racism, Right Action, Social justice, Uncategorized

Can you hear these voices?

Can you listen as if it was your sister speaking? Your grandson? Your niece? Your father? Your aunt?

Kimberley Jones, US Black Lives Matter Activist 

In the Buddha’s teaching, all beings have been our mothers and fathers at some point in the past …

Trevor Noah, South African comedian 

Whether or not we “believe” in rebirth, we might approach that teaching as an invitation to connect to our shared humanity, and try to listen to these voices as if they were our own family and friends speaking directly to us …

Meyne Wyatts, Australian actor 

How will we respond?

Aamer Rahman, Australian comedian of Bangladeshi descent


Recent podcasts

2020-06-04 Resmaa Menakem ‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’

On Being with Krista Tippett


2020-06-03 An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race

Dan Harris in conversation with Lama Rod Owens


2020-06-01 “You Can’t Meditate This Away” (Race, Rage, and the Responsibilities of Meditators)

Dan Harris in conversation with Sebene Selassie


More resources on undoing racism on this page from my website.

Please feel free to let me know about other voices that speak to you.

community, ethics, Right Action, Social justice, Uncategorized

The Police Killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis

Wherever you are in the world, you may have seen the recent video from 26 May of police officers standing over an unarmed black man lying on the ground. One of those police officers kneels on the neck of the black man, George Floyd, for at least nine minutes, preventing him from breathing. He dies on the way to hospital.

How to respond? At the least, we can get more informed about these increasing incidents of racial injustice and police brutality. It’s painful, but the escalation of this violence relies on us continuing to turn away, feeling powerless, not wanting to get involved.

Can you find one action to take, no matter how small, to try to mitigate this suffering? Even if it’s just to donate to groups such as the ACLU that are working for social justice. See links below:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/26/george-floyd-killing-minneapolis-protest-police


Reverend Al Sharpton

Get your knee off our necks

Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Reverend Al Sharpton said: ‘George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks.’ In an emotive speech punctuated by several standing ovations, Sharpton said the sight of diverse crowds of protesters across the world gave him hope that real change would come to the criminal justice system.


Rev William Barber

America must listen to its wounds. They will tell us where to look for hope

Only if the screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation can we hope for a better society on the other side of this


Trevor Noah


Insight Meditation Society guiding teachers’ response

The murder of George Floyd strikes the hearts and minds of so many with feelings of outrage, sadness, and grief, all the more that it was undeniably so overt, as if such actions were somehow acceptable. It is only because of the courage of the young woman who recorded it all, that the truth of the matter is unavoidably and forever there in front of our eyes, removing any illusion that the killing was somehow defensible or due to any action on the part of Mr. Floyd. …

All actions have their genesis in our hearts and minds. The light of awareness is in this moment shining brightly upon the tragic manifestations of hatred, ignorance and delusion that led to the death of George Floyd. Delusion blames others, creates enemies, and fosters disconnection, sustaining the illusion of separateness upon which war, racism, and injustice rest. True lasting change will only come when we awaken that sense of personal and shared responsibility and compassion for all.

For white people in our sanghas, there is a responsibility to educate ourselves about the historic and current expressions of racism and oppression so that we can be a positive force for the good.  We are called upon to see and come close to the magnitude of the suffering before us, and not turn away once again as if these devastating events are singular occurrences. It is not enough to practice loving-kindness and compassion in the solitude of our meditation; we can all strive to have them manifest in our actions, actively seeking ways to address the immediacy of the suffering as well as its many underlying causes.

The same qualities that the Buddha taught as the basis for Awakening can be applied to our service in the world. It is time to bring consistently and persistently mindful awareness, keen discernment, energetic response, intense interest, a foundation of calm and steadiness, and a spaciousness that can hold it all.  In telling the truth and helping others in whatever way we can, we are cultivating all these qualities in ourselves; and by cultivating them in ourselves, we develop the inner resources and resilience to effectively be of help to others.

