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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
58 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 6 eightfold path or Mahayana precepts provide a frame for illuminating our thought, speech, and behavior, the frame of whiteness illuminates unseen mental and interpersonal behaviors. The first thing we must do is courageously adopt this frame so we can apply it to all aspects of our practice. We may, however, need to spend some time clarifying the frame of race. Reading about the his- tory of race can help do this while also revealing aspects of our conditioning. It is freeing even just to know that whiteness and white supremacy have a beginning and are not the timeless characteristics of everyone with lighter complexions. Memoirs of white people who are doing the work of wak- ing up to whiteness can encourage us and unveil a process of transformation for which there is little mentorship. Stories and critical analysis by people of color that were not predigested for the special care of white folks—meaning they might induce rage, shame, fear, crisis, and a sense of alienation from a world we unconsciously felt was ours—help us understand the past and current harm of white supremacy. We must work diligently to take in these perspectives without argument, externally or inter- nally. This is not to say we give up our agency or capacity for discernment; rather, we recognize that we are conditioned within a reality limited by the entitlement and privilege of whiteness. We must let our bodies steep in the courageous tellings of life- times of perseverance in the face of dehumanization without shoring up our position. We can also study whiteness by making it an object of our meditation practice. This allows us to uncover how we have internalized the current logic of racialized America. There are many practices for doing this. We can take up inquiry and drop ques- tions like “When did I first learn I was white?” into our meditation. Queries such as this shake up our involuntary identification with whiteness by begin- ning to illuminate some of the details of how we are conditioned, often against others. Taking up the koan tradition and sitting with phrases like “I am white” or “I am not white” or “white supremacy” often rattles deeply held beliefs and emotions about who we believe we are. Finally, devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to taking unwavering responsibil- ity for our thoughts in everyday life is critical. When we notice our minds assuming anything about anyone based on race, we can stop doing whatever we are doing, note that the thought has occurred, and allow the realization that our mind is conditioned racially to fully sink in before mov- ing on. It is important to keep in mind that taking responsibility here looks like upright resolve, not self-condemnation. This work is best supported by dharma teach- ers who have worked with race as a practice frame and by groups of peer practitioners who identify or are identified as white. Dialoguing with other white practitioners who are willing to lovingly hold each other accountable to staying the course is critical if we are to clarify our conditioning; it also allows white practitioners to feel supported in what at first may be a profoundly disconcerting endeavor. This process sharpens our perception, strengthens our integrity, deepens our humility, and breaks our hearts open so we can more skillfully and fearlessly love everyone, including ourselves. A few clarifications can make this process easier and more effective. First, it’s important to clarify what we mean by race. There are at least two understandings that typically merge in our current usage of the word. One way we interpret race is as a people with a shared heritage, culture, ethnicity, and embodiment. This older meaning has more in common with the way we sometimes use “people” or “nation,” as in “a great, historic race.” Though there are certainly opportunities to unpack grasping and further our liberation through this frame, we need not disavow any heritage or disparage our- selves or others because we come from this or that race of people. As long as we do not set one people violently against another, we can embrace who we are and all others as historic and conditioned embodiments of Mother Earth’s brilliant array. The second expression of race was birthed of a need to justify colonialism. Scientific racism later legitimized what was initially a political and eco- nomic requirement, thus enabling the continued oppression and murder of those colonized; race became the rationale for imposing a hierarchy of domination over the world’s peoples. This con- ceptual frame polarized humanity into black and greg SnyDer is cofounder of Brooklyn Zen center and senior director of Buddhist studies at Union theological Seminary in new york city. Flolunn