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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
56 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2017 ANGEL KyODO WILLIAMS: It’s important to frame ethics inside of its context. I know I’m beating this drum, but it feels important. It’s easy to extract something and have it inside of your bubble. I think many people, teachers in particular, would consider them- selves practicing and even enforcing ethics by, for instance, silencing people of color or women who bring up things that “sound divisive.” If your inter- pretation of ethics is inside of a context of cultural or positional power dominance that replicates the larger societal dynamic, as Western Buddhism does with so many white men in positions of power, then who challenges those roles and says that our ethics should be looking at that as well? This has always been a challenge for Buddhism, in all traditions. The voices of the people who hold power reflect the mainstream voice of the culture. In patriarchal soci- eties, then, the people interpreting what the dharma is recreate the patriarchy inside of the Buddhist con- text and practice community. We see this now. But here in the West, we have the unique reality of multiculturalism, even to the level of people coming out of different religious contexts and bringing those predispositions into their take on Buddhism. It’s like a language now. “I’m talking Buddhist! So let’s forget that I learned Jewish first.” But the Jewish accent, so to speak, is coming through that. The Christian accent, Southern Baptist accent, is coming through that, and it’s being shared when people are in positional authority. If I say something, there’s a quicker willingness to parse out what I say as not entirely Buddhist but as my perspective as a woman of color, whereas if a white man says it, it’s much less examined as a white male perspective on Buddhism—it’s just Buddhism. AJAhN AMARO: The Buddha speaks of a kind of gen- erosity called abhayadana, or giving freedom from fear. As Rev. angel is saying, as a white male, there’s a kind of blindness—the way you speak or how you embody something includes this unconscious privi- lege, this unconscious voice of authority or power, and without being aware of it, you’re causing other people harm. I was doing this, as an example. My accent is very much that of an English boarding school-educated person; some people in my commu- nity confessed to me that they couldn’t really hear me giving dharma teachings because my voice was the voice of the officer class, which means I’m “one of them.” I was completely unconscious of it. We’re using the practice to illuminate the con- text from which we are speaking, the context that informs our own situation and that of the people we are talking with. If we can become more aware of the assumptions we’re making, if we’re attuned to a greater picture, then we’re not just functioning within the limits of our own habitual perceptions. Then we can grant freedom from fear or stress so that people say, “Oh! This person understands me. They appreciate me. They can put aside their own conditioning and receive me.” It’s a kind of giving: we give space for others to be who they are. PEMA KhANDRO: One way for Buddhist teachers to promote ethics is to create environments that wel- come expressions of doubt and critical thinking about Buddhist thought. In Tibetan Buddhism’s own context, intellectual inquiry was valued for a reason. It matures us. In an interview I read with Rev. angel, she men- tioned that she’d had a tendency to keep her head down in the Buddhist world. As a woman of color, that’s something I learned to do in life as a matter of survival, and it’s easy for me to bring that into my Buddhist role as well. Perhaps one way that we could promote a greater morality and ethics in our community is to encourage Buddhists not to keep their heads down, to emphasize that it’s not just a violation of ethics to engage in gossip and divisive speech but that it’s also a violation of right speech to remain silent on pressing issues. BuDDhADhARMA: It seems that the conversation around ethics has become less and less popular. Here at Buddhadharma, we receive many submis- sions for articles about meditation practices but rarely any about Buddhist ethics. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of interest. AJAhN AMARO: Yes, most people are drawn to