Race and The Body: Why Somatic Practices Are Essential for Racial Justice

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  “Within this fathom-long body and mind is found all of the teachings.” – The Buddha But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates1 You’ve been invited to be part of a think tank to discuss how an organization that’s important to you can adjust its infrastructure, culture, and practices to be more equitable and racially inclusive. You arrive eager to begin the work of dismantling the structural racism that’s thwarting the organization’s potential for positive impact. At the first …

Reflections on Embodiment, Culture, and Social Justice Work in Selected Buddhist Traditions

This article also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. . . Action should be meditation at the same time. —Thich Nhat Hanh1 These words by Thich Nhat Hanh resonate with my search for a Buddhist lineage that encourages taking action in the world to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings. This view calls for interweaving spirituality, physical embodiment, culture, and liberation in ways that attend to our particular socio-cultural positioning in society. If I talk about embodiment and lineage in the context of social justice without acknowledging the ways in which these factors show up in my life, I omit vital information about the importance of these issues for me. So in beginning this series of reflections, …

Contemplative Praxis for Social-Ecological Transformation

Abstract The growing critical reception of mainstream mindfulness interventions often concerns itself with the social and ethical dimensions of mindfulness practices and their current inability to effectively address social and ecological problems. While Buddhists often advocate recontextualizing the practices in their original ethical frames, such proposals inadequately account for Buddhism’s historic biases and secular practitioners’ unwillingness to conform to Buddhist norms. Likewise, secular practitioners who argue that ethics implicitly informs mindfulness, but who forgo explicit ethical considerations, are often uncritical of the inner workings of power and injustice shaping mindfulness. This paper presents a dual critique of Buddhist and secular approaches to mindfulness, and attempts to outline dialectical and integral approaches that synthesize aspects of both. This dual critique lends itself to a post-secular synthesis of ethics and mindfulness, as irreducible aspects of each other informed by a non-binary understanding of religion and secularism. Finally, this synthesis is explored in light of several existing theoretical and practical examples of contemplative practices developed to support personal, social, and ecological transformation. Keywords: Contemplative Studies, Mindfulness, Social Change, …

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Taking Refuge in the Family of Things

—Exploring the Nature of Attachment— To take refuge is to return home. Children come into this world needing to take refuge. All children. To be born onto this plane of existence is to experience the vulnerability of being a stranger in a strange land. Hence, during the first years of a child’s life, the primary context in which he or she can take refuge will be that of the child’s primary caregivers…. [B]ecause our first experience of need and of sangha is in our contact with our first caregivers, the quality of this connection will affect our every future perception of relationship, as well as our perception of the world as good or bad, safe or threatening. If enlightenment is indeed a capacity to experience the inherent intimacy of all things, then it becomes useful to discover how our earliest relationships either enhance or block this intimacy. —Download full article below— —Read Jessica Stern’s introduction to the special section here— Download Article PDF: Taking Refuge in the Family of Things Illustration by Alicia Brown

Praxis, Pragmatics, Right Action and The Shambhala Principle

—Toward a Socially Responsible Philosophy— In this article, I will first discuss the socially responsible European philosophies of praxis, pragmatics, and right action, and show how they have given new meaning to human activity. Then I will show that although they are helpful in giving us insights, they are inadequate in providing us with a practical plan of action to fuel societal transformation. Finally, I will argue that what is presented in The Shambhala Principle is not only consistent with ideas presented in these European socially responsible philosophies, but actually takes these ideas to a new level by stating that personal and social transformation are inseparable. By studying both European philosophy and The Shambhala Principle, we will see that they mutually inform and enrich each other, turning theory into practices that uplift the human condition and make us better human beings. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Praxis, Pragmatics, Right Action and The Shambhala Principle Illustration by Alicia Brown

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Creating Enlightened Society

—Compassion in the Shambhala Tradition— Abstract With the broader propagation of the Shambhala teachings that highlight the importance of creating enlightened society, it is natural to wonder what compassion means in a Shambhala context. In conjunction with Naropa University’s 40th Anniversary and the theme of “radical compassion,” this article explores the unique contributions of the Shambhala teachings to cultivating and manifesting compassion in a complex, ever-changing world full of overt and subtle modes of suffering. The approach of the article is to provide a historical and cultural context for the Shambhala teachings and for their relevance to contemporary global crises, and to provide scriptural and commentarial support for the view of compassion as a motivation for creating enlightened society. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Creating Enlightened Society Illustration by Alicia Brown

