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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 33 class and radically minded. This seems like a lot. But if we are really in tune with our various identity locations, we will all similarly find a great deal of complexity. And these identities are always shifting. Practice grants us the space to allow this shifting to happen and to call that shifting our home. It has taken years for me to openly acknowledge my own complexity. I do this not to develop more attachment to identity but to understand what it means to be constantly interacting from the inter- sections of these identities. If there is some aware- ness, then I am more likely to recognize how my view of the world is skewed by the perceptions that accompany these identities. I identify as Black to recognize that I have been raised within an afro-diasporic community as a descendent of African enslaved people. Black is an expression of the socially constructed racial group, with one of its features being a brown skin tone. While I am ethnically Black, I am also politically Black, which means I identify as Black as a strategy to resist a culture of white supremacy and as a way of standing in solidarity with other marginalized and oppressed people. Poly is a way to identify that I am not currently choosing to be in monogamous relationships but am exploring different kinds of sexual and intimate relationships with multiple partners; queer refers to my identification not just as a gay person but also, politically, as a person whose attraction to other bodies is not limited to other cisgendered males. Able-bodied is a challenging term, as it sets up a duality in which there are bodies that are capable and thus better than bodies that are less capable and therefore seemingly lesser. I want to be trans- parent about challenging language and identifica- tions that reproduce domination and subordination. What I struggle to articulate with this identity loca- tion is that though I am a larger-bodied person, this is not a hindrance to accessing most spaces; physical spaces and the activities that happen in these spaces have been designed so that bodies like mine are privileged. Cisgendered means that the gender of male that I was assigned at birth is also the gender I feel is most authentic for me. Mixed class helps me understand that though I have been economically poor most of my life and have been emotionally affected by this, I have still had exposure to resources that have disrupted the material consequences of poverty: scholarships and free health care, as well as support from family, friends, and students that helps me travel, pur- sue dharma study, and secure things like a car or laptop. Radical means that I am committed to both chal- lenging power structures that perpetuate violence and imagining what my life and my communities could look like if we addressed systems of hierarchy and power imbalances. Finally, I am a lama—an authorized dharma teacher in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism. Lama- ism is itself a complex identity with its own his- tory and customs, a spiritual and cultural identity emerging from Tibetan religion and culture. It is a location of great honor signifying some spiritual attainment and entrustment with the authority of one’s lineage. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to benefit beings. How- ever, lamaism is directly influenced by patriarchy and other forms of domina- tion; currently, it is being assimilated by many white initiates integrating their own unexamined white supremacy and privilege. It has thrived not just through the spiritual attainment of its initiates but also by a fixed power structure that is, for the most part, unchallenged—the results, too often, have been gross ethi- cal violations of student/teacher and sangha/teacher relationships. This identity location, as someone committed to radical thought and social change, is the one I struggle with the most. These identities are part of a shifting dialogue between privilege and disprivilege; though I have the advantages that come with identifying as a cis- gendered male lama, many of my other identities are marginalized. In my practice, I have struggled to transcend both social and internal labels: oppressed, flawed, wrong, ugly, poor, a burden, a problem. I have come to see that I live within a social, politi- cal, and economic environment that was not created to privilege me or to even care about me outside of my capability to produce products and wealth for others. This understanding has been a source of strength. To put this another way, I have been conditioned through my disprivileged identities to constantly justify why I should be alive and taking up space. › continued page 80 (Opposite top left) Lama Rod Owens with his teacher, Lama Norlha Rinpoche; (above) his mother, Wendy Owens; (below) and angel Kyodo williams