https://www.dharma.org/the-murder-of-george-floyd-imss-guiding-teachers-respond/

IMS’s diversity resources page here


Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College’s response

Today, I write to you as a Black man and as President of Emerson College. There is no other way to write to you, given recent events. …
Black Americans are invisible to most of white America. We live in the shadows – even those of us, who like me, sit at the table of bounty. Ironically, at our colleges and universities we are hyper-visible in classrooms, work places, social settings, and as we go about our daily lives. …
George Floyd was invisible. And it was his invisibility, a brutal white power structure and Chauvin’s dehumanization of him that killed him. …
Black folks are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
So, I have no words of comfort today because they would be inauthentic. They would absolve so many from coming to terms with their own silent complicity in the world in which we live.
As I wrote to someone today, “This is not a black problem, but a structural issue built on white supremacy and centuries of racism. It’s your problem. And until you understand that, we are doomed to relive this week’s tragic events over and over again. What changes will you make in your own life? Begin with answering that question and maybe, just maybe we will get somewhere.”
The most important question is: What are you going to do?

https://today.emerson.edu/2020/06/01/letter-to-the-emerson-community-may-31-2020/


Thousands in New Zealand protest against George Floyd killing

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd in the US.

At least four solidarity gatherings were held in the country on Monday afternoon, with massive crowds taking to their knees in the Auckland demonstration.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/01/thousands-in-new-zealand-protest-against-george-floyd-killing?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other


Info from a friend in Minneapolis:

First, here are some facts not reported in some of the national narrative right now (but captured by local MN media sources):

(1) Thousands have marched in MN and police clad in riot gear used rubber bullets and chemical irritants to disperse crowds

(2) The initial police report listed “medical incident while in custody” … this is now changing as “new information” is received.

(3) According to a local MN police training expert “a neck restraint” is currently listed as “a non-deadly force option’ in the Minneapolis Police Department Policy and Procedural Manual.

(4) George Floyd worked as a bouncer at a restaurant 10 minutes from my home and his employers, landlord, and co-workers talk about a man completely different from the official narrative of “resisting arrest”

Second, if you haven’t been following the process of police militarization and the euphemisms of “police reforms” and “police re-training” then please take five minutes to look at the below sources:

– Beyond Repair by Ricardo Levins Morales

– Chart of concrete steps to “power down policing” from criticalresistance.org 

Providing additional info and emerging action at the local level:

– Here in MN, we are almost at the 4 year anniversary of the killing of Philando Castile.

https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/two-years-after-police-killing-philando-castile-justice-continues-be-denied

– While Mayor Frey quickly responded publicly to this event, he has consistently advocated for increasing police budgets while opposing past city council measures which would split executive control of the police force between the council and the mayor.

– Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will make the election to bring charges against Derek Chauvin and the other officers. Local MN news sources have reported on Chauvin’s past history of use of force and that he has complaints filed against him during his time on the force.

– Minneapolis city council will be reviewing the police union contract this year, and local communities are demanding radical changes in mechanisms for accountability.

-Mobilizing efforts underway contacting Frey, Hennepin County Attorney and city council and more.

– Learn and donate. Below are two local organizations working now to power down policing and empower our neighbors and community members:

MPD150

MN ACLU


This is not just a USA issue

432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991
Aboriginal people whose family members have died in custody express solidarity with people on the streets of US cities protesting against the death of George Floyd

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/01/deaths-in-our-backyard-432-indigenous-australians-have-died-in-custody-since-2008

climate change, ethics, Right Action, Uncategorized

Readers suggestions for taking action in relation to climate change

Many thanks to all the people who sent in suggestions in response to my last newsletter.
Below are a few highlights, and I plan to keep updating this from time to time.

pink bike path 2

Bike path, Auckland, New Zealand


Speaking of New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is on the ‘right side of history’ as MPs pass zero-carbon bill

2019-11-07 This landmark climate legislation has passed in New Zealand parliament, with historic cross-party support, committing the nation to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and meet its commitments under the Paris climate accords.


MS NSW Australia

Our XR harbour project went very well – astonishing police presence for a picnic – 2 vans of riot squad police, a helicopter and a patrol boat just for little old us on some picnic blankets with babystrollers, the odd mermaid, a bit of hand-holding & banner waving at the harbour wall.


WN NSW Australia

Food: I shopped for items not packaged in plastic, were organic, and needed rather than wanted. Buying without plastic reduces your options substantially. The stuff is everywhere. I found a food coop where I take my own containers and volunteer to get a discount. I’ve given up dairy milk and make oat milk.

Travel: My neighbour gave me her electric bike. I know it’s run on electricity which is not perfect but it makes getting everywhere really easy. One neighbour swapped the car for ebikes which changed her family’s life. A keen cyclist friend said that since ebikes came on the scene there are many more bikes on the road – yay!.

