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Lions Roar : January 2015
1. Service. The first of Buddhism’s paramitas, or perfections, is gen- erosity. It is first because it opens us up to all the other perfections. It opens us up to life, and we begin to resonate with the way life naturally is. Engage generously with the community around you. Care about what matters to the community you want to be a part of—and that you’d like tobeapartofyou. If you’re concerned about diversity, you need to talk about the bias that results in things like the high incarceration rates of African-Ameri- can men. If I’m a person of color and I walk into a Buddhist community and they’re not talking about the grasping that fuels racism, why should I give them any credibility at all? If we’re just talking about the concerns of the people who are already in our center, then those are the type of people who will come in the future. If everybody in the group is middle-class and white, then the mirrors are limited—you’re only seeing certain aspects of life reflected. We need all the mirrors. 2. Take a good look at what’s right in front of you. In the 1980s, San Francisco Zen Center started a major hospice initiative. They did that because they were in the middle of an AIDS crisis. They didn’t say, “Oh we’d rather do union work.” There was a crisis in front of them, so they built a hospice. Whatever’s right in front of you, that’s what you work on. 3. Understand that your space is not neutral. Someone once commented that BZC’s space was welcoming and neutral. So I asked, Everything was very aesthetically pleasing. It was really quiet and peaceful and open.” But while it felt natural to be at the center, getting there was another story. “Location is important,” JeanAimé tells me. “I think BZC is secluded in a sense. I’m black, and so I live in Brownsville. Greg can just walk down here, but it probably takes me an hour to get here.” While many meditation centers charge little or nothing for programs, even the subway tickets can make participa- tion impossible for many people. “Meditation,” JeanAimé says, “can be expensive! If you’re black, if you’re young, meditation is a very different thing to do, so your mindset already has to be somewhere else to decide to come here. Then, physically, you’re actually going somewhere else. And when you get here and everybody is white, it’s harder to call this your own. “We have to somehow make things work where everybody can be a part of it and it’s not just some middle-class thing that white people do. It’s important to see your face represented. Meditation centers should keep that in mind.” It quickly became clear to the leaders at BZC (many mid- dle-class whites themselves) that the then-nineteen-year-old JeanAimé offered a very different point of view on what BZC could and should be. So they asked her to be an intern instruc- tor in BZC’s Awake Youth Project, which brings guidance about mindfulness and meditation to young people in underserved Brooklyn high schools. Then, they asked her to join the center’s board of directors. Connecting with Your Community Whether you’re part of a full-scale Buddhist center or the humblest of sitting groups, there’s always more you can do to share your energy and practice with others. Brooklyn Zen Center executive director GReG SnydeR shares four tips for a deep and helpful relationship with the community around you. Partners and co-founders Greg Snyder and Laura O’Laughlin. SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2015 40