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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 13 |winter 2007 heart, and maintaining the body on a life-support system. One can’t help but wonder, is this thing really alive? Is this really going to carry on? Obviously, my perspective is slanted; I’m a card-carrying monk. But in wedging dharma teach- ings into a comfortable life, one may be missing something that’s crucial to the dharma. I would suggest that people look closely at that and ask themselves, Is the dharma something that I tack onto my life or is it something that I offer myself up to? We can ask the same thing about nature: do we see it as a pretty and refreshing adjunct to my world or do we see that all that we are, mentally and physically, is inescapably part of nature? I’ve noticed that when some people don’t have things according to their own preferred model, they fall apart. I’ve seen that happen many times, with famous dharma teachers as well as regular folks. Renunciate practice can help develop resil- ience in meeting life’s difficult conditions. It coun- ters the drift toward, “I’ve got to have everything according to my own way.” When you relinquish control and take on the simplicity of the renunciate life, you have an opportunity to reflect on all the things to which you’ve become habituated. You take on restrictions in order to contact the most profound dimension of your own nature. There are no special meals or special rooms for special needs. If you’re continu- ally seeking comfort or trying to arrange the mate- rial world to meet your preferences, then you don’t notice those areas of bondage and attachment, and they remain barriers to accessing the fundamental unconditioned nature of the mind. FrOm an intervieW With aJahn amarO PuBlished in inquiring mind, sPring 2007. the many faces of suffering Norman Fischer reflects on being perceived as a privileged white male but feeling like an outsider. When you’re in a non-target population, the expe- rience of the target population doesn’t occur to you. You have to go out of your way to notice. And it’s heart wrenching to suddenly be awakened to this pain that you didn’t know was there. The turn of mind that comes when you open your- self to this universe of suffering is similar to the turn of mind that comes through dharma practice when you suddenly realize that the world, which you took to be a certain way, actually has another dimension to it. I’ve led a few retreats with Ralph Steele, an African-American vipassana teacher, in which we basically make the issue of racism the topic of the retreat. This draws people from both target and non-target populations who really want to look at racism together. I’ve appreciated the focus on these occasions because I find that, as a member of a non-target population, it’s easy to keep falling back into blindness. Opening your eyes is not a once-and-for-all thing. I’ve been thinking lately about what a strange experience it is to be a Jew in America and how that might affect my relationship to people of color. Typical Jewish psychology (though of course not all Jews have this psychology) includes a sense of being oppressed and persecuted, and yet in Amer- ica, at this moment, Jews are among the most privileged people. Still, you can easily find power- ful and wealthy Jewish people who feel inside as if they were members of a persecuted minority. It’s a weird thing. I, too, have that Jewish psychology. I always feel surprised to find myself included among privi- leged, powerful white people. Even though I know I am privileged, it’s still weird. Inside, I’m still a Jew who’s an outsider and liable to be an object of persecution. I just do not identify with white males, for example, even though I am one. Whenever I hear that I’m a member of a privileged group, I always cringe at first because I think, “What are you talking about? I’m a Jew!” This feeling doesn’t come from any experi- ence of being discriminated against or persecuted, because I never was, even though I was literally the only Jew in my class at school. But certainly people of my parents’ generation experienced anti-Semi- tism a lot, and my parents constantly reminded me that I was a Jew and that I was different. I realize that from the point of view of people of color, my Jewishness is irrelevant. I don’t feel a need to speak about it. If someone looks at me and sees a privileged white male, I know that’s a fair assessment, even though I don’t feel that way inside. It’s an odd contradiction. I think it’s typical for people to feel powerless. It’s just human. Most human beings who are hon- est with themselves would have to admit, “Even though I’m rich and famous, I feel like I could be blown away in a second.” Even the stereotypical brutish white male who is throwing his weight around—well, if you live long enough, you come to realize that behind all that bravado is a sense of powerlessness, which may not even be available as an experience to the person himself. At the deepest level, we’re all in the same boat. But we can’t deny the social realities. Those have to be acknowledged first. We have to deal with social power and the pain that is caused by conceptions of social power. Then maybe later we can get down to the level where we are all vul- nerable, persecuted, pathetic human beings. That’s the level of dharma. FrOm turning Wheel: the JOurnal OF sOcially engaged Buddhism, summer 2007. HADlEYHOOPER