Buddhism

Baldwin and Buddhism: Death Denial, White Supremacy, and the Promise of Racial Justice

“Terror cannot be remembered… Yet, what the memory repudiates controls the human being. What one does not remember dictates who one loves or fails to love.” —James Baldwin More attention should be paid to why white people remain so attached to narratives of racial supremacy. This was a sentiment shared by authors Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Resmaa Menakem in an online fireside chat held in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.1 If the purpose of radical analysis is to grasp injustices at their roots, then what might lie at the aching roots of white supremacy? Menakem’s provocative answer, in his excellent book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, is that white supremacy is conditioned by generations of unprocessed trauma: “White bodies traumatized each other in Europe for centuries before they encountered Black and red bodies.”2 Left unprocessed, that trauma has helped fuel a will to racial supremacy that works emotionally to soothe people whose violent histories made them feel less-than. A question that …

Language and Personal Narrative in Revolutionary Poetry

Book Review: I Am Still Your Negro by Valerie Mason-John I Am Still Your Negro: An Homage to James Baldwin by Valerie Mason-John University of Alberta Press, 2020 Dr. Valerie Mason-John, also known as Vimalasara in Buddhist Dharma communities and Queenie in slam poetry and theatre circles, is a world-renowned playwright, author, and beloved Buddhist teacher who co-founded the Eight Step Recovery Program. In their recently published collection of poetry, I Am Still Your Negro, Mason-John pays homage to James Baldwin through seven sections of poetic vignettes spanning nearly 100 pages. The topics range from slavery and colonization to global politics and historical realities, addressing the racialized and gendered intersections of African identity, diaspora, and ancestry. Mason-John’s opening section sets the stage, outlining the author’s intellectual history and accomplishments while simultaneously discarding the story of self we are expected to cultivate. As they explain in the introduction to this poetry collection, “all of that is the bypassing story. It’s what kept me alive.” In their Dharma teachings, Mason-John often draws a distinction between the stories …

Land-Based Ethics and Settler Solidarity in a Time of Corona and Revolution

Settler colonialism has been defined as a structure, not an event, meaning that settler societies like the U.S., Canada, and Australia endure over time through racist laws and ideologies that naturalize the dispossession of Indigenous populations.1 One of the most effective strategies that settler states rely on to eliminate Indigenous peoples and their power is the idea that their knowledges are primitive and superstitious, examples of failed epistemology.2 This view is rooted in an Enlightenment-born materialism that asserts that legitimate knowledge can only be produced through narrow empirical methods, relegating the negotiations of immaterial life to the social margins.3 As the colonial project progresses, legitimate knowledge production is simultaneously tethered to race and power (reserved to the white and landed), resulting in what we have come to know as modernity.4 Settler colonialism seeks to eliminate Indigenous populations in order to monopolize resources for the sake of capital. It operates through laws and racist ideologies, but also through conceptualizations of the natural world as white men’s for the human taking. Settler colonialism operates from its own …

Grief in the Time of COVID: Sharing in Compassion and Resilience

When my father went into the hospital on May 6th, there were 76,000 deaths in the US from COVID-19. By the time he passed away eleven days later, there were 90,000. It’s strange when something as deeply and personally felt as the death of a loved one becomes part of a national statistic. Yet it also points to the collective nature of grief related to the pandemic and the systemic injustices that it has revealed and intensified. We are in a time of collective grief. Some of us have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Others have lost jobs or been furloughed due to the lockdown of cities and towns across the country. On top of all that, since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, the streets have been filled with renewed anguish and calls for racial justice and the end of police brutality. The enormity of the crisis affects us all, directly or indirectly. How can we handle the emotional intensity and grief while supporting each other in the process and working for …

Survival Will Always Be Insufficient, but It’s a Good Place to Start

Rereading Emily St. John Mandel’s speculative fiction novel Station Eleven at the start of the pandemic was strangely reassuring. The book toggles between the onset of a future global flu pandemic and the lives of people living twenty years later. I often find post-apocalyptic fiction helpful for affirming the possibility of going on past disaster. Station Eleven is explicitly organized around the proposition that “survival is insufficient.” This phrase—tattooed on a character’s arm and written on the side of the traveling theatre and musical troupe’s vehicle in the twenty-years-from-pandemic plotline—comes from a Star Trek episode. In the book, the phrase, “survival is insufficient,” asserts that people deserve art, and music, and other seemingly useless things that are apparently secondary to basic biological survival. To reprise the 1912 labor slogan, we need not only bread but also roses: Beauty is integral to surviving and thriving. What does it mean for us to fight for roses—for more than survival—when so many people are not even surviving? Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production …

