Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah represent a new voice in American Buddhism. Offering their own histories and experiences as illustrations of the types of challenges facing dharma practitioners and teachers who are different from those of the past five decades, they ask how teachings that transcend color, class, and caste are hindered by discrimination and the dynamics of power, shame, and ignorance. Their illuminating argument goes beyond a demand for the equality and inclusion of diverse populations to advancing a new dharma that deconstructs rather than amplifies systems of suffering and prepares us to weigh the shortcomings not only of our own minds but also of our communities. They forge a path toward reconciliation and self-liberation that rests on radical honesty, a common ground where we can drop our need for perfection and propriety and speak as souls. In a society where profit rules, people's value is determined by the color of their skin, and many voices—including queer voices—are silenced, Radical Dharma recasts the concepts of engaged spirituality, social transformation, inclusiveness, and healing.
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About the Author
Lama Rod Owens is a graduate of Berry College, where he majored in English and speech communication. It was there that he began his work as a student activist and organizer. In 2011, he was authorized as a lama in the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. He then moved to DC and ran his own center for over two years. Later, he returned to Boston to begin his divinity degree in Buddhist studies at Harvard Divinity School.
Jasmine Syedullah holds a PhD in politics with a designated emphasis in feminist studies and history of consciousness from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a BA from Brown University in religious studies with a focus in Buddhist philosophy. Syedullah is currently a University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow and lectures on her work at colleges and universities throughout the country.
Read an Excerpt
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the discovery and assertion of Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Buddha—that every human being, irrespective of caste, race, creed, or birth has within them the potential for waking up to the ultimate nature of reality—is one of the most radically life-altering propositions for human life on and in relationship to the planet. One that we need right now.
Yet, at this time when the Dharma is needed more acutely than ever—a time when our very existence is threatened as a result of our socially embedded greed, hatred, and ignorance— its expansive potential to liberate us from suffering is in danger of being rendered impotent because it is held in subjugation to the very systems that it must thoroughly examine.
Thrust into the Western socioeconomic framework that puts profit above all and coupled with a desire to perpetuate institutional existence at the expense of illuminating reality and revealing deeper truths, the Dharma has become beholden to commodification as inescapable and de rigueur. Authenticity and integrity are thus compromised.
Much of what is being taught is the acceptance of a “kinder, gentler suffering” that does not question the unwholesome roots of systemic suffering and the structures that hold it in place. What is required is a new Dharma, a radical Dharma that deconstructs rather than amplifies the systems of suffering, that starves rather than fertilizes the soil of the conditions that the deep roots of societal suffering grow in. A new Dharma is one that insists we investigate not only the unsatisfactoriness of our own minds but also prepares us for the discomfort of confronting the obscurations of the society we are individual expressions of. It recognizes that the delusions of systemic oppression are not solely the domain of the individual. By design, they are seated within and reinforced by society.
We must wake up and cut through not only individual but also social ego. This is not only our potential, but we now each have it as our collective responsibility. As dharma communities—this includes people belonging to white-led, Western communities of convert Buddhists, but also next-generation yogis, Advaitins, Sikhs, and adopters of other Eastern traditions—we must also do so strategically, and with great haste.
There is No Neutral
We are at a critical moment in the history of the nation, as well as within the Buddhist teaching and tradition in America. This is the “back of the bus” moment of our time. Fifty years after civil rights laws were laid down, it is clear that they were enshrined within a structure that continues to profit from anti-Black racism. The necessary bias that the system requires in order to be perpetuated has permeated our sanghas—our spiritual communities—and in this very moment, we are called to put aside business as usual. If you have ever wondered how you would have shown up in the face of the challenge put before white America when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, upending the accepted social order, now is the time you will find out. For Western-convert Buddhist America, this is the time when we will actually embody our practice and teachings, or not.
Our inability as a nation to honor the theft of these lands and the building of wealth, power, and privilege on the countless backs and graves of Black people is our most significant obstacle to being at peace with ourselves, thus with the world. The Buddhist community is a mirror image of this deep internal conflict that arises out of a persistent resistance to playing its appropriate societal role even as we have available to us rigorous teachings to the contrary. This is a clarifying moment about who we are as individuals but also who we have been thus far as a collective of people laying claim to the teachings of the Buddha, waving the flag of wisdom and compassion all the while.
As demographics shift, ushering in increasingly racially diverse pools of seekers, this reluctance promises to be our undoing. We simply cannot engage with either the ills or promises of society if we continue to turn a blind eye to the egregious and willful ignorance that enables us to still not “get it” in so many ways. It is by no means our making, but given the culture we are emerging from and immersed in, we are responsible.
White folks’ particular reluctance to acknowledge impact as a collective while continuing to benefit from the construct of the collective leaves a wound intact without a dressing. The air needed to breathe through forgiveness is smothered. Healing is suspended for all. Truth is necessary for reconciliation.
Will we express the promise of and commitment to liberation for all beings, or will we instead continue a hyper-individualized salvation model—the myth of meritocracy—that is the foundation of this country’s untruth?
The work being done in Dharma communities is the same work being done by the America that wants to live up to its promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Collectively, we must kick the habit of racism, cultural dominance, and the upholding of oppressive systems. More poignantly, our challenge, our responsibility, our deep resounding call is to be at the forefront of this overdue evolutionary thrust forward. Why? Because we choose to position ourselves as the standard-bearers of an ethical high ground. And we have the tools and teachings to do so.
There is no neutral.
Table of Contents
Preface A Lineage of Insurgence xi
Introduction Enter Here xix
Radical Challenge xix
Kaleidoscope: How to Use This Book xxxi
Section I Homeleaving-What We Left Behind 1
Remembering in Seven Movements 3
The Abolition of Whiteness 15
A Different Drum 25
Section II Stakeholders-What We Bring Forward 37
Bringing Our Whole Selves: A Theory of Queer Dharma 39
Remembering Love: An Informal Contemplation on Healing 57
Radicalizing Dharma Dreams 75
It's Not About Love After All 89
Section III The Conversations 105
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: History of This Project 107
Radical Dharma: Race 121
Radical Dharma: Love 137
Radical Dharma: Liberation 155
Section IV Closing Words-Why Your Liberation Is Bound Up with Mine 179
What the World Needs Now 181
Radical Presence 191
A New Dharma: Prophetic Wisdom and the Rise of Transcendent Movements 191
About the Authors 209