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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
36 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 5 of bodies in the world. We cannot close our eyes to these phenomena if we really want to be awake and aware. Many people believe that spiritual paths should tend toward the invisible, the unseen. With this view, it is easy to mistake a favorable blindness— not seeing skin color, gender, and so on—for seeing an invisible truth of life. We may even consider this blindness to be a higher state of being. But the wisdom in my bones says that we need this par- ticular body, with its unique color, shape, and sex, for liberation to unfold. There is no experience of emptiness without interrelationship. We must look our embodiment in the face in order to attend to the challenge it presents. Only then will we come to engage each other with all of what we are—both the relative and the absolute, the physical and the formless. The way of tenderness appears on its own, rising up as an experience void of hatred—for oneself or others. It comes when the events of your life have rendered you silent and sat you in the corner, and there is nothing left to do but sit until the mental distress or confusion about who you are or who you are not passes. The way of tenderness may pres- ent itself when rage is so palpable that you are dizzy with it. It may come as a lion’s roar. The way of tenderness comes even when failing to fight for our lives is what we fear the most. Complete tenderness arrives even if we have no desire to sink beneath the appearance of things, including our own identities and aspirations. The way of tenderness is an experiential, nonin- tellectual, heartfelt acknowledgement of all embod- ied difference. It is a flexibility of perception, rather than a settling into belief. It brings affirmation of life, rather than of suffering, center stage. It keeps alive the vow not to kill in a way that has nothing to do with being vegetarian or not. It is social action. It is a way to overcome what feels much stronger than us, and what seems to pull us apart so that we are not well. It is an acknowledgement of the unfolding Although Buddha was addressing his monks with these lines, we can easily read his words in reference to the collective mind of our society as it views race, sexuality, and gender. When individuals in our soci- ety speak or act out of hatred against a whole group of people based solely on superficial appearance, it is a reflection of the mental state of our whole soci- ety. We don’t escape because we are not the ones hating. When whole groups of people are subject to genocide, massacre, slavery, or other atrocities based on perceived unacceptable differences, we see a society cracking and crumbling. We can recognize this in our personal lives. We ourselves fall into hatred when, because of someone’s appearance, we seek to render them or the group to which we feel they belong invisible. It is also an act of hatred to grant privilege, superiority, and favor to a person or group of people because of their embodiment. We see hatred working in the heart of our soci- ety when a sixteen-year-old black male is shot to death—with eleven rounds fired by six white offi- cers—because the police say he was adjusting the waistband of his pants in a “suspicious way.” We see hatred working in the heart of our society when a gang of black males murder a black transgender rapper and dump the body in a landfill. We see hatred working in the heart of our society when women are gang-raped simply because they are women. We see hatred working in the heart of our society when the homeless are stabbed on the street because they are ugly, destitute, and unpleasant to look at. Fear of particular bodies breeds hatred, and hatred breeds monstrous acts. This is the mind of a society that breeds hatred. How could a path to spiritual liberation possibly unfold if we turn away from the realities that par- ticular embodiments bring? To confront hatred with spirituality is to confront the way we view race, sex- uality, gender, or whatever form of embodiment we are as living beings. To provide a meaningful path to spiritual liberation, spirituality must acknowl- edge the body and the denigration of certain types Tenderness does not erase the inequities we face. On the way of tenderness, we allow rage and anger to flow in and out again and again instead of holding on to it as proof of being human.