Clothes: I buy black, white and grey clothes. Everything is effortlessly colour-coordinated. I buy men’s undies because they’re thicker and better made (the joys of the pink premium). An article said washing on the delicates cycle is the worst for plastic microfibres into the ocean so definitely don’t do that!

Socialising: I suggest to friends to meet at home or the park for pot-luck instead of cafes and restaurants. It’s more relaxing, too.

  • Put the timer on when having a shower – 4 mins is actually quite a long shower.
  • An online horticulture course to learn to grow my own fruit & veg.
  • If I get a stain on a piece of clothing I find a natural way to turn it into a pattern (e.g. soak it in mulberries).

But I think the most useful way of working with the climate crisis is to imagine how many people are involved with making my morning cuppa – from how did the water get to my kettle, to how did I get a kettle, to how did I get the tea, mug, milk, electricity, building, and how do I pay for all these things? and then what happens when the kettle doesn’t work – do I throw it away, get a saucepan instead, what do I do with the tea leaves, the tea leaf packet, the milk container – and what are the labour conditions for all the people involved? That’s what keeps me motivated… 🙂


GC QLD Australia

New book by Ajahn Sucitto

Recently I have been listening to Ajahn Sucitto and reading his blog and other articles as well as some of his online books. This is a recently published one about the environment that others may find interesting.

Some recent blog posts on the topic too: http://sucitto.blogspot.com


SR New Zealand

Wanted to also let you know about the new most ethical KiwiSaver that has been set up in NZ if you haven’t heard about it. Caresaver. There’s a great website.  I’m switching.


AK Massachusetts USA

I am part of a group of practitioners working to take action and raise awareness about the climate crisis. Several of us practice at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC), although we do not have any official affiliation with CIMC. Our plan is to do regular “Sitting for Survival” events in front of the Cambridge City Hall beginning next Thursday November 7. Below is a description of our action:

“Join us in holding meditative space to raise awareness of our planetary emergency. We will sit or stand in silence, bearing witness to the destruction of the Earth we love and our holding hope for a better future. Come for 5 minutes or 50 minutes, as long as you can. Show up for our children, families, ancestors, and for all living beings.”

My good friend Brother Fulfillment (Phap Man), a monk in the Plum Village tradition, has been very active with Extinction Rebellion in NYC. He has written a few articles, which I found moving and inspiring:

My Time in Jail with Extinction Rebellion: One of the Most Meaningful Experiences of My Life (Oct 23)

 

community, compassion - karuna, daily life, ethics, Noble Eightfold Path, racism, Right Action, Uncategorized

September 2017 full moon – Taking A Stand

Stand Against Suffering: A Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

“‘As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.’

The Buddha, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta

Buddhism does not align itself with any party or ideology. But when great suffering is at stake, Buddhists must take a stand against it, with loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage.”

Stand Against Suffering: A Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

watertower yard
Water tower with Native American protest graffiti, Alcatraz

What stand can I take?

The purpose of the dharma, the Buddha’s teachings, is to free ourselves from ignorance. With the current escalation in overt racism and hate crimes around the world – on top of systemic social injustice – as a white person, the stand I’d like to take is in terms of better understanding my own white privilege.

Just getting beyond the initial reaction to the term “white privilege” can be quite a journey, so I’ve set up a new webpage with links to some resources that I plan to continue exploring myself over the next few months and years.  I also hope they’ll be helpful for any dharma practitioners who are interested in seeing through our various biases and social constructs, in the service of deeper wisdom and compassion.

https://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com/wise-action-undoing-racism/

I plan to add more links to inspiring and challenging articles, and in the meantime, below are just a few items that touched me recently.

 

jail screen 3
Cell block, Alcatraz

Where Will You Stand?

Rev. angel Kyodo williams 18 August 2017

“Much of what is being taught as Buddhism in America 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. The expansive potential of the dharma 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. 

No one group, community, or institution has the answer, but each of us can call forth the willingness to offer our best, claim responsibility for our worst, and fold it all into the continuous moment-to-moment practice of simply being present to what is. If your practice is not attenuating greed, hatred, and ignorance—the social expressions of which are the delusions of supremacy, racism, and oppression—then you need to change your practice.”

Where Will You Stand?

trunk red sap close
Eucalyptus trees after bushfire, New South Wales, Australia

Clinton Pryor walks for indigenous justice in Australia

“I started this journey walking from Perth to find the truth and find a new way for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia. For the past 50 years our people have been fighting for rights, but it’s like it has just gone down the drain too many times. So, I decided to go for a big massive walk across the country to find the truth of what’s going on. What I’ve seen and experienced this way is that our people are living in developing world conditions.

