The teachings from the Buddhist tradition have transformed my life over the past 30 years. For almost 20 years I have been trying to contribute back to the Dharma, with many of my efforts focused on making the Dharma accessible to diverse folks from different backgrounds, and a special emphasis on multicultural communities. While I believe that the Teachings are absolutely meant for everyone, I don’t experience that everyone has equal access to the transformative offerings of the Buddhist faith tradition in our current Western cultures. It feels that the aspirations of our human evolution (both ecumenical and secular) ask us to be more and more inclusive about our experience and of our fellow human beings. And it also feels that the First Noble Truth of the suffering and pain of separation, aversion, and hatred is more prominent than ever in the current cultural climate of unconsciousness. Indeed, the energy of the Collective Unconscious seems to be growing, not diminishing. Our awareness, discernment, and compassionate actions leading to collective freedom and transformation are needed now, more than ever.
My initial motivation for offering dharma teachings began as a personal inquiry into what it would take to allow the Dharma to be of positive and meaningful benefit to diverse communities who do not have the access that mainstream cultures have. My path towards teaching was more an inquisitive exploration of what conditions were needed to create more diverse teachers and spiritual leaders. My motivation was to find incontrovertible answers to the questions that were asked of me personally, including “Why do we need retreats for People of Color or Queer communities? Doesn’t the focus on identity foster separation, which is NOT the Dharma?” “Isn’t the Dharma, just the Dharma to everyone?” “What does culture have to do with the Dharma?”
Now, it is clear that my intentions are not solely about these personal inquiries or aspirations. Now, more than ever—this expansion of the Dharma into the direct experience of being in community and in multiple communities is so urgently needed by all of us. The movement of forces toward keeping us separate from each other, towards self-centered actions for solely our personal welfare and well-being, towards even encouraging us to compete and even hate each other, are explicit in our social, political, economic, and cultural realities. Part of the oppression of the Collective Unconscious, whether it is about racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, or any other form of social suffering, is the inability to be with the difficulty and the pain of the First Noble Truth. When differences come into the room, the reactive and delusional pattern is to break apart—to scatter and fragment. What we actually need in a global world, that is more and more connected through every kind of technological, social, and economic network, is the ability to stay with the difficulties—to break together—instead of breaking apart. Holding that tension, in and of itself, is a highly advanced skill and practice that we are hardly ever taught in any forum of our lives. This is the potential contribution of the Dharma to raising our Collective Consciousness.
In one of the recent sessions of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leadership training program, our guest teacher was Professor Charles Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of Washington who is not only one of our culture’s preeminent writers but also one of our elder dharma scholars. He electrified our diverse audience of future dharma leaders and teachers by stating that he felt that the next wave of the civil rights movement would be heavily influenced by the Dharma. Now, that is an truly meaningful incentive to practice!
Creating the broadest access to the Dharma for all populations can only further enrich the expression of the Teachings in our times, in our multiple identities, and in our many cultures. The benefits of this cannot be overstated. Culturally-specific retreats provide a safe container where people can have the trust in their environment and surroundings to delve deeply into their own experience and their true nature. This true nature leads to the universal connection to all beings. However, this trust in the process is a luxury that may not occur in our day-to-day lives, where our conditioning is to have some level of defensiveness as a constant companion to protect against very real experiences of harm or oppression in the external world. In addition, it is very clear that our current social and political dialogue in our lives is filled with the issues of Race, Culture, Orientation, Gender Identity, and Difference. You just have to open the daily newsfeed, much less our online social networks. Our ability to bring our spiritual practice to these very real issues that face us as individuals and as communities, is where the rubber meets the road of our collective spiritual practice.
Anumodana (“sharing in the goodness and merit of your actions”) to all those who have supported and continue to support the efforts towards offering the Dharma to as many multicultural communities as possible. It creates the possibility of freedom for greater and greater numbers of people—in ever widening circles of practicing and awakening together.
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