Thursday, January 27, 2005

Remember Auschwitz

Today marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Russian troops.

A recent poll showed that nearly half of the British population knew nothing about Auschwitz:

So it is so important that we make a point of remembering, not only for ourselves, but for those who know little or nothing about it. The same is true of the many other atrocities committed in the 'civilized world' in the past centuries.

However, we mustn't remember ourselves into a big ball of sadness and despair - which I think would be the outcome if we truly open our hearts to the suffering of our (even recent) history. Remembering must be done so that we can see and avoid history's tendency to repeat itself. Remembering must be done so that we, ourselves, can make broadly informed decisions about how we act in the world. But we must also act - and live in the moment, and in the future, as well as the past.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

American Buddhism: What does it mean for people of color?

This question is actually posed by Choyin Rangdrol, founder of Rainbow Dharma. As I am very interested in what "American Buddhism" means for everyone, it caught my eye. Definitely worth a look for his humor, wit, and honesty alone:

Here is my letter to Choyin:

Hello Choyin,

First let me say that I am very happy to see your website. I have been a student of Buddhism for a few years now and despite my eager interest in what being an "American Buddhist" means, I have never thought much of the very unique position of African Americans. I know that when I came across the Ven.Thupten Puntsok (, I wondered what it must be like to be an African American Dharma student.

Your writing style in the commentaries is charming and funny, and yet carries the weight of sober truth. Reminding us all of the necessity of overcoming our biases is always proof of true Dharma shining through. Through such wisdom and through continuing contact with our African American Dharma brothers and sisters, I am certain that the barriers between black and white will fall away.

Hailing from the relatively racially isolated capital of Montana, I certainly empathize with your lama friend who at first feared you. You did him a wonderful service by befriending him. I know from experience that those mass media stereotypes are very difficult to overcome if not deal with strongly. I have the fortune of having a mother who specializes in cross-cultural social work, so I have always been told that we are at heart one people despite our varied colors and histories. However, I know that my isolation has resulted in some residual, unconscious bias. I also found myself laughing through a cringe as you mention that we (Euro-American Buddhists) often consider ourselves 'discoverers' of Buddhism, just like *we* discovered America! How true! And how curious it must seem to others.

I am touched by your frankness and perseverance regarding your experience in the Dharma. As you know, we are bound to make mistakes, even as Buddhists. I think one of the truths that is slowly emerging in American Buddhism is that Dharma centers have their fare share of emotionally and mentally disturbed people, not to mention racists and bigots. We must truthfully assess ourselves and our Dharma community, as any false illusions about how wonderful the Dharma-on-the-surface is will certainly come back to harm us in the future. I think such a Dharma-on-the-surface quest is what makes many whites squeamish about issues of race in America. I am hopeful, and indeed confident, that as more of us break through the surface and contact the meaning of Dharma, such issues will be openly and forthrightly addressed.

Many thanks to you for boldly raising these issues. I hope that in my life and work I shall be able to contribute so meaningfully to this dialog.

Justin Whitaker
MA candidate in Buddhist Studies
University of Bristol, UK


the burning bush
was just autumn

It would have been

- Kathie Davis
From "American Zen: A Gathering of Poets"

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dean to head the DNC: Good news for Dems?

Well I normally try to avoid politics in my blogging, as most of it seems a waste of time, but I am very happy today to see that Dr. Howard Dean has been given the nod for Democratic Party Chairman from at least one state: Florida. It is very much my hope that he is supported by all of the states in the coming months.

Howard Dean at his best represents the charismatic, energetic personality that the Democratic Party desperately needs in the next four years. While the two Bush elections have led many Dems to turn on their party's ideals in order to get some of the left-over goodies from the Good Ol' Boys in office, Dean has unabashedly criticized the ultra-right policies of GW and his cronies.

I'm not here going to make a big argument for supporting Dean - other than that he brought energy to the party that I think frankly scared some of the more conservative dems. On the other hand he is very much a supporter of conservative issues like states rights in state-issues, lowering taxes (though more for the lower-middle class who need and will spend the money than the fat cats who are 1000 times as likely to invest in foreign markets), and others.

Anyhow -- I'm not a fan of telling people who they should support in politics. I think the best way to real political solutions is through one's own self-growth: getting free from the various controlling factors of industry and advertising and beauty magazines; developing character and independence through setting goals and following through with them; and by taking care of others at every opportunity, from financial grants to a simple smile and "hello".