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Through Rites, All Things Flourish

The Power of the Ceremonial in Classical Confucianism and in Contemporary Rituals of Dissent Abstract “The fate of our times is characterized, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.” This, Max Weber’s 1919 characterization of modernity, presaged what many have come to see as a crisis of meaning in our contemporary world. Some have argued that our “secular age,” with its pluralistic, relativized, and dominantly scientific episteme, fails to supply the sense of meaning that was once ensured through the myths and rituals that bound communities together under the promise of harmonization with sacred, cosmic order. And whether one agrees or not with the characterization of modernity as a disenchanted space threatening moral disorientation and existential doubt, it is clear that formal religious rituals no longer play a definitive role in organizing society at large. Ceremony may seem like a relic of an enchanted past, or the plaything of those who keep up ancient traditions in modern contexts. But perhaps we are not all that divorced from the power of ceremony and the enchantment of myth, …

Image of a lhasang ceremony. Photograph by Peter Alan Roberts

Ideas of Order

—Science and Ceremony in Ordinary Life— Abstract This article is a contemplation on how ceremony and ritual re-value the magic and depth of subjective experience, not as a form of consolation or as a validation of wishful thinking, but as a necessary and sacred foundation on which objective and rational ways of knowing our world must rest. Resting on ritual ways of knowing, rationality takes its proper place in the pantheon of experience and supports good human society and a healthy world; left to its own devices, rationality becomes a rapacious mechanism that consumes our world, destroys its ecological integrity, and justifies cruelty and selfishness that beggars the imagination. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Ideas of Order

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Practicing Society

—Practices of Self, Society, and Time on the Way to Personal and Societal Transformation— Abstract While there is no fundamental separation between personal and social transformation, modern conceptions of the self (as internal) and society (as external) can construct unnecessary obstacles for the theorization and practice of contemplative social movements. Instead of imagining a fluid and interdependent relationship between transformations in subjectivity—such as shifts in psychological experience, identity, and awareness—on the one hand, and shifts in socio-economic and political circumstances, on the other, we may be led to imagine a situation in which we must first make “inner” change and then subsequently enact “external” structural change. In this article, I offer a practice-oriented view that understands the sense of self as embedded in everyday social practices, and society itself as a practice, as a way to remove these unnecessary obstacles. In the space opened up, we can better conceive of spiritual practices that include the socio-political realm and socio-political practices that include transformations in subjectivity. The primary example that allows me to trace these themes …

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Society as Possibility

—On the Semantic Range of the Tibetan Term Sipa— Abstract Tibet has been credited as a repository of ancient wisdom, even as its political and social systems prior to 1950 have been viewed more ambiguously. The three-century rule under the auspices of successive Dalai Lamas has been condemned by some as an oppressive feudal theocracy and idealized by others as a Shangri-la ruled by a benevolent “god-king.” What vision of society is captured in usages of the Tibetan term sipa, which can mean both “society” and “possibility,” and how has this been reimagined in recent decades? One avenue to pursue such a question would be to look at the deployment of this term and its implications as the Tibetan government in exile has transitioned to democracy. Instead, I am interested in charting a different type of innovation, one in which the Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa and his son and lineage heir Sakyong Mipham have probed the valences of the term sipa and fashioned a fresh vision for contemporary society. —Download full article below— Download Article …

Illustration of two faces looking in opposite directions, one looking at the text "No future," the other looking at "The future is now"

Is the Future Back in the Picture?

—Resilience, Resurgence, and Redisovery: Reflections on the Quest for a New Social Vision— Abstract Why, in the face of an apparently relentless onslaught of resource depletion and seemingly irreversible social patterns, are voices not just of protest but of optimistic advocacy being raised? In my lifetime of work in the fields of human rights, environmental protection, and war prevention, I have witnessed some of the most heartbreaking cruelty and devastation of which human beings are capable. The difficulties we face in confronting and preventing such abuses have left many wonderful and committed people on the front-lines of social action in a state of cynicism, bitterness, and hypercritical despair. People often ask me what sustains the human spirit in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. It’s a question worth asking, as each of us in our own way is living through times when we are forced, increasingly, to consider it. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Is the Future Back in the Picture? Illustration by Alicia Brown