A Discussion About Race, Gender and Class

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  • Sekishi
    Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
    • Apr 2013
    • 5666

    A Discussion About Race, Gender and Class

    Tricycle magazine recently featured article by Brent R. Oliver called "White Trash Buddhist". I found that it (unfortunately) highlights a very real issue with Dharma in the west, namely that race, gender, and class are deeply embedded in our culture, and are thus also part of the practice experience. The article is important, as are many of the comments.

    Do you have to break the bank to break into the upper middle way? A Kentucky native shows us what practice looks like on minimum wage.


    I left a brief comment, and talked about the Treeleaf experience (without mentioning it by name -- I did not feel it would be right to act as the marketing arm of our Sangha in that particular forum).

    However, it also spurred me to open a discussion here at Treeleaf. Compared with the few "brick and mortar" Sanghas I've come across, I think Treeleaf is a fairly diverse group of practitioners, and the fact that our teachers give their teachings freely is a beautiful thing.

    I also do not think we can rest on our laurels. The simple fact that we need an internet capable device, and a fast enough connection to participate in video streaming / hangouts means that we are self-selecting from the privileged side of the "digital divide". While I do not think there is much we can do about this fact (we cannot buy devices and internet for all), we must be mindful of this fact. For me personally, I feel it means we should also work even harder in other ways to be inclusive.

    I am a white middle class male from a wealthy nation. I have a college degree, and work in the software industry. I have enough free time to participate, and enough disposable income to buy books, tablets and phones, and can look at many Sanghas and say "most people here look like me". I am exactly the kind of person for whom access to Dharma in the west is easy. I will not say "I am part of the problem", but I will say that I am representative of it. I doubt it escaped the notice of many of us that those who were able to attend the recent retreat "in person", were male. Most of us white males, from so called "first world" nations.

    I want to be clear, I love Treeleaf. I am deeply grateful for our teachers who give of themselves and the Dharma freely. But I also want to make sure we are doing what we can to be as inclusive as we can - this is also in keeping with the changes here at Treeleaf, and Jundo's stated desire to make the Dharma more widely available.

    Perhaps there is nothing we can do but practice, vowing to save all beings. At the very least, I think we must be mindful of our privilege, but is there more that we can do? What do you all think?

    Deep bows,
    Sekishi
    Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.
  • Myosha
    Member
    • Mar 2013
    • 2974

    #2
    Hello,

    Personally, distinction is a form of clinging and attachment.

    Clinging and attachments can be distracting.


    Gassho,
    Myosha
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

    Comment

    • Geika
      Treeleaf Unsui
      • Jan 2010
      • 4971

      #3
      Treeleaf seems to be growing, I don't expect it to stop. I trust that it will naturally reach those who spend even a little time browsing Dharma related sites. Access to the internet is growing, too.

      Gassho
      求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
      I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

      Comment

      • Shugen
        Treeleaf Unsui
        • Nov 2007
        • 4535

        #4
        Hi Sekishi,

        What you post is something that I have been considering as well. I don't have any answers (of course) but it is a concern of mine. How to be more inclusive? I believe that what we do here at Treeleaf is a great start, the question is "what is the next step?". Or, "Is there a next step?" - "If you build it, will they come?'. (A quote from the movie Field of Dreams)
        I also believe that Treeleaf will continue to grow. Interesting times....

        Gassho,

        Shugen
        Meido Shugen
        明道 修眼

        Comment

        • Dosho
          Member
          • Jun 2008
          • 5784

          #5
          Sekishi,

          Just so you know, these issues have been and are being discussed and considered by Jundo and the Unsui so we are aware of such things. And as we talked about in Virginia, I'd like to have us all think about whether the retreat was a place where people of different genders, ethnicities, and economic status would have been comfortable. Not as a criticism of what has already happened since that was a grand experiment into the unknown. But more for what to do in the future. It is an important issue to be sure and I'm glad to see you bring it up here.

          Gassho,
          Dosho

          Comment

          • Risho
            Member
            • May 2010
            • 3179

            #6
            You know-- there's this pervasive myth in this country (sorry talking about the US here) that getting a college education would guarantee a successful career. That is simply not the case. Unfortunately it seems that spending 1000's of dollars on an Art History degree isn't a wise use of capital if your goal is to make it big in business. I'm not saying that it's a worthless degree, I have a Bachelor's in Philosophy, but that is separate from actually getting a career. In fact, let's say you get a degree in Computer Science... it's still the same to me in terms of uselessness. You'll learn more on the job in 6 months than by getting a 4 year degree in Computer Science. I think in most cases, college is just a means of delaying entry into the work force.

            That being said, and I know this writer got ejected from school, I think his point is baseless but true (I know that makes no sense, but follow me. lol). Does he have a pillow? He can sit and practice. He doesn't need to go to retreats somewhere to realize what's right under his nose. I would also add, that Buddhism is a way of practicality, and if you can't afford insurance or you are living paycheck to paycheck, then you should focus on becoming more financially stable in your life. I mean you have got to take care of yourself. So sure, you may not be able to practice where you ideally think there is "real" or "true" practice, but your practice now is the best practice you can ever get because it's yours and it's real.