In some communities there’s no fresh water. Other communities are polluted from mining, and on top of that these companies are hiring people from out in cities and towns to work in these communities, when our local people want jobs as well. What the people want in these communities is to be self-governed. They want to take care of our people themselves.”

https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/08/6000km-only-20-minutes-with-the-pm-prime-minister-clinton-pryor-relives-epic-walk-across-australia-indigenous?


Te Puea marae
Te Puea marae – image from facebook

Te Puea Marae gears up to help homeless for second winter in New Zealand

The south Auckland marae (Māori meeting house) that opened its doors to the homeless last year is about to do so again.  Te Puea Marae in Mangere helped 181 people last year, using 1200 volunteers over three months. Starting on 18 July, it will again take people in – for six months.

Spokesperson Hurimoana Dennis told Morning Report this time they’ve been working hard with government agencies to provide the service.

“We believe we can still … support homeless families. We did it last year – we learnt some things, and we put people into homes.  It’s an opportunity … to work with agencies, to show agencies what best practice engagement looks like for our Māori families, our communities and those who are homeless.”
http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/334794/te-puea-marae-to-help-homeless-for-second-winter

Check out their facebook page for ways to help:

https://www.facebook.com/TePueaMaraeManaakiTangata/

 

daily life, insight, Noble Eightfold Path, Right Action, Right Concentration, Right Effort, Right Intention, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right View, Uncategorized

December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action

tamarama-lifeguard-surfers

Surf life-saving crew, Tamarama Beach, New South Wales

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s prescription for completely curing ourselves of unhappiness.  And like any good medicine, it doesn’t only work in one way.  It’s a very holistic treatment that works on several different aspects of our lives at once – in fact, every aspect of our lives is included here, if we’re practising fully.

The way the path is laid out invites us to pay attention to three particular areas of development, traditionally known as sīla, samādhi and pañña, or ethics, meditation and wisdom.  These three aspects support each other like the three legs of a tripod, and all of three of them need to be equally well developed, if our practice is to keep deepening. Continue reading “December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action”

6 concentration, compassion - karuna, dependent arising, emptiness, freedom, Right Concentration

Three new and interesting books for experienced meditators

I’m currently working my way – slowly! – through three new books that may be of interest to experienced meditators: 

Seeing That Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising
Rob Burbea 10 October 2014 Hermes Amara

Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas
Leigh Brasington 13 October 2015 Shambala

Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation
Bhikkhu Analayo 3 November 2015 Windhorse Continue reading “Three new and interesting books for experienced meditators”

3 energy, daily life, Five Hindrances, Four Foundations of Mindfulness, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, motivation, Right Effort, Satipatthana Sutta, sloth and torpor

September 2015 full moon – Maintaining Motivation (or finding antidotes to “sloth and torpor”)

The five hindrances

I’ve been back in New Zealand for the month of September, and with the Auckland Insight group, we’ve been exploring the Five Hindrances, five particularly unhelpful states of mind that get in the way of clear seeing, of insight.  They appear in the Satipatthana Sutta under the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, as qualities of mental energy that we need to learn how to relate to wisely, and eventually, to overcome completely.

These are the five:
sensual desire
aversion
sloth and torpor
restlessness and remorse
sceptical doubt 1 Continue reading “September 2015 full moon – Maintaining Motivation (or finding antidotes to “sloth and torpor”)”

community, daily life, lay sangha, Noble Eightfold Path, sangha, spiritual friendship

April 2015 full moon – “awakening community” *

Spiritual friendship one-day workshop 29 March 2015 Auckland, New Zealand

Last weekend I ran a one-day workshop in Auckland, New Zealand, on the theme of “spiritual friendship,” and just a few days ago I facilitated a small group discussion in Australia at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre, on the theme of “awakening community.”

These two topics feel very alive for me at the moment, partly because of spending so much time visiting different insight meditation groups in different parts of the world.  I’ve noticed that when a group is well-established and healthy, the level of dharma practice in those communities feels much stronger, yet in many of the places I visit, access to teachers and good dharma friends is not always easy to find.

