"Open-hearted, Cooperative Relationships: Anti-racism"

Posted by Xiaojuan Shu on Jul 6, 2020
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[The following is from Professor Doug Powers at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University, in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. This is excerpted from a transcribed spoken interview, lightly edited.]

America has a long history of extreme racism. It has racism built into it from the very beginning; it is a fundamental aspect of this country. [...]

Then looking at the values of Buddhism – generosity, loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, joy – all these different unselfish qualities are opposed to racism because all racism is fundamentally based on selfishness. [...]

Advice for Students

The first thing our students need to do is to look into themselves and see how much they’ve taken racist prejudices into themselves from their cultural surroundings. [...]

A huge element of mindfulness, of being aware of yourself, is to see the racist elements in yourself. [...] you have to look and see: where did those racist elements arise? To get rid of them in yourself is the first step of being able to have true feelings towards other people, feelings of loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, and so forth. If you have an open-hearted, cooperative, generous nature towards people, then you can get past your racism and engage people on a human level.

There is probably a fair amount of racism in everybody; and everybody, even when they don't consider themselves to be racist at all, still has prejudicial elements in their attitudes that come from our culture. You have stereotypical kinds of approaches to people that are being reinforced by society. Understanding that is a very important part of opening up the heart.

Evaluating Our Own Biases

[...] This is not just something you do because it's the thing that's happening right now, or because it emotionally feels satisfying to be involved in a cause. Rather, you should work on the actual relationships, person by person, in the interactions that you have with people, where you're able to generate that positivity towards people and understand our differences. It’s important that actual human beings relating to each other have that sense of human-to-human generosity in spirit, loving-kindness, and really appreciate the other person. Everyone can feel that when it’s happening.

I suggest that you listen carefully to people's experiences, have compassion and empathy with their experience, as they’re experiencing it themselves. Empathy with another's experience means not projecting what they should or should not do based on your experience. You need to cultivate empathy based on the other person's experience, which requires deep listening, caring, and paying attention with loving-kindness and generosity.

It’s not about an ideology or a cause; it's about human beings and their existence. Black rights are not liberal. It's not political. It's not left-wing. It's treating human beings as human beings. You don’t kill somebody. Not killing somebody is not an ideology. There was a total lack of humaneness in Minneapolis, and we need to cultivate humaneness.

The Way to Long-term, Sustainable Change

I think one good thing right now is that a huge percentage of younger people are against racism. If they can move towards seriously working on racism and its societal elements, it might make a real difference.

You have to be patient, though. You’re not going to make a fundamental difference in a year. It’s going to take constant action, taking one thing at a time. The justice system and policing are a really good place to start, but they are only the beginning. If people put out a certain effort over time, it could make a real difference.

Young people are getting behind this movement. It has a lot of capacity to get people involved and change their way of relating to other people. Come from a place of care, sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Feel the desire for the other persons’ empowerment and the right to the other persons’ empowerment.

Excerpted from Open-hearted, Cooperative Relationships: Anti-racism and the Buddhadharma by Doug Powers on the DRBU website.

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