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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 52 New England. We sat under a tree and I wrote what she dictated. Today her story has become a book. I begin with this harrowing quote simply to ground us all in the reality of being African Americans, African Indians, African Amerindians. We are that mixture of peoples, brought together very often and for centuries in the most intense racial confusion, hatred, and violence. This horrible story, which has haunted me since I read it, is typical of the kind of psychic assault we en- dure, while it is exactly the kind of assault today’s white major- ity takes no notice of, just as it took no notice one and two and three hundred years ago. This story, so chilling—The horse was drinking his blood? His own father was one of the assassins? His crime was that his horse was too “fine”?—unfortunately is one in a storehouse of such stories those of us present might hear or expect to hear, on any given day of our lives. What do we do with the shock? What do we do with the anger? The rage? What do we do with the pain? When I read this story recently I was sitting in a federal court- house, preparing to do jury duty. I felt ill immediately. But not as ill as I would feel an hour later upon entering the courtroom, when I was confronted with the fact that three young men of col- or, one Asian, two Latino, were to be tried for the murder of a po- liceman, whom they allegedly killed when he interrupted their burglary of a steak house. One glance at the accused trio revealed the faces of malnourished youths, barely out of their teens. The choice before the jury would be life imprisonment without parole or the death penalty. The judge, white and middle- class, well-fed and well-educated, seemed prepared to impose either choice. Here were the contemporary brothers of George Slaughter. MY FIRST VERSION of this talk began with a poem by Basho: Sitting quietly Doing nothing Spring comes And the grass Grows By itself. I was thinking of how I found my way from the backwoods of Georgia as a young woman into the company of the finest poets. It was a route of unbelievable, serious magic. When I was a child my family had no money to buy books, though all of us loved to read. Because I was injured as a child and blinded in one eye, the state gave me a stipend that meant I could buy all the books I wanted. When I went north to college, my first stop after settling in my room was the bookstore, where I entered a state of ecstasy see- ing before me all the books of poetry I was hungering to read. It was there in the Sarah Lawrence College bookstore that I en- countered Basho and Buson and Issa, Japanese Buddhist haiku poets who had lived centuries before. And also a book called Zen Telegrams by Paul Reps. We connected on the profound level of Nature. That is to say, in these poets I discovered a kindred sensi- bility that respected Nature itself as profound, magical, creative, and intelligent. There was no hint, as there is in other poetry, that Underneath what is sometimes labeled racism or sexism or caste-ism, there lurk covetousness, envy, and greed. These human states can, through practice, be worked with and transformed. Wanted: Douglass, Tubman and Truth This essay is based on a talk given on August 16, 2002, at the first African American Buddhist Conference/Retreat, held at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.