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Lions Roar : September 2019
solidarity group that worked on all sorts of issues—from militari- zation, sex trafficking, political prisoners, globalization, open-pit mining, and environmental degradation, to solidarity work with Haiti, El Salvador, Palestine... Everything was a women’s issue. No compartmentalization. All interconnected. We were serious about the liberation of all beings. Much like bodhisattvas. Meanwhile, in my Zen life I hid my Marxist ideology, my radical tendencies. Though I was aware of Buddhist teachers and commu- nities practicing socially-engaged Buddhism, I was unconvinced of my own practice. I had sat for the first time in 1988 at a Zen center in Soho. The teacher was a white man. The teachers at all the sub- sequent Zen centers I visited were mostly white men. As an immi- grant, brown woman from the Philippines, awake to my ancestral history, I had a hard time trusting the teachers and I regarded the institutions of Western Zen with suspicion. Nevertheless, the Zen teachings resonated with my political consciousness. The ideas of impermanence, non-separation, practice and process, and interbeing naturally translated into political theory and the ideas of dialectical materialism: the negation of the negation, the unity and struggle of opposites, quantitative changes toward qualitative change, the intercon- nectedness of all phenomena. The fundamental sameness was beautiful and awe-inspiring. Still my political work and Zen practice remained disconnected. It wasn’t until 2009 that some clarity finally came. I was at a year-long study period with writer and Zen teacher Nata- lie Goldberg, whose four decades of dharma work has been through teaching writing as practice. In one of our sessions, Natalie asked us to name an essential conflict we’ve lived with. What are you caught between? Between armed revolution and the big mind. Between radi- cal social politics and the loving-kindness of Zen practice. I couldn’t dismiss the farmers in the Philippines who take up arms with the New People’s Army because those in power have decided that their farmland is best used as a golf course. Nor could I dismiss those who join the armed underground move- ment after having their shacks demolished to pretty-up the land for an international economic summit. I have witnessed these, and much more, in the many trips I had taken to the Philippines for my political and organizing work. Yet I am sure that non-violence, embodying peace, is the only real way to liberation. “We need a third thing,” Natalie continued with her lesson on polarity, a way to step out of the conundrum. In the dialectical analysis used in political theory, this third thing is called “the res- olution to a contradiction.” Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? So, what’s my third thing? Cultural work—art and writing practice, which I’ve actually been doing all along. I started orga- nizing and doing activist work in 1991, the same year I discov- ered Natalie’s Writing Down the Bones. Last year, I and three women I’ve been doing writing practice with for sixteen years decided to formalize our writing group and share what we know of practice. We created a non-profit: Sari-Sari Women of Color Arts Coup. Our inaugural event was Women Write the World, a mini-retreat for women activ- ists, social justice writers, and direct service providers. We led zazen, walking meditation, and writing practice. We invited old comrades, former political prisoners, survivors of violence, underground comrades—the same women I once hid my Zen practice from. Now I’ve found a way to share Zen with them, and they have embraced the quietude and the slowness. I’m sitting, holding, practicing with all of it now. No separa- tion. My activist friends have asked me to lead Zen meditation and writing practice at political gatherings. And I’m okay with saying I’m a Marxist (though I know I’m more than that) in front of my Buddhist comrades at the Buddhist Action Coali- tion. I’m sure I’m not the only one among our ranks. How to Be an Ecosattva How do bodhisattvas respond to the greatest crisis of our time? Appropriately, says Buddhist teacher and activist DAVID LOY. ONE OF MY FAVORITE ZEN STORIES is short and simple. A student asks the master, “What is the constant activity of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas?” In other words, what’s special about the day-to-day lives of awakened people? The master replies: “Responding appropriately.” Writer, activist, and Zen practitioner DOROTEA MENDOZA (right, holding banner) was born in the Philippines and grew up in New York City’s East Village. She now lives in Brooklyn with her partner Matthew and thirty-three house plants. PHOTOBYROMMELLWASHINGTON LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2019 72