            If you are a writer, and you are complaining that you can't pay the bills, you can either yell at the wind or you can try to do something else where you can support yourself.

            Now that is assuming you are of the means to do so. If you can support yourself, then you have no excuse but to do so. Of course there are a lot of people who need help and should by all means get it. There's no question there at all.

            But to complain that you don't have access to the Dharma because you aren't in a specific wage bracket is bullshit. Now I grant you that you may not be able to go to the destinations that you want to go to practice, but again if you don't have health insurance that issue is more paramount than being able to be in the presence of your ideal Tibetan guru or what have you.

            Gassho,

            Risho
            Last edited by Risho; 09-02-2014, 09:17 PM.
            Email: risho.treeleaf@gmail.com

            Comment

            • Sekishi
              Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
              • Apr 2013
              • 5666

              #7
              Originally posted by rculver
              How to be more inclusive? I believe that what we do here at Treeleaf is a great start, the question is "what is the next step?". Or, "Is there a next step?" - "If you build it, will they come?'. (A quote from the movie Field of Dreams)
              Thank you Shugen. You said it better in one line than I managed to in a few paragraphs.

              Deep bows,
              Sekishi
              Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

              Comment

              • RichardH
                Member
                • Nov 2011
                • 2800

                #8
                There is that cliche of a "Buddhist lifestyle". It has something to do with being "spiritual people" who are responsible for nothing but their own wellness project, and yet seem so burdened by it. There is something to it, but not here at Treeleaf. The commitment here to practice that includes our responsibilities, in our world as it is, is beautiful and inspiring. ...and then there is the geographical spread.

                Just 2 cents.

                Gassho
                Daizan

                Comment

                • Nindo

                  #9
                  I think Treeleaf is a lot more inclusive than brick and mortar sanghas; just think of our homebound members. As Dosho said, the gender issue has been discussed at length, including why there are no female unsui. After many voices were heard, the conclusion was Treeleaf is doing nothing wrong, is welcoming and inclusive, and no change needed.

                  Who shows up, who feels compelled to stay, who will make a bigger commitment like jukai or homeleaving, is a mysterious dynamic/ dance/ wondrous game of cause and effect. Nobody will be an unsui or retreatant or whatever just to fill the quota of women/ LBGT/ coloured/ etc.

                  Comment

                  • Sekishi
                    Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                    • Apr 2013
                    • 5666

                    #10
                    Originally posted by Nindo
                    I think Treeleaf is a lot more inclusive than brick and mortar sanghas; just think of our homebound members. As Dosho said, the gender issue has been discussed at length, including why there are no female unsui. After many voices were heard, the conclusion was Treeleaf is doing nothing wrong, is welcoming and inclusive, and no change needed.
                    Thank you for this Nindo. Was this something discussed in the forum? I just did few searches like "female unsui", but did not turn up much.

                    Also, I want to make it very clear that I am not arguing that Treeleaf is doing anything wrong. Quite the contrary. I think that the work that our teachers and the senior students and Unsui have done here is amazing, and does set Treeleaf apart as a revolutionary Sangha. My question is simply "Is there anything we can do better?"

                    Gassho,
                    Sekishi
                    Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

                    Comment

                    • Geika
                      Treeleaf Unsui
                      • Jan 2010
                      • 4971

                      #11
                      Sekishi,

                      There was a private discussion among female members around a year ago.

                      Gassho
                      求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
                      I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

                      Comment

                      • Mp

                        #12
                        Thank you Sekishi for this discussion ... I feel we can always improve even when we think we've got it. Life is always changing and I feel it is important to have our hearts and minds open to that change.

                        "Is there anything we can do better?"
                        Sometimes this comes right at the moment and there is no preparation, it just happens. But like I said above, if we are open to that change or trying to do better ... we will do just that. =)

                        Gassho
                        Shingen

                        Comment

                        • alan.r
                          Member
                          • Jan 2012
                          • 546

                          #13
                          This is a wide-ranging and somewhat huge issue, and doesn't just have to do with Treeleaf or any Buddhist community, but has much more to do with what I sometimes like to call "polite racism." We live in a country that is very, very much divided along lines of race; it's not enforced, obviously but every state I've lived in in the South (that's three: Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina), every one of them has had white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. The city I live in is basically split between white and black, but you might not know this if you were in downtown Spartanburg. There are exceptions, of course, but it's rare. The city has done a wonderfully awful job (and I like the city I live in) of putting the minority communities on the outside. This has been true of almost every city in the South I've lived in, and most places in the North as well. So, this thing here at Treeleaf is just a symptom of much larger issue that has to do with race and class.

                          To this issue, I sometimes have heard the response of "distinction is a form of clinging and attachment," and I don't mean any rudeness, but I don't find that helpful. Many people coming from poverty and oppression have struggled for years and years finding food, work, family, identity in general, and finding some uniqueness in their culture, and there's nothing wrong with that.

