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September 29, 2017

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Report from Green Gulch: The Dharma Study of Racial Karma

by Abbess Furyu Schroeder and the Curriculum Committee of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center

This summer at Green Gulch Farm, residents together took up the theme of the “Dharma study of racial karma,” a deep and sustained exploration of the non-separation of the Bodhisattva Vow, community life, and racial justice.

The purpose of the summer curriculum was to arouse curiosity and engage in study and discussion about how we understand the impacts of our racial conditioning within the context of our Dharma practice and Sangha life. Through talks, trainings, readings, films, practicums, classes, and discussion, we worked to increase our fluency in the language and concepts of diversity and inclusion, our capacity for awareness of the impacts of our racial conditioning, and our willingness to engage in respectful conversations about race and racial conditioning, all in the context of the Bodhisattvas’ great vow to live for the benefit and liberation of all beings.

Honest, authentic, and respectful communication is fundamental to this study, and to support our intentional communication we adopted the communication agreements used by East Bay Meditation Center.

Many incredible guest teachers took the time to work with us on this theme this summer, including angel Kyodo williams, Mushim Ikeda-Nash, Victor Lee Lewis, Larry Yang, Deborah Santana, Alison Park, Ericka Huggins, and Kazu Haga. We are very grateful for their kindness and teachings!

The Green Gulch Farm community’s engagement and commitment to the practice and study of intimacy with racial karma is strong and ongoing, and though this summer series is winding down, the theme remains central to our shared understanding of Zen practice and the Bodhisattva Vow.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Juan
    Oct 2 2017

    I wish that Green Gulch would do more and speak out more in the face of the injustices happening in this country and around the world. A silent walk every six months isn’t enough. Time to get off the cushion and take the practice outside. Zen goes on the principle of the Bodhisattva but I don’t see that. I see that most of the residents are self-involved and worried about themselves. Dharma talks are tepid/weak and go out of the way to avoid talking about very serious issues facing us today. Silence isn’t commendable when it’s done out of fear. If not you then who? And if not now then when? Please find the courage to be a leader, that’s what you represent to many people. You can be engaged in the world and still maintain ethics. The Buddha had to meditate and speak out himself. You must stand up for others that can’t.

    Reply
    • Jiryu Rutschman-Byler
      Oct 3 2017

      Hi Juan,
      Thanks for your perspective. As a Green Gulch resident and teacher I appreciate your comment and will make sure that Abbess Fu sees it as well. I do believe that we are all in this inquiry together, searching for ways of bringing benefit & liberation to all beings, spiritually and materially and in every other way. Indeed, that is what this post comes out of. I feel like Green Gulch and SFZC have come a long way in this, and at the same time I appreciate your reminder that there is much further we can go. I’m not sure that speaking out on specific national or global injustices is exactly the point, though we do so sometimes. There is I think sometimes the right moment for that, but I see many legitimate reasons beyond the ones you suggest – “fear” or “self-absorption” or abdication of the Bodhisattva Vow – that we’d be “silent” on any given injustice. I’m not sure we should or need to be issuing statements or preaching against specific racist policies, brutal acts, environmental negligences, etc. – we’d need a full time staff to even begin to keep up, and that can’t be the point of SFZC. I do think there’s a danger that Dharma talks become just a commentary on the news of the day, a pointless and self-righteous preaching to the choir about “taking a stand” on whatever item is at the top of our feeds that morning. I have with respect to my own talks been criticized at different times both for naming “injustices” gratuitously and divisively and for missing opportunities to speak to a specific injustice or instance in our collective life, and I think a lot about that as I consider Dharma talks and I know that other teachers do as well.
      Whatever public statement is made or not explicitly about any given injustice, I absolutely agree that we need to express our values, and that we need to own & use our leadership and whatever moral authority comes with it to be clear about what we stand for & to motivate fellow Bodhisattvas to engage and enact our shared vow. How we state and, more importantly, live out that in ongoing ways is not at all cut-and-dry, but is definitely worth discussing and indeed is discussed contantly. Along those lines, it occurs to me that we aren’t always widely sharing/publicizing projects and activities and community conversations that we are involved in, so that may be useful – many of us resident and non-resident Sangha members are socially engaged (independently and together) in ways that many people may not know.
      Anyway, thank you for caring & engaging – you speak for many others in the Sangha who feel the same way.
      May all beings be free & be well.
      Jiryu

      Reply
  2. Oct 6 2017

    As this is a very delicate subject, I appreciate both your comments, Juan and Jiryu! Here in the Midwest it is even harder to make a firm statement, because some people feel this is “political.” There is however a lot of common effort within the larger Buddhist community here to have conversations with each other and everyone else. We also engage in social activity (which I know GGF does at well). Personally, I have participated in protests and diverse prayer walks around areas where fatal shootings were happening, and some of the sangha members are going into prisons and work in many with diverse groups. The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, too, gives us opportunities to be involved. All Buddhist sanghas which I have seen so far, have a very similar outlook, that as bodhisattvas, we are called to take a stand. There is always so much more, and at the same time, we must not overlook the original message of the Buddha, to check one’s own mind, and come to peace within oneself!

    Reply

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