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

community, freedom, Insight Meditation Society, love, Sangha / Community, spiritual friendship, Triple Gem, Uncategorized

June 2016 full moon – Inspiration and taking refuge in sangha/community

graduation group by Ben MarshallGraduates of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock four-year teacher training programme, 10 June 2016 – photo by Ben Marshall

In my last international newsletter back in April, I wrote about inspiration, an aspect of spiritual practice that surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be talked about very often.  As I discovered back then,

“… the root of the word “inspiration” comes from late Latin, and it’s related to the act of breathing, specifically breathing in, in the sense of giving life to, or animating – just as expiring is related to breathing out, and dying …
Inspiration, then, is literally life-giving.  When I feel most inspired, I feel most alive, in touch with some kind of life-energy that feels much vaster than just my own individual human vitality.”

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been appreciating the power of community to help kindle that sense of inspiration and connection to an energy bigger than just my own.  And I feel to have understood a little more clearly why the Buddha referred to sangha or community as the third of three jewels, three treasures that we can “take refuge” in.  Continue reading “June 2016 full moon – Inspiration and taking refuge in sangha/community”

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)

daily life, Determination - aditthana, joy - mudita, retreat, Wisdom - pañña

Welcoming the New Year

20140102-114225.jpg

Greetings from snowy Massachusetts! I intended to write this post a few days ago, but I’ve been under the weather with a combination of jet lag, a head cold, AND a gastro bug. So I wasn’t exactly the life of the party on New Year’s Eve, but being forced to take time out has given me the chance to reflect on this transition from one year to the next.

Last Sunday I was able to visit the prison that I used to volunteer at when I lived in Massachusetts. It was a real delight to reconnect with that sangha, some of whom have been attending the group regularly for five years now. Because it was almost the New Year, I invited the men to reflect on their aspirations for the year ahead. I can’t share the details of what they said because of confidentiality issues, but I felt privileged to hear so many heart-felt expressions of the desire to change, and to live in alignment with a deeper truth.

Right now I’m at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies with a group of friends who are also experienced meditators, neuroscience researchers, and comparative religion scholars. This is the third time that we’ve gathered over the New Year for a week of peer-led meditation, interspersed with formal presentations on neuroscience research and explorations of different meditative traditions.

On New Year’s Eve we sat in a circle at midnight, and – similar to the prison visit – spoke out loud our aspirations for the coming year. And again, I was inspired to hear the depth and range and beauty of what people aspired to for themselves and others.

I look forward to continuing our dharma adventures together in 2014. May this new year bring you closer to your deepest aspirations.

With bows of gratitude,
Jill