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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 59 white, with white being superior to everyone else, and ushered in the current ideological era of white supremacy. In many cases, this concept of race has wiped out the prior framing rooted in heritage and eth- nicity. For example, the rich array of European peoples that not so long ago populated America has largely been reduced to a single wash of whiteness with diminishing relationship to the languages and customs that once knitted them into distinct com- munities. As Buddhist practitioners, it is imperative that we divest from the violence of current racial frames without destroying the beauty of difference, allowing each person to sit upright in their full and vibrant expression. Those who insist on naming white supremacy are rarely claiming that any particular white person celebrates it the way a member of the Ku Klux Klan would; rather, they are pointing out that we, along with most Americans, have internalized this ideol- ogy and need to uproot it. It helps to understand that our minds are private, not personal. As with all of our habits of thought, we have inherited and internalized a logic of white supremacy that came before us. We did not create it, but it is ours to replicate if we are not awake. Though not our fault, it is our responsibility. We may feel guilt, remorse, embarrassment, shame, or revulsion throughout this exploration; however, we must not make the mistake of grounding these feel- ings in an eternal I or mine, much less any infinite mea culpa that will only quash our efforts. If we take up this path as fault or personal defect, we will all be stuck in a mud of self-hatred, serving no one. To study whiteness is to forget whiteness. What does it mean to forget whiteness while studying whiteness? This can be easily miscon- strued. It does not mean that whiteness disappears but rather that we begin to see the conditioned and dependent nature of our racial identity through study. We do not, however, reach a point where race is no longer relevant or we can stop paying attention to whiteness because we are somehow beyond it. As practitioners of the dharma, as long as race exists as an aspect of being and society, we are obliged to examine it. This happens step-by-step as we study this particular conditioning through the illumination of habits of thought, behavior, rela- tionship, and personal and societal histories, and through witnessing the pain and stories of others who hold differently racialized positions. Forgetting the self is a process of clarifying our conditioning— the roots of our karma—rather than any delusion that we are no longer conditioned. This process is the never-ending commitment of the bodhisattva. To forget whiteness is to be illuminated by the myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind, as well as the bodies and minds of others, drop away. These statements are not to say that suddenly we have a post-awakening reality where actual bodies and minds are not relevant, where their spe- cific expressions are somehow annihilated. There can be a strong impulse to want enlightenment to be some all-consuming, one-shot missile with an infinite blast radius, not the slow and vulnerable embodiment of insight and discernment intimately expressed through ongoing cultivation and effort. The notion of all-powerful enlightenment allows us to maintain a sense of invulnerable superiority toward life and all others in it rather than remain- ing humbly in the trenches of our limited humanity. In the Soto Zen tradition, which takes the bodhi- sattva vow as its foundation, our understanding is that even after awakening to the true nature of self, we must remain with the intimate safekeeping of bodies and minds, caring for all the ways we suf- fer and calling out all the causes and conditions of that suffering. Maintaining aloofness from this fully embodied undertaking would be nothing more than spiritual supremacy. We did not create the internalized logic of white supremacy, but it is ours to replicate if we are not awake.