Starting in October, and occurring once per month into the Spring of 2023, GPZC members of the Racial Justice Circle (RJC) will be doing a series of one-hour online presentations, open to everyone, on Zen Teachers of Color. We are excited about this, and we strongly encourage everyone in the sangha to register for these opportunities. We think you will find them “enlightening.”
Why are we doing this?
In America, the membership of most sanghas is predominantly white, and this is true of our own sangha as well. RJC members have noted this trend, and acknowledged that we would like greater diversity within our sangha, but we know that we cannot just wish this into being.
There are multiple reasons why people of color are underrepresented in Zen communities. A major difficulty is drawing people of color into spaces where they don’t already find themselves represented by the existing membership.
Larry Yang, who teaches at Buddhist retreats nationally and has a special interest in creating access to the Dharma for diverse multicultural communities, says that “It’s not just about making different cultures feel welcome in our environments, but how to actually reach into the culture itself so people recognize a piece of their lives when they walk through the door. When they recognize a piece of their lives, they can relax and begin to explore whether the place can be a spiritual home for them.” According to Yang, Buddhist communities must start with the cultivation of multicultural awareness. Such awareness does not develop easily. “(Cultivating multicultural awareness) always takes a lot more time than we would like because, as we know, awareness practice is incremental. It blossoms slowly.”
We are starting simply, with no expectations other than to increase awareness that we hope will lead to conversations about diversity and inclusion more widely within our GPZC community. Members of the Racial Justice Circle believe that a good place to begin is to share the stories, the paths, and the contributions of Zen teachers of color. In so doing, we will learn how they came to Zen practice, and what it means to them to be a person of color operating within a largely white space. Some of these teachers will have strong positions on racial justice generally, and on diversity in Zen specifically, while others will not. More broadly, by opening to the stories of these teachers and learning about their teachings, we will all become more aware of the issues of racial and cultural diversity in Zen communities, including our own.
All presentations will be on Monday evenings at 7:30 PM. The first presentation will be Monday, October 24, with a discussion about Jules Shuzen Harris, the first African-American man to receive dharma transmission in the Soto Zen tradition in America. There will be no charge for participation, but we ask that you register so we know who will be attending.