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Between Amitabha and Tubman: Black Buddhist Thought

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Issue Contents

Journal Editor’s Introduction: Towards the Impossible Possibility of Black Buddhist Liberation
shah noor hussein, Managing Editor

Guest Editor’s Introduction: Making Black Buddhist Writing on an Apocalyptic Earth
Shanté Paradigm Smalls

Roundtable: Black-led and BIPOC Sanghas
Shanté Paradigm Smalls in conversation with Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Pamela Ayo Yetunde, Vimalasara Mason-John, Claudelle R. Glasgow, Sheryl Petty, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and Laurie Amodeo

Honoring Ancestors in Black Buddhist Practice: Rituals of Devotion and Resilience
Rima Vesely-Flad
This article examines how Black Buddhists have embraced ancestral practices as they elaborate dharma teachings in convert Buddhist communities. Such practices include storytelling, devotional bowing, drumming, dancing, and chanting, as well as honoring African-derived images and ancestors on Buddhist altars. This article emphasizes the importance of honoring ancestors and the land within different lineages, as well as practices for incorporating indigenous rituals into Buddhist practices. For indigenous-oriented Buddhist practitioners, the history of ancestors carries meaning for themselves, their family members, and their broader community. Furthermore, the courage, determination, and perseverance embodied by ancestors is mirrored in the resilience of the land to withstand natural forces. Even when African Americans acknowledge their complex relationship with the land of the United States—land they were violently made to work as enslaved peoples to garner profits for white slaveowners—they acknowledge the importance of feeling located on land and the presence of First Nation peoples who populated the land prior to colonization. The ability to see the land as sacred, beyond the history of European colonialism, has been incorporated into numerous African-American healing initiatives.

For Grandma, Pain as a Teacher
Chris Lang

Of Color-Confrontation and Consumption: Black and Buddhist Insights into Racism
David Salisbury Brown Mitchell
Functional racism is viewed as the consumptive force of White supremacy which counteracts the persistent fear of being annihilated by the Other. Manifestations of that fear, as well as ancient and modern attempts to identify and ameliorate it are considered. We begin by considering the potential roots of racism through Welsing’s Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation and Racism, then discuss Woodard’s treatment of consumption and parasitism during chattel slavery as well as the hungry ghost, or preta, in Buddhist thought and its unending appetite. Last, we consider modern and ancient means of recognizing and allaying racism-as-fear-of-death primarily through the work of Shulman on mindfulness and impermanence, Menakem on the “soul nerve,” and ancient Kemetic philosophy on Ma’at and the Ausarian drama. Keywords: functional racism, color-confrontation theory, consumption, hungry ghost, Kemet, death anxiety

“Buddhish” Not Buddhist: Womanist Reflections on My Journey Towards Buddhism
Arisika Razak
Alice Walker’s womanist definition celebrates the embodied spiritual culture, diverse sexualities, and leadership abilities of Black women. Several of these traits are found in the self-identified Black female preachers and freedom fighters of the 19th century. While there are numerous varieties of Buddhism, the Western, Theravada, meditation-based convert Buddhism brought back to the USA by Euro-American converts in the 1960’s has emphasized intellectual studies and silent meditation. These methodologies can be seen as oppositional to West African Diasporic cultural norms which privilege voice, movement, and physical embodiment, as well as women’s authority in the outer world. This essay explores some of the ways in which contemporary Black Buddhist teachers have begun to integrate African Diasporic norms into their Buddhist teachings. It also chronicles some of the struggles, connections and contradictions that I found as I tried to integrate my womanist self into my Buddhist practice

Africana Yogi Personae: Black Women Yoga Practitioners’ Aesthetic Negotiations in Dress
Sha’mira Covington & Carolyn Medine
Western conceptions of the typical yoga practitioner envision her as a skinny, white, and often upper-class woman. If one searches for images of “yoga” or attempts to purchase yoga clothing online, visual representations overwhelmingly feature thin, able-bodied white women in acrobatic poses. These images perpetuate dominant Eurocentric standards of beauty which stem from colonization and white supremacy. This study aims to illuminate the voices of Black women yoga practitioners in the southern U.S. and investigate their aesthetic negotiations in dress. Using participant observation, qualitative interviews and autoethnographic methods, the first author inquires into the yoga and dress practices of five contemporary Black women yoga practitioners, as well as her own, to explore some of the aesthetic negotiations of dress for marginalized bodies in yoga spaces. The study examines the linkages between dress practices, acculturation strategies, and cultural identity by drawing on decolonization theory to shift marginalized voices to the center, the aesthetics of dress to highlight the role of dress in the creation and assertion of Black identity, and womanism to center the experiences, needs and thoughts of Black women. Keywords: Black women, yoga, decolonization, womanism, dress, embodiment

Remember black run ‘cross my hips
Raquel Baker

Transcending Internalized Racism with the Perfection of Resolve, Generosity, and Wisdom
Kamilah Majied
Internalized racism can combine with natural human tendencies towards greed, envy and jealousy to limit the intrapersonal and interpersonal freedom of Black people. This short essay discusses practicing resolve and generosity to cultivate wisdom as a means by which Black people can experience abundance and absolute freedom. Keywords: internalized racism, greed, resolve, generosity, wisdom, freedom

The Karma of Slavery: A Rumination
Tracy Watson
American slavery is easily characterized as the most horrific act of inhumanity committed in this country’s history, second only to the attempted genocide of Native American identity and peoples. My family contains both histories. And I have struggled to humanistically confront the legacy of racialized violence bequeathed to my people. After more than 30 years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I began an exploration of my feelings on the subject, hoping to find answers to questions that have plagued me for most of my practice. The following essay is a chronicle of my attempt to confront my questions about the “karma of slavery” (and the ongoing legacy of it) and my efforts to transform the effect of that karma in my life, based on Nichiren Buddhism. I begin my essay with a brief introduction to the origins of my Buddhist practice. I then introduce two principles that are essential to Buddhism: the concepts of “fundamental darkness” (and how it relates to my life in particular) and “fundamental enlightenment” or universal “Buddhahood”. To expound the concept of fundamental enlightenment or Buddhahood, I explicate what is meant in Nichiren Buddhism by the term “Buddha” and the Buddha vow.

ASÉ / Vital Energy
shah noor hussein


Artwork by Star Barker, Cheryl Derricotte, and authors