Interdependent During a Pandemic

Last summer, my partner and I worked on a research project about wildlife trafficking in southern Africa. While trafficking in elephant ivory and rhino horn tends to dominate the headlines, we also examined smaller species such as the pangolin—which is both the most trafficked mammal on earth and one possible source of the novel coronavirus. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one lesson from our research stands out as particularly crucial: Wildlife trafficking is not a problem of protecting a single species in a single place. Rather, it is a global problem, composed of unaddressed poverty in rural communities, middlemen profiting from illegal trade, and indulgent demand for exotic food and art. It is a problem from roots to leaves, which unfurl thousands of miles away. The same is true of the virus now ravaging human society. It knows no boundary. It reaches my aging parents in a small mountain town, my anxious students scattered across the United States, and my friends in rural Botswana with limited access to healthcare. In a recent letter …

Photograph by Trudi Lynn Smith

Toilet Paper as Terror Management

The toilet paper aisle at my local grocery store was the first to go barren. Similar scenes of scatalogical scarcity are now the norm across North America as consumers prepare for months of physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. You can find footage online of shoppers fighting over the last roll, and The New York Times recently reported on a toilet paper shipment requiring police escort. It is peculiar that in the early days of this crisis, a pooping accessory took priority over food. Survival instincts appear low in late capitalism. Fortunately, there is a body of social psychology that helps explain the collective impulse to put our heads in our asses in this moment of genuine crisis, and it’s called “Terror Management Theory (or TMT). TMT is rooted in the work of Ernest Becker, who won a Pulitzer for his 1973 book The Denial of Death. According to Becker, the intense existential fear caused by the reality of death compels us to psychologically buffer ourselves with fantasies of supremacy that compensate for …

‘May I Also Be the Source of Life’: Embodied Resistance, Existence, and Liberation in Bodymind as It Is

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.  And until they pass away from pain May I also be the source of life For all the realms of varied beings That reach unto the ends of space. – Shantideva1 In Mahāyāna Buddhism, I have been taught that body and mind are not two separate entities. They are one: bodymind. There are seeming limitations of the specific and located human bodymind I call “myself,” this named entity that comes into being at a certain point; lives a certain span of years, days, and minutes; then goes through the death process of dissolution of form and cessation of bodymind activities. To be embodied in the ordinary, day-to-day sense means that I am subject to sickness, to aging, and to death, which are all forms of anicca/anitya, impermanence. True enough. How is it, then, in accordance with the Bodhisattva vows I took in 1983, that …

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The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work

  Issue Contents Chief Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Gabe Dayley Guest Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Kelsey Blackwell Black Boys by Vernon Keeve III Race and the Body: Why Somatic Practices Are Essential for Racial Justice by Kelsey Blackwell Body Knowing as a Vehicle for Change by Arawana Hayashi Borders by Jessica Stern ‘May I Also Be the Source of Life’: Embodied Resistance, Existence, and Liberation in Bodymind as It Is by Mushim Patricia Ikeda How to Love a Mestiza Woman by Laura Soto Examining Whiteness with Meditation by Kalen Tenderness Tierney On Lineage and Whiteness by Alexandria Barnes I’ll Meet You There by Jahan Khalighi Reflections on Embodiment, Culture, and Social Justice Work in Selected Buddhist Traditions by Arisika Razak The Movement Within the Movement text and poetry by Nicole Klaymoon photography by David Wilson mask art by Tigre Bailando Cover design and illustrations by Alicia Brown Comments The Arrow welcomes comments in response to issues we publish. Please submit comments for review to editor[at]arrow-journal.org. Comments may expand on an …

Social and Ecological Ethics

This comment also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  At the root of the climate crisis is the disjuncture between the exponential development of the capitalist economy and the lack of an equivalent development in ethics and morality. Human and environmental sustainability requires social action based on a transformation of consciousness, from a dualistic to an ecological worldview that recognizes humanity as part of nature and the inherent equality of all human beings. To avoid further environmental and social collapse and conflict, it is important to recognize the history and realities of social hierarchy, domination, and oppression. Instead of speaking of a collective “we” in the context of climate action, it is necessary to explore the differential responsibilities and burdens borne by different communities for the climate and related crises. The North–South conflict over climate mitigation speaks to this reality. It is the privileged groups, especially those at the top of the global social hierarchy, that need to shift …