaped by our direct experiences living in a racialized society and integrating these stories with the sometimes hidden narratives of People of Color in our country, state and city.

As James Baldwin writes in a letter to his nephew:

You were born where you were born and faced the future you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity…

There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.

Where do our fixed beliefs about identity and race come from? How do these beliefs perpetuate in our thoughts, habits, behavior and relationships? If we are not actively challenging our preconceived notions about race and privilege, are we reinforcing them? Is this how we want to be living in the world?

If you are feeling resistance contemplating race as part of Dharma practice, Sebene Selassie, a Dharma Teacher in the Insight Tradition, says, “Why is this not an important part of your dharma exploration? Because the dharma is about everything, and this is a huge part of our lives. We’re not just practicing in order to become good meditators…This isn’t some niche topic. This is the reality of the world. The reality of existence.”

She recommends trying this practice:

Notice people. Notice yourself in response. What thoughts, labels, assumptions, categorizations, and judgments arise? Are they true? How do you know? How did you learn that? Could the opposite be true? Is it? Rinse. Repeat.

The willingness to have perspectives altered. To see the world awakened to racial injustice and white privilege. To mourn and grieve the horrific histories that many of us may have been sheltered from. To become aware of how deep the wounds lay open. To be interested, open and curious about truth, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing.

To have such an open heart and mind demands that we allow the present moment to let us go. To let all thoughts, ideas and views disappear preparing the space for new perspectives, new truths and new insights to unfold and integrate.

A friend and past resident lost one of her closest friends, and wrote to us in the midst of grieving:

Maybe there’s no right way to grieve. Maybe we have to just feel every wave completely as it crashes… Seismic shifts of course transform, widen our eyes and hearts, and leave imprints and scars that may never vanish. But it does seem that, like it or not, the days march on, the dust starts to settle, and wherever I go there I am.

Grief is not picture book pretty. We do not know what we will be asked to give up. We do not get to choose the changes that may alter our lives forever.

At the monastery we recently said good-bye to five residents in one day. Watching them drive out of sight. Not-knowing who they will become. What they will do. We become family here, and sometimes these departures feel raw to the core.

Congratulations to Shiho Olivia Walling for completing 9 months of residency, Jonny Schild for completing 8 months of residency, Ian Turner for completing 3 months of residency and to Taliesin Tyndall and Carly Schanback for completing 1 month of residency.

Mushin says, “You can trust that the practice is always with you.” And perhaps this is all you really wish for someone. As the Buddha too trusted his disciples, “Be a lamp onto yourself,” he said. Entrust yourself to this ever-changing present moment. Do not be fooled by your views or beliefs, do not be fooled by the values of your culture. Look into the spacious presence of your own heart. Allow yourself to be let go.

If you knew you were going to die at the end of the week, what would you do? How would you live? What would matter? What would become frivolous or unimportant?

Can you, are you willing to live this every moment, day and night? For this just might change your life.