In May of 2015, 125 Buddhist American leaders of every color and tradition convened at the White House for the First White House Buddhist Leadership Conference. At this convening, Buddhist leaders presented President Obama with a Buddhist Statement on Racial Justice. Subsequently, in light of the Charleston tragedy, BRJ came into existence to host and collect endorsements to the Open Letter on Charleston. At the same time, BRJ featured a Call to White Buddhists for Racial Justice that was crafted and released to inspire and activate White Buddhists to take responsibility for fostering an inclusive culture within their practice communities, and to respond on the basis of Buddhist principles to the racialized hatred being propagated in our nation.
In June, 2016, a complementary “Buddhist Practitioners of Color Call to Solidarity for Racial Justice” was released. This Call seeks to manifest what remains missing in many of our sanghas through information-sharing, collaborations, and creating spaces that allow people of color to lay their burdens down without fear, judgment, shame, or denial. Both the “Call to White Buddhists” and the “Call to Buddhists of Color” consist of inclusive language and aspirations that can be applied across faith traditions; we believe this work is a significant contribution to faith-based organizing for racial equity and justice at large.
We hope that Buddhists for Racial Justice will inspire you and seed actions in your life, practice, and community to heal the trauma of racial injustice and transform our Buddhists centers of practice to be truly inclusive and welcoming for all.
An Open Letter
to Buddhist Teachers, Monastics, Priests, Leaders, Ministers, Practitioners, and Clergy
As Buddhist teachers and leaders we are deeply shaken and saddened by the intentional and premeditated murder of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. We send our heart-filled condolences to the families, loved ones, church, and communities, who have experienced this grievous loss.
While this terrorist act was apparently perpetrated by a single individual consumed by racial hatred and a desire to ignite a race war, the soil in which this massacre took root is the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the resulting racial inequalities and injustices that persist in our individual and collective consciousness and institutions. The daily experience of violence against people of color has become more recently visible through highlighted media coverage of the ongoing brutal treatment and killings of unarmed African-Americans by law enforcement agents across the country.
As Buddhists we realize the interdependence of all of our experiences—and that violence towards one community is violence perpetrated upon us all. As spiritual leaders, we must be committed to healing the wounds of racism that are such a primary and toxic part of the landscape of our country. This calls on those of dominant white communities to inquire deeply into and transform patterns of exclusion to power, inequity in resources, unseen bias, and unexamined disparities in privilege. There is an urgency to affirm that Black Lives Matter and work with religious and secular communities to respond to racial injustice.
In this time of grieving and cultural trauma continuing from the mass killings in Charleston and the systemic violence by law enforcement groups against African Americans, other people of color and indigenous peoples, we call on teachers and leaders of Buddhist communities to respond definitively by connecting spiritual intentions of non-harm with meaningful and tangible action, including: turn towards the collective suffering of race/hate violence and white dominance that our society is experiencing, rather than ignore it.
We advocate our Buddhist spiritual leadership (in all its diverse lineages and traditions) to address the current events in our teachings, dharma talks, our meditations, our community meetings, our dharma classes, our practice sessions, and to ask our individual Buddhist sanghas to join in the greater spiritual communities of faith in solidarity with the families of Emanuel AME Church and the broader African American community. We also encourage your active call for changes in gun laws to help prevent further loss of life, and destruction of our families and communities.
We believe it is especially important that as Buddhist teachers and leaders, we encourage the white members of our community to continue to awaken to the history and dynamics of white privilege and the impact of unconscious collective racial bias. In a parallel way, it is essential that people of color continue to investigate their own unconscious patterning that perpetuates the suffering of racism. As support for these processes, and more broadly for activism dedicated to racial justice, we are offering two versions of a “Call to Engage.” One, available here, is for white members of our community, and the second, for members of color, is forthcoming (you can sign up here to be notified of its arrival).
Together may we help serve the creation of Beloved Community—a society that is just, equitable, grounded in respect and love.
With prayers for peace, healing and awakening,[Signed by more than 1,500 Buddhists since 2015]
Editors note, July 18, 2015: The text above has been altered from the original version as follows: "the serial killing of African American men by our law enforcement groups" has been changed to "the systemic violence by law enforcement groups against African Americans, other people of color and indigenous peoples."
Founding Leaders for Buddhists for Racial Justice
Tara Brach, PhD, is the founder of Insight Meditation Community of Washington, and author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge. In addition to her public teaching, Tara is involved in diversity and inclusivity work in the IMCW community, and in bringing meditation into DC area schools, prisons and to under-served populations.
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei is the founder of Center for Transformative Change and co-author of the newly released Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. Recipient of the first "Creating Enlightened Society" Award from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Rev. angel has been bridging the worlds of spirit and justice since her critically acclaimed first book, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace.
Hugh Byrne, PhD, is a guiding teacher with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. He seeks to bring Buddhist teachings and practices into work for human rights and social justice and is the author of The Here-and-Now Habit: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Unhealthy Habits Once and For All.
Eleanor Hancock, MFA is the Director and Co-founder of White Awake. She has trained with Joanna Macy in facilitation of the Work that Reconnects, and currently serves on the national Faith team with Showing up for Racial Justice, as well as the local steering committee of the DC chapter.
Anurag Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Be More America, a Brooklyn-based company that uses mindfulness strategies to reduce unconscious bias among professionals. He blends his training in the law, research, yoga, and meditation to work in communities nationwide to innovate solutions to racism and hatred in our society.