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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
When I was training in a Japanese convent, a Zen nun friend taught me a way to defeat anyone in dharma combat. If someone asks you a question in the relative or concrete level (“Who are you?”), answer in the ultimate (“Don’t know”). If, on the other hand, they ask you a ques- tion in the ultimate or abstract (“What is the green dragon who comes from the West?”), answer in the relative and concrete (“Wouldn’t you rather know about the dharma?”). While this is an easy trick to “defeat” anyone in dharma combat, it doesn’t go very far toward relieving another person’s suffering. Buddhism shouldn’t be a battle to begin with. But I see battles taking place, especially in discussions of race or gender inequality. When women, people of color, queer/trans, and young people give voice to societal oppression and Buddhist teachers respond with colorblindness or some notion of ultimate truth, this may win the dharma battle but it loses the war. White teachers and authority figures frequently remind their audiences and students that “under- neath it all we are all humans” or “ultimately we just need to get rid of our sense of separateness.” This is a similar philosophical position to insist- ing “All lives matter” as a response to “Black lives matter.” There, There, It’s All Empty COLLAgE | gemma anton Dismissing someone’s suffering as relative truth, says gesshin greenwood, isn’t imparting the wisdom of emptiness. It’s using the dharma to silence them. summer 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 37 As Buddhists, we have the capacity to under- stand that ultimate truth (race is a social construct and all lives do, in fact, matter) exists simultane- ously with relative truth (the social construct of race creates racial violence and so “Black lives matter”). Personally, I have never found that I can access ultimate truth without engagement in the relative phenomena in front of me—and even then, who knows? As it says in Sandokai (“Harmony of Dif- ference and Equality”), “Ordinary life fits the ulti- mate like a box and its lid.” The truth of my life is actualized in eating, cooking, cleaning, sitting, and standing. Similarly, the way to clarify that “all lives matter” is to start behaving as if Black lives actually matter. I am a white antiracist feminist who began study- ing Buddhist ethics and practicing meditation in college as a way to be more effective in my activ- ism and political work. At the time, I was living in a freshman housing option for people of color and allies interested in anti-oppression work. By that point in my life, activism was the focal point of my social identity, and I felt hopeless and consumed by rage and grief at the system. Buddhist meditation offered me a way to calm down and get in touch with a simple contentedness of being. Buddhist eth- ics—in particular those outlined by the Dalai Lama,