                          It's a difficult issue that needs our care and attention, though I have no thoughts about what to do beyond that. Thanks for bringing up this topic, Sekishi

                          Gassho
                          Shōmon

                          Comment

                          • Jundo
                            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                            • Apr 2006
                            • 39065

                            #14
                            Originally posted by Sekishi

                            I left a brief comment, and talked about the Treeleaf experience (without mentioning it by name -- I did not feel it would be right to act as the marketing arm of our Sangha in that particular forum).
                            Hi Sekishi,

                            Actually, that is one aspect I believe we can do better in order to be more inclusive. I do not believe in "advertising and marketing", with the meaning of trying to "sell" and persuade someone to come join or buy something. We do not proselytize. We do not hurd people in (nor chase after folks who choose to leave and find something else).

                            But I do believe in "providing notice and information", in order so that people who might benefit (in our case, Zen practitioners busy with jobs, family responsibilities, health issues that prevent attendance at a local Sangha) can know that resources are available.
                            That is merely letting people know that we exist as an option if they have need.

                            Even now, almost every week, I am contacted by someone who had been searching for such a place, but never knew there was such a place. Most are people who simply cannot get to a local group but feel they need Community, and had not heard of us until stumbling on some mention by chance.

                            For that reason, I do believe in providing information that we are "out there". We do not solicit or require donations in any way (this Sangha and all its activities are both free and freeing! ). However, we do accept voluntary donations should someone feel they wish, in whatever amount someone can afford, without obligation, according to ability, and as one feels in one’s heart. Here is our place and policy about donations:



                            I do plan to use a portion of such donations for online "notices" at various Buddhist websites making our resources known. I try to have something simple, that gets the point across, without stepping over the line into an "advertisement". Here is one we have had at SweepingZen for a few years.



                            I also see nothing wrong about posting about our mission at another Forum or the like when someone is looking for such a resource. Here is what I usually say ...

                            Hello. This article underlines the very reasons we created our fully online Zen Practice Center at Treeleaf Sangha, and I wish other Buddhist groups would follow suit (our focus at Treeleaf is Shikantaza). Our mission statement reads, "Treeleaf Zendo was designed specifically as an online practice place for Zen practitioners who cannot easily commute to a Zen Center due to health concerns, living in remote areas, or work, childcare and family needs, and seeks to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Zen Buddhist Sangha, all fully online." But, really, we are a Sangha just about like any Sangha, and the place feels like a small, intimate group of people who sit together and support each other in practice. That is the way it should be. We are now in our 8th year, and require no donation or fee. Further, the emphasis of our Practice is a "monastery" without walls, in which the Buddha’s Truths may be practiced any place and the family kitchen, children’s nursery, office or factory where we work diligently and hard, the hospital bed, volunteer activity or town hall are all our “monastery” and place of training. In December, we will even be holding our 7th 2-day, fully online Winter Retreat, in which people from around the world will be sitting together by video connection right from their homes, maintaining a retreat practice amid the world. The Dharma should be available any place, right where we sit! Gassho, Jundo Cohen, Treeleaf Sangha
                            I hope we are a place where all may enter and Sit freely, without consideration of economic or social restrictions of any kind! Letting people know about availability, but without any pressure or propaganda, is one step.

                            Gassho, Jundo
                            Last edited by Jundo; 09-03-2014, 04:07 AM.
                            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                            Comment

                            • Yugen

                              #15
                              Accessibility is important - Zen in the northeast US is a very white and affluent luxury for many (I generalise greatly I know) - but there is a point. The teachings have to be accessible too - when you are working with a detoxing young male who is violent he doesn't have the time for koans or "mu" - you have to make something available to him that creates enough space that something different can be introduced into the dynamic. Bearing, non-threatening posture, presence, patience, love - and yes, firmness and a bit of an edge when necessary - these things burn through the clouds of delusion like the bright sun - but one must be determined and not have an outcome in mind - just complete and total commitment to the present and being with that person. Just as we are responsible for one another in our practice, when working with a young person in crisis (even if they are violent) we have great responsibility for the outcome - we are responsible for their safety as well as our own. In addition to children's behavioral health work, I am in the process of training as an inmate mentor in the state prison - practice has to be pretty immediate and direct to be of any use. And I receive more than I give from everyone I work with. This work all grew, by the way, from an Engaged Projects / Global Day of Service volunteer opportunity of three hours a week (there's my pitch Shingen!). It's my life, my practice now.

                              I know a fellow who teaches Bagua in abandoned lots in Brooklyn - wearing a hoodie - and does not charge tuition. An open air dojo. They move from lot to lot every few days because they get chased off. I would like my zen practice and teaching to be like that one day.

                              Our teachings have be made available in a way that can be readily accessed by people who need them most - by communicating in a culturally and situationally relevant context and appearing in neighborhoods where you would not expect to find a zendo or teacher......

                              Just my opinion, my thoughts only.

                              Deep bows
                              Yugen
                              Last edited by Guest; 09-03-2014, 01:51 AM.

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