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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
WINTER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 7 Sham bhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. COMMENTARY I May Not Stay Here With You by angel Kyodo williams angel Kyodo williams, Sensei, is the spiritual director of the New Dharma Community, a network of practitioners committed to social justice, and the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. BETHANIEHINES By the time this article reaches you, I will have been empowered as an independent teacher in the Zen tradition through a ceremony and process called dharma trans- mission. While Zen has flourished in the West long enough to bear witness to the passing of pioneering teachers who have, in turn, seeded a substantial network of second- and third- generation teachers in America, my own rite of passage remains noteworthy for dubious reasons. As the second African-American woman—and only the third black person in America—ever to receive this empowerment in Soto Zen Buddhism, I am acutely aware of the conflicting viewpoints with which I hold it. Arising out of the cultural needs and priori- ties of seventh-century China, the Zen school places significant emphasis on mind-to-mind transmission. The transmission ceremony affirms one as a successor in a lineage reputed to be unbroken from the historic Buddha to Mahakashyapa in India, through to Bodhi- dharma and Huineng in China, to Dogen in Japan, and in my case, Taizan Maezumi Roshi and Bernie Glassman Roshi in America. One of the essential rites of this passage is to hand copy and receive back a stamped bloodline document that traces this lineage in a chart of swirling lines ending with your own name, effectively “sealing” one’s authentic place of belonging in this eighty-plus-generation family. While it has long been established by scholars that the lineage as written couldn’t possibly be historically accurate and therefore literally true, any teacher undertaking the cer- emony would be hard-pressed to deny that a mysterious and visceral comfort attends the affirmation of one’s belonging, regardless of its being symbolic and maybe even precisely because it is. In this way, I am no exception. After ten years of mostly avoiding the Buddhist main- stream while dealing with the demands of starting up a small dharma community and being a full-time residential teacher, I had become accustomed to going it alone. The public acknowledgement of what one already is, what is already so, is very much like getting married to a long-held beloved: at the end of the ceremony, you return to the place you’ve always lived, but now it is truly your home. Still, I observe any system of perpetuating a special transmission with the wary eye of a justice-seeking person who has existed in a multiplicity of categories that are famously marginalized in America: black, female, queer, working class, non-degreed, and under-resourced. It doesn’t take deep analy- sis to recognize that inherent in the tradition passed through this lineage are handy tools for keeping in place the structures that hinder healthy diversity because of the unwelcoming conditions that exist when black folks and other people of color find themselves trying to pierce the veil of all-whiteness we still find in the vast majority of convert dharma centers. This transmission system—different from formal participation and merit-based curri- cula such as the Community Dharma Leaders program offered through Spirit Rock—also has embedded within it the potential to foster, then obscure, discrimination under the guise of authenticity. To this end, when establishing the New Dharma Community as a home for people committed to deep practice of the dharma and also to deep change for a more equitable and just society, we took up the story of the historic Buddha touching the earth in the bhu- misparsha mudra, facing down the darkness of Mara, as our symbolic transmission. In