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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
54 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2015 us. We need to experience letting go of the phone and computer and all our day-to-day demands to focus on training in a single-minded way. Another core aspect of that intensive training is learning to work with the disagreements that inevitably arise. You have no choice but to work through conflict when you have to work and sleep next to people you’re practicing with every day. DAVE SMITH: I agree that there’s no substitute for intensive practice. I’ve been in teacher training for almost five years. It’s extremely demanding. It’s a very contained and rigorous group. A lot of conflict arises, and there’s a lot of expectation around eth- ics and integrity. Many people bow out because they don’t want to take on that level of commit- ment and responsibility. If people are unable to take time away from their daily life to sit long, intensive retreats, dharma teaching is not going to be an option for them. That might be considered a hard view, but that is an important thread of practice that needs to be to maintained. BuDDHADHARMA: So far, Buddhism in the West has been an overwhelmingly white, upper-middle class phenomenon. Do you see that changing? How can we actively expand that demographic? TENKu RuFF: I was at a diversity training maybe fif- teen years ago at which the trainer said that a new religion usually enters a culture through the domi- nant intellectual class and starts to spread from there. Hearing that made me think, okay, these are the causes and conditions we have to work with in our society. That’s fine for the first generation, but it’s not fine for the next generations. We need to do the work of the next steps. ROD OWENS: I’ve spent a lot of time working on this issue. One thing that I confront pretty constantly is the need for people to stay comfortable in sang- has. When we start talking about racism, or more broadly how we embrace difference in sangha, the dominant group has to embrace discomfort, to look at aversion and its unwillingness to change. Creat- ing a place at the table means you have to get up, scoot around, and get some more chairs. Many sanghas are unwilling to go there. They’re not that serious about diversity. That being said, we have to confront this issue head-on. We have to acknowledge that Buddhism exists in the West largely as a white upper-class structure. From there, we can ask how we can challenge the way Buddhism has been constructed around the needs and aspirations of white practi- tioners and how we can shift that bias to create an inclusive environment for everyone. I know of a few centers looking for new locations, and I say to them, “You’re looking for a new place to meet—why don’t you go to a black community or to a really diverse part of town? Why don’t you set up there?” NINA LA ROSA: I’m a teacher of color in Vermont, which is the second- or third-whitest state in the nation. Most of the people I teach are white, and they’re dealing with a lot of white guilt. They’re pretty progressive, but there’s a lot of unconscious- ness around racism. It’s a very present issue in our media right now, and people don’t know what to do or how the dharma could possibly help them. Dharma teachers are going to be looked to as the ones to provide the environment where people feel safe, where they can talk about these things explic- itly and also be willing to get it wrong and learn together. I think the work needs to start with teach- ers around our own diversity training and critical I think the first generation of teachers in the West feels a responsibility for the dharma that they inherited, and maybe a sense of duty to keep things the way they got them, where our generation feels more freedom. —Tenku Ruff photo | koshin paley ellison David Iozzi and Doyeon Park