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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
summer 2005| 44 |buddhadharma They were flexible and open and also didn’t make a lot of class distinctions. They were people who had dropped out of the mainstream society, and all of these people just merged together and learned to practice Buddhism together. If you look today at our newer membership, I’m sure the socioeconomic status is much higher, but there’s still a foundation, especially of senior, experienced practitioners, who are respected regardless of their educational back- ground or their economic status. Paul haller: Talking to people who have had dif- ficulty entering the community has helped to drive what we are doing. Our diversity-initiative steering committee pays a lot of attention to what people have to say. One thing we’ve done as a result is formed a people-of-color sitting group that holds weekly sittings and periodic longer sessions. Their advice and what they report to us helps us formu- late what we do. Charles PreBish: Over the thirty-five years that I’ve been investigating Buddhism in North America, both as a practitioner and a scholar, I’ve seen the landscape change dramatically. In the seventies, the groups were almost completely exclusive – in the way that has been described here – and continued that way on into the eighties, at which point people studying American Buddhism argued heatedly in the literature about how to classify the many kinds of groups of people who were coming together to practice vari- ous kinds of Buddhism. Maybe some of the distinc- tions we are talking about between different types of people who practice the dharma may be starting to dissolve in a way that could be very efficacious for the evolution of a genuinely American Buddhism, one that is inclusive of all types of Buddhism and all types of people practicing Buddhism. marlene Jones: I see integration gradually growing. Originally, many people would say that if it were not for a people-of-color retreat, they wouldn’t be here. That has started to change. Many of those same people are starting to go to the reg- ular retreats, although not in huge numbers. It also depends on who the teacher is. People are concerned about racism for sure, but more than anything they need cultural inclusion, to feel part of what is represented. We know that it works if we have teachers of color. It’s not that we’re teaching the dharma any differently; it’s just about being with people who look like you, talk like you. But other teachers are learning to be more culturally inclusive. If Jack Kornfield is teaching, he draws more people of color. He talks about racism, he deals with cultural issues, he quotes James Baldwin, he integrates cul- tural information, and people recognize what he’s talking about. So he can draw people who are dif- Free At LAst By Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín when we speAk of Buddhism in the united states, we are speaking of a cultural movement that has brought to this continent ancient indian, east and southeast Asian, and tibetan spiritual teachings and practices. for the first time in history, these teachings have arrived in a land that is racially heterogeneous. At the same time, they are taking root in a society that was founded, by a white majority, on the unwhole- some seeds of colonialism, genocide, and slavery. in this meeting, the values of community, interdepen- dence, and collaboration come face-to-face with the values of the pursuit of individualism, self-interest, and competition. deep bow meets handshake. the cultural encounter is not only east meeting west; it is the spiritual encounter of heart meeting mind. today, we are able to speak of the dharma due to the generosity and compassion of an ordinary man who woke up. when shakyamuni Buddha set the wheel of the dharma rolling, he was not giving us instructions for the modern day, highly acclaimed practice of self-improvement. when the Buddha spoke to ascetics who had previously practiced with him, he offered the teachings of liberation itself. in the ancient tradition of the healer administering to the sick, the Buddha gave us a diagnosis and a pre- scription. he identified the disease and its cause, gave us a pronouncement on whether it can be cured and a prescription for the medicine. when people from groups who have historically found themselves socially, economically, and politi- cally outside the margins hear that Buddha taught liberation, nothing more needs to be said. there is no need to proselytize or seduce. All our lives we thirst for freedom, and when we recognize the path that will lead us there, our hearts validate that rec- ognition. to wake up is the task at hand. not wishing that our lives were better, nor different, we wake up to the reality of our lives, just as they are. to see this reality clearly is the first step to freedom. such is the significance of the four noble truths to the racially and culturally excluded people living today in the united states. teachings of lib- eration heard clearly in a culture driven by igno- rance, fear, anger, and hate is like the breaking of chains after centuries of subjugation. this is the gift the Buddha shakyamuni gave us. from Dharma, Color, and Culture (2004), edited by hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín. reprinted with permis- sion of parallax press. Over and over again I have watched people of color walk in the door and not come back. We need to create an environment where they feel safe and welcome, and able to access the dharma without facing cultural exclusion –without, in a word, being ignored. — Marlene Jones