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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 99 The African Americans who are aiding and abetting the rape and pillage of Earth, helping literally to direct the bombs that fall on the innocent and the exquisite, are still another cause of our suffering. We look into their eyes and experience a great fright. They appear so familiar, and yet, somehow, we feel they are not. I do not call their names because essentially they are, as we are, energies. They are familiar because they have been around just as long as we have. It is also necessary to acknowl- edge that some of those energies we find so frightening exist within ourselves. This poem, which I think of as one of my “bitter” poems, expresses something of their position, when they can bear to acknowl- edge it, throughout the long centuries: They helped Their Own They helped their own They did not Help us We helped Them Help Themselves Beggars That We are. Underneath what is sometimes glibly labeled racism or sexism or caste-ism, there lurk covetousness, envy, and greed. All these human states can, through prac- tice, be worked with and transformed. This is the good news for our oppressors, as it is for humans generally, since we all have these qualities to a degree. The equally good news for us is that we can turn our attention away from our oppressors—un- less they are directly endangering us to our faces—and work on the issue of our suf- fering without attaching them to it. The teaching that supports that idea is this: Suppose someone shot you with an ar- row, right in the heart. Would you spend your time screaming at the archer, or even trying to locate him? Or would you try to pull the arrow out of your heart? White racism, that is to say, envy, covetousness, and greed (incredible sloth and laziness in the case of enslaving others to work for you), is the arrow that has pierced our col- lective heart. For centuries we have tried to get the white archer even to notice where his arrow has landed; to connect himself, even for a moment, to what he has done. Maybe even to consider apologizing, which he hates to do. To make reparations, which he considers absurd. This teaching says: enough. Screaming at the archer is a sure way to remain at- tached to your suffering rather than eas- ing or eliminating it. A better way is to learn, through meditation, through study and practice, a way to free yourself from the pain of being shot, no matter who the archer might be. There is also the incredibly useful as- surance that everything is change. Every- thing is impermanent. The country, the laws, the Fascists and Nazis, the archer and the arrow. Our lives and their lives. Life. Looking about at the wreckage, it is clear to all that in enslaving us, torturing us, trying to get “ahead” on the basis of our misery, our oppressors in the past had no idea at all what they were doing. They still don’t. As we practice, let this thought deeply root. From this perspective, our compassion for their ignorance seems the only just tribute to our survival. Who or What knows what is really go- ing on around here, anyway? Only the Tao, or Life or Creation or That Which Is Beyond Human Expression. Sitting quietly. This place of peace, of serenity and gratitude, does exist. It is available to all. In a way, this place of quiet and peaceful- ness could be said to be our shadow. Our deserved shadow. Our African Amerin- dian shadow. In European thought the shadow is rarely understood as positive, because it is dark, because it is frequently behind us, because we cannot see it; but for us, ultrasensitive to the blinding glare of racism and suffering daily the searing effects of incomprehensible behavior, our shadow of peace, that we so rarely see, can be thought of as welcoming shade, the shade of an internal tree. A tree that grows beside an internal river that bathes us in peace. Meditation is the path that leads to this internal glade. To share that certainty is the greatest privilege and joy. I am grateful for the opportunity to join you in this first-ever African Ameri- can Buddhist retreat in North America. Though not a Buddhist, I have found a support in the teachings of the Buddha that is beyond measure, as I have found comfort and support also in those teach- ings I have received from Ancient Africans and Indigenous people of my native conti- nent and from the Earth itself. The teacher who has been most helpful to me, in ad- dition to Pema Chödrön, is Jack Kornfield, an extraordinary guide and human being, whose books and tapes, among them A Path with Heart, After the Ecstasy the Laun- dry, and The Roots of Buddhist Psychology, I would recommend to anyone who seeks a better understanding of the enspirited life. Sharon Salzberg’s book Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness has been an incomparable gift. In a book called Knee Deep in Grace, I discovered the teach- ings of the Indian female yogi, household- er, and mother Dipa Ma. Her instructions and observations seem endlessly potent. I am deeply grateful to all the teachers who came before these four that I have mentioned.Teachers from Vietnam (Thich Nhat Hanh has been a beloved teacher), Thailand, Burma, India, China, and es- pecially Tibet. I thank the Dalai Lama for allowing himself to be a symbol of good in a world that seems, at times, hopelessly tilted toward evil. I thank Martin Luther King, Jr., for the warm, brotherly touch of his hand when I was young and seeking a way to live, with dignity, in my native land in the South, and for the sound of his voice, which was so full of our experience. I thank him for loving us. If he had been able to live and teach, as the Buddha did, until the age of eighty, how different our world would be. It is such a gift to have his books and recordings of his words, and to be able to understand his death as a teach- ing on both the preciousness of human existence and impermanence. And, as always, I thank the ancestors, those who have gone on and those who