This may be because historically, within the Western insight meditation “tradition,” there’s been a strong emphasis on offering silent individual meditation retreats as the main form of dharma practice, so it’s still quite rare to find opportunities for people to engage with each other outside of formal retreat.  Yet throughout the suttas, there’s a strong emphasis on spiritual friendship as being foundational to the development of the whole path to freedom.  Here’s just one example:
“If wanderers who are members of other sects should ask you, ‘What, friend, are the prerequisites for the development of the wings to self-awakening?’ you should answer, ‘There is the case where a monk [practitioner] has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues. This is the first prerequisite for the development of the wings to self-awakening.'” AN9.1

Then there’s the often-quoted exchange between the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda, and the Buddha, where Ananda has a sudden realisation of the importance of spiritual friendship.  He goes to the Buddha and tells him how he’s just recognised that spiritual friendship is half of the spiritual life, but the Buddha disagrees with him quite emphatically:
“Don’t say that, Ananada. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.” SN 45.2
The Buddha then states that when someone has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, they can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.  This path is the core of the Buddha’s teachings, and consists of eight factors: Right View, Right Intention or Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.  Of those eight factors, only the last one, right concentration, needs to be specifically cultivated in meditation practice.  All the others can be developed in daily life, in relational and social contexts.

I wonder then, if by putting so much emphasis on solitary, silent retreat practice, we may have developed an unbalanced approach to the Buddha’s teachings – one that reduces his holistic path to a set of meditation techniques, done mostly for our own individual improvement.

A few years ago, the US dharma teacher David Brazier wrote an article in Tricycle magazine that pointed out some common cultural biases in the way Westerners have tended to approach dharma practice.  I found his critique quite revealing – and a little bit painful – but it’s also inspired me to want to explore more relational and socially-engaged forms of practice alongside traditional silent meditation.  He says:

For many Western Buddhists, a technical approach that says in effect, “You don’t need to believe anything, just do the practice” is very appealing. We are, after all, a culture very much driven by technology. Yet this technical emphasis directed toward Buddhism is something new. …
The idea that one can “just do the practice” is itself based on faith, yet it is easy to miss this sleight of hand. This view of practice does not avoid faith; it simply plays into a faith we already have — that is, faith in a technological approach to life. It assumes that meditation, like penicillin or Windows 7.0, works the same in any context. That is a lot to assume.
Going hand in hand with the idea of context-free meditation is the view, not uncommon in Western convert Buddhist circles, that Buddhism and meditation are virtually synonymous. But the vast majority of Asian Buddhists, now as throughout history, do not meditate, or only do so on rare occasions, and when they do, do so as part of a collective ritual rather than as a personal improvement method. …
This self-focused, technological model of Buddhist practice is not without its virtues. It has made Buddhism widely approachable in a new cultural setting. It has highlighted the richness of its meditative traditions. But a decontextualized dharma can put the spotlight on the private subject in a manner that is quite in line with the alienated, isolated, choice-making individual that is the primary model of the person in our capitalistic society. Is this really what we want? It also makes Buddhism into a set of commodities that can be purchased, and reduces practitioners to economic units. This is dharma that reinforces, rather than challenges, many tendencies in Western societies that are anything but emancipatory. …
Lack of a coherent and meaningful community life and way of relating to others is, arguably, the cause of much of the suffering that people seek to resolve in Buddhism. If what they get is a do-it-yourself, on-yourself, by-yourself, for-yourself, at-a-price technique, this is not going to do the trick, even if it does provide some secondary gains or palliative satisfactions. … [Ultimately] Buddhism flourishes through an other-centered, rather than a self-centered, orientation toward life.

Living Buddhism http://www.tricycle.com/feature/living-buddhism?page=0,0 November 2011

In many of the communities I’ve been visiting recently, people often express a desire to feel more connected to others, but don’t know how to help that happen.  And without some degree of conscious effort and commitment, the default seems to be just a group of individuals who sit together in silence on a regular basis, perhaps having a cup of tea with each other afterwards, and that’s about it.  Maybe that’s more than enough for many people, but somehow, when the Buddha talks about spiritual friendship being “the first prerequisite for the development of the wings to awakening,” I think he was referring to a bit more than that!

It also feels important to acknowledge that many people have experienced hurt through their involvement with – and/or exclusion by – various kinds of communities, and every one of us has known the pain of a broken friendship.  So what might it take for any group of meditators to move closer to being an insight meditation community – a group founded in spiritual friendship, that supports all of its members to deepen their practice, both on and off the meditation cushion?

I don’t have answers, but I do look forward to continuing to explore these questions with whoever might be interested.

(* with thanks to Yael at BMIMC for suggesting this title)