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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
60 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 2 extremely high, about 70 percent in the community we cur rently work in. Hard on the heels of this initial euphoria, the AIDS pandemic hit, killing millions and devastating communi ties already fragmented by years of protracted struggle. As meditation practitioners and monastics trained in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, we had no experience of social activism when we arrived in South Africa. Our primary training and focus was on inner changes of consciousness rather than outer political or social changes, but we could not ignore the circumstances we found ourselves in. We accepted an invitation to be spiritual directors of a Buddhist center in Ixopo, which is also in the hills of KwaZulu, an area that became widely known because of Alan Paton’s 1948 novel Cry the Beloved Country that was twice turned into film. We found ourselves in a vicinity embroiled in a bloody turf war between the two political factions—the African National Congress and the Zulubased Inkatha Freedom Party. While facilitating one of our first silent tenday retreats, more than a hundred people were murdered on Christmas Eve in a nearby “location.” The land of South Africa has been scarred and bloodied by numerous racial and tribal wars, including a heartwrenching genocide of its First Nation, the KhoiSan. This history has forged a people whose psychology is deeply shaped by trauma, a struggle for survival, and the peculiar kind of distortion and denial that justifies racial discrimination. In the Buddhist Retreat Center, each day a small group from the local Zulu community arrived to work as cooks, cleaners, and garden ers. These were people dealing on a daily level with violence, poverty, and the overwhelming residue of apartheid. Even before apartheid they had been colonized by the British and turned into a servant class. These workers, whom their white “bosses” referred to as boys and girls, always greeted us with warm smiles, but it was as though there were a thick pane of Dharmagiri Hermitage at the foot of Mvuleni mountain VANESSANIAS THANISSARA (Mary Weinberg) and KITTISARO (Harry Randolph Weinberg) are cofounders of Dharmagiri Hermitage and Outreach in South Africa. They have been married for twenty years. Thanissara was one of the first women to be ordained in the West as a nun in Ajahn Chah’s Forest Tradition and lived as a nun in the order for twelve years. She is now a facilitator for the community dharma leader program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Kittisaro was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford before going to Thailand in 1976 and ordaining with Ajahn Chah. He lived as a monk in the Forest Tradition for fif- teen years and has practiced Chan and Pure Land Buddhism for the past thirty years. MARYBETHCYSEWSKI