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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
53 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY being able to attract a more diverse community, it’s still quite a challenge. In trying to meet the needs of different subgroups you create other obstacles. As I’ve said, we have Spanish- language members, for example, and to support them we’ve created language-based meetings and language-based publica- tions. While this is helpful to them, it kind of enables people to stay segregated and maybe even marginalized. Our ongoing challenge, then, is: How do we respect the need of these groups to engage in meaningful exchange and dialogue about Buddhism in a language and culture they feel comfortable in, while at the same time keeping them con- nected to the broader organization? LARRY YANG: Ironically, identity-based retreats were long in the making because when the teachers of the European-American mainstream sangha came back from Asia to teach, they didn’t go to the existing Asian temples or venues that were already in North America. They started the mainstream centers we know today because they didn’t see themselves reflected in these Asian temples. They didn’t hear their life stories, they didn’t hear the relevance to how these teachings actually dis- solved their particular suffering in their particular life. This is the exact same reason that the identity retreats have been formed. Even in our expression of difference, we’re the same. There is something that still completely connects us. The point of these retreats is to garner a strength of practice to enable us to see beyond the differences. BUDDHADHARMA: For our readers who might be interested in attending an identity-based retreat, or even starting one, what elements make them work well? BOB AGOGLIA: angel made reference to too much discussion. At IMS, the retreats are held in silence, with people living together in open dormitories with shared bathrooms. Day in and day out, you sit and walk, sit and walk in silence. There are dharma talks, and there are meetings that teach- ers have with the yogis throughout the retreat, but otherwise it’s predominantly in silence. In this respect we are providing the same kind of experience as in all our other retreats, in an environment where people of color feel safe. LARRY YANG: We all have a lot of defenses, especially if our identities have been oppressed in any way by the mainstream dominant culture. In a culturally specific environment, you’re able to loosen those defenses a little bit, and allow the practice to relax you. You become vulnerable and in that vulnerabil- ity you can really begin to deepen your experience of ask- ing “who am I?” One of the experiences that connects us all regardless of the venue we choose is that we look for the safety we need to explore deeply. There are practitioners who have gone through the people of color retreats that never need to return because they’ve got- ten a sense of the practice that they can internalize. They can bring it wherever they go in their lives or create new communi- ties that go beyond the split that happens in the mainstream One of the largest obstacles we face is structural racism. We have not had the kind of sophisticated, deep conversation about this in our dharma communities that we need to have. —angel Kyodo williams culture. It’s a matter of skillful means, which always emerges from timing and context. AMANDA RIVERA: We also have a series of what I guess you could call retreats. We call them conferences. We have one for Bud- dhists of African descent. We have one for the greater South Asian community, which might include members that are of Pakistani, Sri Lankan, or Nepali origin. We have conferences for members of various professions— law, academia, educa- tion, the healing arts. We spend a lot of time in dialogue, and at times, we talk about how the things that define us can also be the things that might limit us. We talk about the challenges we have within a given subcommunity or profession. People always leave a conference feeling transformed and refreshed. It deepens their understanding of the power of their practice and how they can use what they’ve learned to deal with the challenges of daily life. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: As Larry was saying, timing and con- text are key. Each of our communities finds itself in different contexts and we will have different approaches as a result. At New Dharma, we live in a certain kind of privilege of its own to be able to discard people of color retreats. We just don’t have the same need. We all have to examine the conditions we find ourselves in. Where diversity of mainstream communities is concerned, most of the work is for white folks to attend to. The dominant PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN Sister Jewel, Ven. Pannavati Karuna, Jan Willis, and Myokei Caine-Barrett at the Buddhist Teachers Council at Garrison Institute